I have a background 1 year of harmony study and I'm now taking a non-western modal approach to music (trough Indian Classical Music, which is mainly monophonic and have no concept of harmony). I have some ideas to compose melodies in two or three voices (wich, as I said, doesn't exist in ICM) and I want to study counterpoint for exploring that further without entering again in the harmony terrain (I've discarded it for now, chords and harmonic functions don't appeal much to me right now).

As someone pointed me out in a answer to another question:

You are on the right track in thinking that "sixteenth century counterpoint melody or modal based (as this answer suggests) and eighteenth century counterpoint harmony based."

Where do I start to study counterpoint from a melodic (ie, melodies interaction) point of view without harmony?

  • I suggest looking at this answer to a previous question: music.stackexchange.com/a/4945/1546 – Reina Abolofia Jun 1 '12 at 5:28
  • In additions to @Reina's awesome answer, you can take a look at this (very general) answer to How is counterpoint different from harmony? – Josh Darnell Jun 1 '12 at 12:04
  • For what it's worth Western 20th century classical composition often worked contrapuntally without any "harmony" (in the sense of "functional harmony" -- of course you still get notes sounding together). Maybe look at Funicelli's "Basic Atonal Counterpoint"? It's about serial composition but you might still find this a useful avenue for exploring "pure counterpoint" without harmony. – helveticat Dec 3 '20 at 20:05

In my Form and Analysis and Counterpoint classes at UW-Madison, we used the Aldwell-Schachter book, which has very thorough and IMO excellent instruction in all the species of counterpoint, working off a cantus, and other techniques for writing horizontally i.e., as interactions of melodies instead of just plonking chords down. Not that there's anything WRONG with plonking chords down, of course...



Where do I start to study counterpoint from a melodic (ie, melodies interaction) point of view without harmony?

In the study of 16th Century counterpoint, there is the notion of what properties normally characterize 'good' melodies. The standard text for this is "Gradus ad Parnassum" or "The Study of Counterpoint" by J. J. Fux. For example, good melodies usually have a highest or lowest note that serves as a climax, and generally should not be repeated. Normally there should be no more than two skips in the same direction, etc. Most of these rules are for the melody around which other voices will harmonize with and the examples are usually in whole notes, and melodies involving mixed durations have more complicated rules.

However, I am wondering if your goal of studying counterpoint makes sense since the primary purpose of counterpoint during the common practice period was to write two or more melodies that harmonize with each other. That includes dissonances that are resolved. Those harmonies are chords (I am including two note intervals as chords).

So in the end, it has been said that good harmony and counterpoint are two different ways at approaching music. In harmony, you choose the chord progressions with the voice leading a secondary consideration. In counterpoint, the primary focus is the voice leading, and the harmony is secondary.

Can modal counterpoint be studied without studying harmony?

Currently, students normally study harmony first. But, historically, counterpoint preceded harmony, and in fact our understanding of harmony began with composers discovering which intervals sounded good when writing two or more simultaneous melodies.

One last point regarding the Fux text (which can be found online for free at IMSLP), is that it discusses cadences in each of the modes. If you're applying this to Classical Indian music, I'm not sure how valuable that will be though.


You might be interested in Melharmony, which uses melody-based musical systems (such Indian Classical Music) to produce chords and counterpoint. It was introduced and developed by Chitravina N. Ravikiran with additional development by Robert Morris.

Some introductory resources:

The above pages include references to a variety of other writings and several short YouTube videos. The primary academic papers on Melharmony are

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.