In this example there are two melodies even indicated on most transcriptions:

18th variation Rachmaninoff

What is that called? I’ve heard voicing layers and counterpoint but am not sure if this applies.


Another term for two or more simultaneous melodies (generally equally or nearly equally weighted) is polyphony.

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The basic technique is called counterpoint. Accompanying a melody with another melody rather than homophony which is accompanying it with block chords.

Some music is clearly one or the other. A Bach fugue is predominantly counterpoint, a folk song with strummed guitar chords is homophony (until the guitarist starts introducing little echoes of the melody, as a good guitarist well might). Much (most?) music has elements of both. This piece certainly does. There's a chordal accompaniment and what we might call a 'countermelody'. That isn't a strict term - a fugue is full of 'countermelodies'. But it's maybe more appropriate where there's ONE main melody, ONE countermelody and a chordal accompaniment. 'Accompanied counterpoint'.

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  • 1
    So how is countermelody different from counterpoint? – John Cataldo Apr 15 '18 at 15:00
  • I've expanded the answer. – Laurence Payne Apr 15 '18 at 15:10
  • So countermelody is when there's another melody in addition to one main melody, and in counterpoint the melodies are both as important? – John Cataldo Apr 15 '18 at 15:27
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    'Counterpoint' is the name for the overall technique of combining melodies. 'Countermelody' describes one way of using contrapuntal techniques. Yes, the countermelody is secondary to the main melody. There are exceptions. Irving Berlin was fond of writing songs with two melodies which could be sung independently and together. Each was a countermelody to the other! youtube.com/watch?v=IWDqTbm8t_o – Laurence Payne Apr 15 '18 at 15:36
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    If you'd followed my link... – Laurence Payne Apr 15 '18 at 16:31

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