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TitleUnderstanding Counterpoint
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Total Pages32
Document Text Contents
Page 1



Elizabeth Colpitts

Page 2

Understanding Counterpoint by Elizabeth Colpitts - an overview

This overview of Understanding Counterpoint features brief extracts from the

330 page book, including:

• part of the Notes to Teacher (below)

• Table of Contents

• Introduction

• Chapter One: first page only

• Chapter One Review: all

• Chapter Two: first two pages

• Chapter Three: first two pages

• Chapter Four: first two pages

• Chapter Five: first two pages

• Chapter Six: first two pages

• Chapter Seven: first two pages

• Chapter Eight: first two pages

• Chapter Eight Review: all

• Chapter Nine: first two pages

• Chapter Ten: first two pages

Understanding Counterpoint was developed to help students prepare for the Counterpoint examination

offered by the Royal Conservatory of Music of Canada and the National Music Certificate Program in

the U.S.A. This edition is based on the requirements of the 2009 Theory Syllabus.

What’s in the Book?

Understanding Counterpoint is divided into four parts:

Part One : Writing Counterpoint - Chapters One to Three: teaches the basic skills for writing


Part Two: Writing Contrapuntal Dances - Chapters Four to Six: builds on the basic skills as the

student learns to complete a contrapuntal dance.

Part Three: Analyzing and Writing Fugues - Chapters Seven to Nine: prepares the student to

analyze and compose a fugue exposition.

Part Four: The Art of Figured Bass - Chapter Ten: prepares the student to write a figured bass

realization and compose a melody above a given figured bass line.

Page 16

116 - Chapter Four: Other Types of Counterpoint

Chapter Four: Other Types of Counterpoint

3:1 Counterpoint
In 3:1 (“three against one”) counterpoint, there are three notes in one line for each note in the
other line. Counterpoint in 3:1 ratio is written in compound time (see Example 1a) or in
simple time as triplets (see Example 1b).

1. For each of these phrases of 3:1 counterpoint:
a. name the key
b. write Roman numerals under the bass line
c. circle and identify the non-chord notes
d. name the vertical intervals, putting parentheses around the numbers for intervals
involving non-chord notes.

Example 1a

The faster moving line may be the melody or the bass line.

Example 2

Example 1b

Each three-note group in the faster moving line will have either all chord notes or a mix of
chord notes and non-chord notes.


Key: _____ I

3 8 (2)


Page 17

Chapter Four: Other Types of Counterpoint - 117

Key: ______

Writing 3:1 Counterpoint

To write 3:1 counterpoint, we use the same techniques that we use in 2:1 counterpoint, as
outlined on page 101.

· Base each group of notes in the faster moving line on one chord. (In this ratio, they are
groups of three notes.)

· Write chord notes and non-chord notes. Often write chord notes on beats.

· Create vertical intervals between chord notes according to the guidelines.

· Resolve non-chord notes correctly. Most types resolve by step.

· Either begin with a 1:1 framework and convert it to 3:1 counterpoint or write
3:1 counterpoint directly, without reference to a 1:1 version.

Using Perfect Intervals in 3:1 Counterpoint
In 3:1 counterpoint, we follow the guidelines from page 101 for the use of perfect intervals.

1. Approach each perfect unison, fifth and octave by contrary or oblique motion. You may
approach the perfect fifth or perfect octave by similar motion if the melody moves by step.

2. Don’t use two perfect unisons, fifths or octaves in a row. For example, these are wrong:

8 8 1 1


3. If a beat starts with a perfect unison, fifth or octave, don’t use that interval anywhere in the
preceding beat.

8 8 5 5 P 8

3 3


Page 31

284 - Chapter 10: Figured Bass Accompaniment

Chapter Ten – Figured Bass Accompaniment

Figured Bass During the Baroque Era

During the Baroque era, accompaniments for vocal and instrumental music were created using a

system called figured bass. Example 1a is an excerpt from a figured bass score. It shows the

format used for a typical Baroque piece for solo instrument and accompaniment.

Solo part (for

violin, oboe

or flute)

Figured bass

Example 1a

In figured bass style, the accompaniment was usually played on a keyboard instrument such as a

harpsichord. The accompanist played the written bass line and improvised an upper part, using

the numbers and signs below the bass line, the figures, as a guide.

An accompanist reading from the score in Example 1a would play something like the bottom

two lines in Example 1b. The complete accompaniment, the bass line and the chords, was

known as a realization of the figured bass.

Partita in E Minor - Aria 3 G. P. Telemann

Example 1b

Figured bass


Solo part (for

violin, oboe

or flute)


Partita in E Minor - Aria 3 G. P. Telemann

In figured bass style, each time a piece was played the bass line was the same but the improvised

upper part of the accompaniment was different because the accompanist would play different

voicings of the chords and sometimes add ornaments and bits of melody.

Lost and Found

After the eighteenth century, the art of improvising an upper part above a figured bass line was

virtually lost. Then, during the twentieth century, musicians began to play from figured bass

lines again, as part of the renewed interest in playing Baroque music as it was played during the

Baroque era.

6 6 6 _____ _________ # _____ 6 6 6

Page 32

Chapter 10: Figured Bass Accompaniment - 285

Today, many accompanists play Baroque accompaniments by reading from a figured bass score

such as the one in Example 1a. They play the written bass line and improvise an upper part,

just as players did during the Baroque era.

Other accompanists prefer to play from a written-out realization such as the one in Example 1b.

In this chapter we will learn to write a realization for a figured bass score.

A Typical Question

A typical figured bass question will be in the format shown in Example 1c. The assignment

will be to complete the realization by writing chords on the blank staff. Presented with a

question like Example 1c, the student will write something like the middle line of Example 1b.

6 6 6 6 6 ______ 6 _______ # _________

Example 1c Sample Question: Complete the realization of this figured bass accompaniment.


Figured bass style is used to accompany singers and instrumentalists. The solo part(s) may be for

a single voice or instrument, a small chamber group, or a larger group.

The figured bass accompaniment is typically played on two instruments, an instrument that can

play the chords, such as a harpsichord, and a bass instrument, such as a cello. The harpsichordist

plays the written bass line and improvises an upper part. The bass instrumentalist plays the bass

line in unison with the harpsichord.

Other instruments are also used. Instead of the harpsichord, an organ (for sacred works), lute,

harp or guitar may be used. Instead of the cello, a viola da gamba* or bassoon may be used.

If the group of instruments and/or singers is a large one, a number of these instruments may play

the accompaniment.

* The viola da gamba is a fretted stringed instrument that is similar to a cello. It originated in the sixteenth


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