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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Tip #98 – Pushing-Forward by Dropping a Beat

There are several ways that you can create an effect of pushing forward within a piece of music. The music can increase in dynamics (volume), increase in tempo (speed), become more accentuated, modulate, or have rhythmic anticipations in the melody or harmony.

But what if we become so anticipatory that we skip an entire beat?

In some compositions and popular songs, a steady meter of 4/4 might momentarily drop to 3/4 do accomplish some of the following:

  1. Push forward to a new section
  2. Create a moment of cutting-off early an older section
  3. Reformat the melody to land on a strong beat in an awkward meter

Each of them having the common purpose to make things line metrically in the song according to the hierarchy of beats while creating an unexpected surprise while dropping a beat to mimic momentum into a new section.

I encourage you to play around with a melodic riff and see how dropping a beat in a what-would-be 4/4 sound like.

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.