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Section 30.2 First Species Counterpoint

In first species, we will write note–against–note counterpoint in whole notes. You will be given a melody, called the cantus firmus (abbreviated “c.f.”), against which you will write a counterpoint.

Figure 30.2.1

Fux enumerates several rules to follow to write in proper sixteenth–century style (the style of Palestrina). Since this is a brief introduction to writing in species counterpoint, the rules below are slightly modified and simplified. You would likely follow stricter rules in a semester–long course in counterpoint.

  1. Begin with an octave or unison.

  2. End on an octave or unison.

  3. Approach the ending octave or unison by contrary motion; one of the parts will end with \(\hat{7}\) –\(\hat{8}\) while the other ends with \(\hat{2}\) –\(\hat{1}\) .

    1. If the example is in G mixolydian, D dorian, or A aeolian, use a sharp to create the leading tone (F♯, C♯, and G♯ respectively).

  4. Create consonant harmonic intervals in each measure (unisons, 3rds, 5ths, 6ths, and their compound versions—10ths, 12ths, 13ths, etc.). Dissonances (2nds, 4ths, 7ths) are not allowed in first species counterpoint.

    1. “Imperfect” consonances (3rds and 6ths) can be approached in any manner

      1. Do not use more than three consecutive 3rds or 6ths

    2. “Perfect” consonances (unisons, 5ths, 8ves, 12ths) may only be approached in contrary motion in order to avoid direct 5ths and direct 8ves (you may wish to review the Types of Motion).

  5. Only the following leaps are allowed: 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, ascending minor sixths, and 8ves (review the Rules of Melody with regard to direction changes after leaps).

  6. Avoid melodically outlining a tritone by changing directions at two turning points in a melody.

  7. Avoid repeating notes in order to create a flowing melody

Following these rules may seem dry and uninspired, but these rules come from observations of note–by–note details in Renaissance masterpieces by composers like Palestrina and can make any composer better and more aware of what they are writing.

Go to First Species Practice Exercises.