Teach Yourself Music Theory – 37.) Beginning Rules to Renaissance Counterpoint

To write appropriately within the style of the music, one must be aware of the hard and soft rules.

For Renaissance counterpoint, there are a lot of rules – some that can be broken in certain situations, and some that must stay intact at all times. These next blog posts will be a barrage of rules. But do not worry! Throughout, we will be reinforcing these rules so that they become second nature and that you won’t forget while writing.

To begin, it is worth to note that most of the pieces composed during this era were written using cut-time of a 2/1 or a 4/2 time signature. Most of these upcoming posts will attempt to stay within the limits of 4/2, but might occasionally drift into the now commonly accepted time signature of 4/4.

In addition, the music of the Renaissance era was known for its rhythmic contrast. This came from the use of agogic accents, or the secondary rhythm comprised of irregular accented syllables on beats 2 and 4.

When beginning to write a piece in the style of Renaissance counterpoint(especially in 4/2), it is good to have these rules in your pocket:

  • Compositions must begin with a note value of a dotted half-note or longer.
  • Compositions must end with a note value of a breve or longer.
  • Note values of equal length may be tied to each other, but only breves, whole notes, half notes, and occasionally quarter notes.
  • Only in triple time may a dotted note be tied to another dotted note
  • Note values may be tired to another note half their value, but the larger value must appear first*.
  • *(Unless it is the end of the piece, then a whole note may be tied to a breve.)
  • Dotted whole notes must only be placed on beats 1 or 3.
  • Rests usually occur only on beats 1 or 3.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 22.) Metric Accents and Syncopation

An accent (which we will cover more later) is an emphasis on a note during performance. Usually, this is indicated by the composer on the sheet music to tell the performer on which notes to put the accent.

However, accents can also naturally happen. We have talked about this before with metric grouping. Within a measure a specific number of beats are grouped together. Not only is it used for organization, but it helps tell the performer where to put the emphasis when playing.

A metric accents is a natural emphasis put on a note due to its placement in the meter. Below is a graph with the level of accentuation put on different beats of various metric groupings:

You have probably already realized this knowing that an upbeat is light, while a downbeat is strong.

Now for a new term:

Syncopation, placing the accent on a weak or unexpected part/division of the beat.

When the emphasis avoids the strong metric accents and is applied to the weaker beats, or to the beat divisions (eighth-notes, etc.), it is called syncopation.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.