Write Like Mozart Week 5 Notes – Counterpoint

Below is the second part of my Write Like Mozart Week 5 Notes that I sent my students last year when we took the Write Like Mozart class together.  The Write Like Mozart class is online again at the time of these posts. Each of these posts are timed to match the current week of that class.

In this short installment, I offer hints on writing 1:1, 2:1, and mixed note value counterpoint.

This is the eighth post in this series.

Two Part Counterpoint

Professor Edwards gives a reasonable yet quick introduction to writing 2 part counterpoint that can be useful in composing. It is not necessarily THE way to compose, but I think it is a useful tool for composing.

Probably some of the most important points our professor made in this lesson has to do with keeping the melody interesting. Keep listening to what you write and audition each line to make sure it sounds interesting on its own.

1:1 Counterpoint

Some hints on doing 1:1 counterpoint:

  • Once you’ve identified the harmony suggested by the bass line, write the names of all the chord tones in your harmony ABOVE your music. This gives a quick reference to what notes you’re allowed to use at any one point.
  • Ideally start and end on the tonic for a complete phrase — although this may not be your criteria in the middle of piece.
  • Think about melodic shape. Always have a direction in mind that is either moving up or down for a length of time.
  • Have a goal point. Where is the most exciting point of the piece?
  • If you’re highest melodic point is to be towards the end of the piece, avoid hitting it too soon.
  • And, definitely avoid what he calls “turbulence” — a great term that I think I will steal from him.
  • Avoid straight scales in a single direction for a long time. As boring as turbulence!

2:1 Counterpoint

In 2:1 counterpoint, we get Non chord tones — this is where the fun really starts!

  • Know the list of permissible non chord tones. It is a very generous list, and they all will create reasonable options.
  • Keep in mind the rules of shape for the 1:1 counterpoint. E.g., avoid hitting the high note before you want to! Avoid adding turbulence. Etc.
  • Check your voice leading rules: no parallel 5ths, 8ves, direct 5ths and 8ves, and illegal melodic steps (augmented 2nds, tritones, etc.)
  • Watch your rules of leaps: If you leap more than a 3rd, and you’re not arpeggiating, step out of the leap, usually in the opposite direction.

Mixed Note Values

When moving to mixed note values, all of the existing rules above still apply, but you’re free to do more playing:

  • Look for opportunities to play with motivic elements
  • Try the RULE OF TWO
  • Double check your voice leading rules

The 2 part counterpoint writing is a GREAT way to whip up a melodic line to give to a solo instrument to be accompanied by the piano.

Soon I’ll be posting notes on Week 6 of Write Like Mozart.  Until then!

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