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I'm trying to fully understand the concept that "Counterpoint" entails... but I can't seem to think any situation in which a counterpoint is not present on a song/piece/whatever.

If counterpoint is the technique to independently manage voices maintining a harmonious sound (in most cases), when is this technique not being used? I think a good example of NOT-counterpoint would help me out.

I'm guessing (for what I've read on the internet) that the first example for this would be a simple song in which there's a singer with a melody line, and a guitar strumming some chords on the first accent of each bar, for example. But I don't get why is this not a counterpoint case? Is it because it's not the same instrument managing the different voices? Is it because the chords do not count as "another melody line"? And if that's the case, then... what if the singer is doing his melody line and beneath that, a bassist is playing another melody line (harmoniously coherent). Would that count as using the counterpoint technique?

  • Well, you're right that there are relatively few songs/pieces with multiple voices where there is absolutely no evidence of counterpoint at all.... it's just that some pieces are more characterised by contrapuntal movement, some less so - so it's an axis, not a binary 'yes/no' thing. – topo Reinstate Monica May 19 '16 at 22:06
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    In western music, there are a few purely monophonic traditions - for example plainsong, and Scottish bagpipe music (Piobaireachd or Ceòl Mòr). Indian "classical" music (ignoring western-influenced Bollywood film scores!) has no concept of "harmony" or "counterpoint" - just a melody, a drone, and percussion. – user19146 May 19 '16 at 22:31
  • @topomorto Obligatory "John Cage's '4:33'" – user45266 Apr 4 at 17:30
  • Would hymn tunes be what you are looking for? – JimM Apr 4 at 22:18
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Counterpoint is the relationship between voices that are harmonically dependent, yet are independent in other aspects like in rhythm and shape. Counterpoint is only really observed in pieces that have multiple independent melodies or in other words polyphonic in nature.

The example you are talking about is homophonic or consists of a distinct melody and harmony. So there isn't counterpoint in the traditional sense that you have two distinct melody that are harmonically dependent, but independent in other ways. Instead you have a melody and something supporting it harmonically. There still is voice leading and an idea that the two parts are related in some way, but that's not counterpoint.

There are many pieces that very good examples of polyphonic music that demonstrate counterpoint like inventions, fugues, and canons that demonstrate why this is a powerful technique to use.

  • Great answer! Thanks. With this answer + the two comments on my question, I think everything wraps up nicely and we get a full nice answer. Anyways, I wanted to add: bare in mind that I asked for NON-contrapuntual examples, and you talked about contrapuntual examples at the end. And also, as you laid out your explanaition on counterpoint... I couldn't help but wonder "well... what's the difference between polyphony and counterpoint then?" - hopefully, someone already asked – BillyTunin May 20 '16 at 3:38
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Today I asked myself "is there an example of strictly non-contrapuntal music?" and couldn't really think of an answer besides something like a single simple melody (e.g. 'Yankee Doodle') or non-western music (and I didn't have anything more specific than that, just that it was slightly outside of my purview), and these are mentioned in comments and answers throughout.

But my inability to answer led to a google search, and thus, brought me to this question and so I share the following video, which analyzes the 'purposefully terrible' counterpoint of Mozart in his work 'A musical joke', and thought that it provided an interesting take on the answer and one which might interest the general student of counterpoint:

That is, it specifically shows how one could write counterpoint poorly, to the extent of 'missing the point', if you'll pardon the unintentional pun.

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The opening section of Spanish Dance No 3, by Granados, I think provides a clear example of non-contrapuntal music.

Notice how each of the different voices move in the same contour and the same rhythm. It's probably my least favourite of the 12 dances, but it's one you never forget because it is so rigid.

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There is a lot of music in pop culture that is organized with one primary melody backed by a rhythm section. The instruments in the rhythm section often play melodies themselves, but these melodies are intended to provide texture and emphasize the harmony, not to interact with the main melody. Think a jazz bass player or a backing guitarist in a rock song.

You've seen lead sheets before: A piece of paper with a single melody notated with chords, and that same sheet of paper is given to every member of an entire band. The lead singer or instrumentalist plays the melody as written while everyone else improvises on the chords. The keyboardist vamps, the guitarist strums along, the bassist noodles around... But the backing instrumentalists aren't playing with counterpoint in mind. Their goal is to provide a backdrop that grooves for the lead.

Is this still counterpoint? Perhaps, depending on how loose a definition of counterpoint you use. But it's certainly not counterpoint in the same way classical composers thought of it, and many of these musicians probably don't think about counterpoint at all - not due to a lack of education or theory knowledge, but just because they're immersed in a musical culture that looks at music from a different angle.

With this in mind, there are whole worlds of rock, jazz, pop, electronic, rap, and movie and game soundtrack music that don't typically use counterpoint, at least not in the traditional sense.

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