Teach Yourself Music Theory – 40.) Counterpoint Harmony & Movement

As we begin to get further into the topic of Renaissance counterpoint, it is now time to add on some more terms, definitions, and rules.

The first term that will be introduced is the cantus firmus – a melody used in a consistent rhythm for other melodic lines to be added around it. Think of it as the “main melody” or basis for what all the other contrapuntal lines will be built around. A cantus firmus can be taken from a pre-existing melody or it can be originally composed.

As other melodic lines are being added to the cantus firmus, the composer must be mindful of the harmonic interval qualities. This, will probably come as a review:

  • Perfect Consonance – PU, P5, P8
  • Imperfect Consonance – m3, M3, m6, M6
  • Dissonance – m2, M2, P4, A4 / d5, m7, M7

Being mindful of your voice leading, the relationship between the melodic and harmonic dimensions in music, will help you create wonderful contrapuntal music.

Now, it is time to talk about movement and the different types:

  • Parallel Motion – when both voices move in the same direction over the same distance
  • Similar Motion – when both voices move in the same direction, but in different distances
  • Oblique Motion – when one voice stays put while the other one moves
  • Contrary Motion – when both voices move in opposite directions
  • No Motion – when both voices repeat their same pitch and don’t move

Keep these in mind as we continue to dive in deeper into the world of Renaissance counterpoint.

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Tip #249 – Neighbor Accents in Harmony

Take a look at the example below:

You will notice that the harmony doesn’t exactly stay the same within the measure – and that is due to the neighbor tones.

Not only does this bring interest to what would otherwise be a stagnant harmony within the context of the measure length, but it also brings attention to the individual notes that make up the harmony.

A trained ear can pick out the different notes that build a harmony, but when one voice changes with the use of neighbor tones, it takes interest to any listener.

Try it out!

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Tip #244 – Expanded Possibilities with a Limited Melody

This has apparently been going around the web:

With the most recent pop music hitting radio stations and streaming platforms, there seems to be a rise in a stagnant melody. Such as one where the chorus of the song form features a melody were it is just on one note.

For compositional and performance purposes, this is really easy. I mean, it is only one pitch – you can’t really mess that up so much. However, as an arranger for harmonic purposes, you have a load of possibilities.

More often than not, people make the pitch the fifth of the chord because it makes the tonality of the key (major or minor) ambiguous. However, that is for you to decide on.

Basically, make a list of all chords (stick to triads) that feature that one pitch. Then, attempt to use them in a creatively manner to harmonize the stagnant melody.

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Tip #240 – Add Some Nice Crunch

One way to add some nice density to your chords for some unsettling atmosphere is by adding tones that will creating a m2 interval.

Triads, as you know, are made up of combinations of major and minor thirds. Dissonance mostly occurs in the stacking of two minor thirds or two major thirds (a diminished and augmented triad, respectively).

By either adding a fourth to a major triad, or a second to a minor triad, you create the really dissonant m2 interval:

Not only can it make the sound spooky, but add2 and aad4 chords can create some nice clusters for density purposes.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 35.) Building Seventh-Chords from Scales

Now, we are going to be covering where all of these different kinds of seventh-chords appear within a key by building them off of different scale degrees.

First, we will take the major scale:

Notice how there are only four different seventh chord possibilities: the major seventh, minor seventh, half-diminished seventh, and dominant seventh. This should be pretty easy to memorize.

As for the natural minor scale, it is just a reordering of the major scale:

Now, we add the leading tone for the harmonic minor scale:

The harmonic minor scale, because of the raised leading tone, creates an augmented seventh as well as a fully-diminished seventh. Also, we have a seventh-chord we have never discussed before… the minor-major seventh which is a minor triad with a M7 interval from the root on top:

Finally, the melodic minor scale:

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Tip #233 – Expanding to Give a Neo-Soul Sound

There are many aspects that define a music genre. The kinds of harmonies, rhythms, lyrics, chord progressions, fashion, etc. all help classify a piece of music.

Before we get into a debate of whether labels are good or bad, it is skill for composers to know what makes a genre to draw direct inspirations from.

We are going to talk about how simply expanding the harmony of your chord choices and voicings can give your piece of music an interesting neo-soul feel.

Take a look below at some common chord types (never mind the key):

Typically, you would use some major chords, minor chords, dominant seventh, and diminished chords to write a song. To give it a neo-soul flavor, try expanding the harmonies this way:

  • Major Triad -> Major Ninth Sharp Eleventh
  • Minor Triad -> Minor Eleventh
  • Dominant Seventh -> Dominant Thirteenth Sus 4
  • Diminished Triad -> Altered Dominants

Also, taking inspiration from modal harmonies are re-voicing in quartal harmonies (of stacked fourth), can give your piece a neo-soul sound. Basically, jazz harmonies will be your best friend in this.

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Tip #232 – Root-less Chords

By default, when you eliminate the root from being at the bottom of a chord, it becomes an inversion of itself.

This can become a useful tool when constructing a bass line by avoiding the root in order to give an unstable feeling or imply a different harmony.

So, now the question is, how does the bass move?

Before, we talked about the root of one chord harmony move to the root of the next. What does one do when it is either the third, sixth, or seventh in the bass.

Above anything else: experiment. However, it might be wise to connect similar notes or move stepwise. Meaning, if the third of one chord harmony is the same as the seventh of the next, keep on that note.

Play with these ideas and see how they can improve with building bass lines.

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