I am currently working through "Gradus ad Parnassum" in its english translation (Alfred Mann). In chapter One "Note against Note" (p. 27) I encounter "Principles for the forming of the melodies are discussed later". I have actually read through the First Part (Two Part Counterpoint) and there was hardly any discussion of cantus firmus rules. Should I be patient and read until the end or is it not covered in the book at all? I chose this book in the first place to have a complete and non-contradicting set of rules. In other sources (mostly online) there is much talk about the shape, climax etc., which I somehow miss here.

  • I haven't read the book, but I think you should be patient. If you can't, the rules are pretty simple. I am assuming the author wants to teach you to create counterpoints of pre-existing melodies before teaching you how to create a melody (which is indeed more difficult than constructing counterpoint, so it makes sense).
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 2:09
  • @pyromonk The thing with the "simple" rules is that they really differ from source to source. I just expected to find the self-contained whole set of rules in "Gradus".
    – NickQuant
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 9:14
  • The reason why they differ is because it's not a definite algorithm. Cantus firmus is not an oyster fork that has to have 3 tines. The "rules" for composing classical (or church) music have changed over time. Indeed, musical composition used to be very strict and at certain time periods would not even allow imperfect consonances, but within modern composition it's no longer the case. It really depends on what time period you want to sound like. If you create a melody line that consists of 8-16 notes, has variety, avoids "jumps" and consecutive fifths, it will suffice.
    – Pyromonk
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 13:39
  • @Pyromonk, the link to the rules seems to be outdated. Perhaps what you meant is now somewhere at viva.pressbooks.pub/openmusictheory ?
    – MS-SPO
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 7:48

1 Answer 1


Mann cut off some sections from Fux's book. There's some discussion of this in Mann's translation, but I really don't remember where. Maybe next to the end of the book, after 4-voice 5th species.

But every counterpoint book now has a section reserved to it. You may look out for Jeppesen, Gauldin, Benjamin, Kennan, Thakar... the basic rules are most the same, with more or less different stylistic rules based on each author aesthetics or rethoric.

Also, this site is great as well: http://openmusictheory.com/cantusFirmus.html


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