I believe the title says it all. On Wikipedia it shows the five species but I have the idea that there is another type of counterpoint not based on those species. Is that vague idea of mine correct? I believe I got that idea reading this sentence:

Species counterpoint can at first seem very limiting, but through its practice, it can be used to create very exciting melodies and counter-melodies.

From this answer.


The linked answer almost answers this question as well, I think. "Species counterpoint" is the name given to counterpoint composed in the styles described by Fux in Gradus ad Parnassum (though the idea is apparently older). The species were intended to be a didactic tool to teach the student how to write counterpoint. The approach is sufficiently effective that modern university students of eighteenth-century counterpoint frequently still use the species to understand how to write and understand that style of counterpoint.

Real eighteenth-century composers may or may not have used the ideas of Fux when learning to write counterpoint. It is probably not accurate to say that an accomplished composer wrote a piece with a particular "species" in mind, though it is possible that a species could describe part or all of a contrapuntal work. For the fifth species ("free" counterpoint, following the stylistic guidelines of the time) to describe such a work is a tautology, of course, but the other species could be used to describe parts of certain works.

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Species Counterpoint is the tools by which counterpoint is composed. The five species of counterpoint make up all the pedagogical lessons needed to explain the counterpoint of composers like Palestrina.

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  • Let me see if I get it. Species counterpoint it's not a "kind" of counterpoint, but what's used to compose it? – Alejandro García Iglesias May 30 '12 at 4:34
  • Yes, I'd say that's a good way to put it. The five species of counterpoint are the building blocks composers use to compose counterpoint in general. – Reina Abolofia May 30 '12 at 5:04
  • Well, it's a method used by modern composers of counterpoint and taught in universities. Do we know that anybody used these methods in the renaissance/baroque periods? – Monica Cellio May 30 '12 at 19:48
  • @MonicaCellio Yes. See "The Study of Counterpoint" by Joseph Fux, born 1660. In it, he describes all species of counterpoint. – Reina Abolofia Jun 1 '12 at 0:28

Heh. I just linked to this elsewhere; a marvelous book for learning species counterpoint is the Aldwell-Schachter "Harmony & Voice Leading" text. We used at the UW-Madison School of Music and it's amazing.


To build on the accepted answer, the various species progress like so: First: note on note Second: two notes on one note Third: usually regarded as four notes on one note, but there are differences of opinion here Fourth: suspensions Fifth: basically "anything goes"

Compositionally speaking, these are all techniques used to put pieces together, but are never a piece in and of themselves, except, of course, when used pedagogically. For example, fourth species is often used to give a "soaring" sort of feeling due to the rhythmic offsets and harmonic blurring it employs. One good example is the second movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A, K622; that intro employ fourth species counterpoint.

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I like the other answers here, but I want to stress that species counterpoint developed out of analysis of existing music. Palestrina had never heard of species counterpoint. He just wrote music. Fux and others like him then looked at Palestrina's music and said, hmm, well, he does this and this in these circumstances, so we'll call that the first species. And he does this other thing and this other thing in these other circumstances, so we'll call that the second species. Then we'll use these species to teach counterpoint. Palestrina himself breaks the "rules" of species counterpoint all over the place.

To my mind species counterpoint gets (some of) the form of Renaissance music without the soul. Sort of like reading a basic book about massage and going into business as a masseur without ever having read more advanced work, gotten any hands-on training, or even had a massage. It's a helpful tool but far less useful than experience of singing the actual thing.

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