TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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Introduction to tonality More about the TonalityGUIDE analysis tool kit Clefs, note labels, intervals and transposition
chord identification understanding voice-leading style awareness

The ToolKIT, which is accessible from all pages of the site, outlines the three main analytical skills that aims to develop. It also links to a short introduction to the study of tonality as well as a reminder of some basics (note and interval labels, clefs and transpositions).

Species Counterpoint Summary
introduction first species second species third species fourth species fifth species

Species counterpoint is a teaching tool that has introduced generations of musicians to contrapuntal composition in the style of the Renaissance composer Palestrina. It is a useful reminder of both the importance of linear motion in music and the origins of the various voice-leading characteristics discussed in the Toolkit.

Students of species counterpoint (which includes many of the most famous tonal composers) were taught to write within a very strict set of rules. The idea is to start with very simple two-voice exercises and work up to complex four-voice textures. This very brief summary looks at the five different types (or species) of two-voice exercises. The rules and patterns learnt in the course of this process are virtually identical to those found in tonal compositions over the last three centuries - partly of course because so many composers were taught their craft in this way.

The rules for species counterpoint exercises concern either melodic motion in general, or the types of interval succession between the two voices. Almost any succession of intervals is allowed if the motion between the voices is contrary or oblique, but for similar and parallel motion there are basically two restrictions:

  • parallel motion is only allowed between imperfect intervals (sixths and thirds)
  • voices must not move in similar motion to either perfect fifths or octaves

Species counterpoint exercises were written using the various church modes, but to simplify matters, the following pages will use the notes of the Ionian mode - which are the same as those of C major in the modern tonal system.

Just in case you think species counterpoint is a rather abstract exercise, two voice textures are quite common in Renaissance music. The benchmark for these exercises is basically the style of Palestrina, but here is a two-voice opening of a mass movement by the earlier composer Josquin des Pres (c. 1440-1521). In this style, the equivalent of a cadence is the interval succession of either a sixth to an octave or a third to a unison. This pattern can be seen in bars 5, 7 and 9 marked with a red 6-8 or 3-1. All your species exercises in the Ionian mode should end on C using one of these successions.

The Tonality GUIDE tonal music analysis tool kit
information and orientation as you browse around
chord identification
understanding voice-leading
style awareness

© Copyright Thomas Pankhurst

TonalityGUIDE - Tonal Harmony and Voiceleading - Table of Contents