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Counterpoint is a musical device where melodic phrases play on top of each other, causing notes to work against other notes. The term comes from the Latin punctus contra punctum (note against note). A note moves against another note when the interval between the two notes grows or shrinks. Chordss may (and often do) develop when more than two parts are involved, but are incidental; this kind of music focuses on individual melodies working together. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach frequently wrote music using counterpoint.

Generally, such music created from the Baroque period on is described as counterpoint, while music created prior to Baroque times is called polyphony. Hence, the composer Josquin Des Prez wrote polyphonic music.

Homophony, by contrast, features music where chordss or intervals play out the melody without working the notes against each other. Most popular music written today use homophony as a dominant feature within the music.

The fugue offers perhaps the most complex contrapuntal convention used today in music. Other examples include the round and canon

The appeal of counterpoint may reside not only in the human fascination with complexity and with the role of art in bringing complexity into some kind of order, but with the temporal nature of musical experience. In a contrapuntal piece, each voice has its own time structure, and when one hears it, one is actually hearing multiple time structures going on simultaneously, each with their own shape and organization. This bursts the bounds of most everyday time experience and enables the listener to inhabit temporarily an expanded consciousness that can encompass multiple time tracks or layers of temporal experience simultaneously.

Table of contents
1 Species Counterpoint
2 Contrapuntal Derivations
3 Dissonant Counterpoint

Species Counterpoint

Johann Fux published Gradus ad Parnassum, a work published in 1725 intended to help teach students how to write counterpoint. In this, he describes five species.

In first species counterpoint, a note simply works against another note. The two notes are played simultaneously, and move against each other, also simultaneously. The species is said to be expanded if one of the notes is broken up (but repeated).

In second species counterpoint, two notes work against a longer note. The species is said to be expanded if one of the shorter notes varies in length from the other.

In third species counterpoint, four notes move against a longer note. As with second species, it is expanded if one of the shorter notes vary in length from another.

In fourth species counterpoint, a note is held while changing note move against the holding note, creating a dissonance, followed by the holding note changing to create a subsequent consonance as the changing note holds. Fourth species counterpoint is said to be expanded when the notes vary in length from each other. The technique requires holding a note across the beat, creating syncopation.

In fifth species counterpoint, sometimes called florid counterpoint, the other four species of counterpoint are combined within the melody.

A common misconception is the belief that counterpoint is equal to these five species, and that anything that does not follow the strict rules of any of the species is not counterpoint. Although much music of the common practice period generally adheres to the fifth species, this is not true. Fux' book and its concept of "species" was purely a method of teaching counterpoint, not a definite set of rules for it.

Contrapuntal Derivations

The inverse of a given melody is the melody turned upside-down - so if the original melody has a rising major third (see interval), the inverted melody has a falling major third. Similarly, in the twelve tone technique, the inversion of the tone row is the so-called prime series turned upside-down. When applied to counterpoint, a contrapuntal inversion of two melodies simultaneously being played by two voices is the switching of the melodies between voices, so that the upper-voice melody is now played in the lower voice, and vice versa

Retrograde refers to the contrapuntal device whereby an imitative voice plays backwards in relation to the original.

Retrograde-inverse is where the imitative voice is both backwards and upside down.


Dissonant Counterpoint

Dissonant counterpoint was first theororized by Charles Seeger's, who formulated it as counterpoint but with all the rules reversed. First species counterpoint is required to be all dissonances, and consonances are "resolved" through a skip, not step. Seeger was not the first to employ dissonant counterpoint, but was the first to theorize and promote it. Other composers who have used dissonant counterpoint, if not in the exact manner prescribed by Charles Seeger, include Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Carl Ruggles, and Arnold Schoenberg.