RSS Feed

‘Counterpoint’ Category

  1. Visualising Music Part 1

    September 3, 2012 by RedSheep

    I’ve been inspired down a flight of fancy this week with a drawing from Igor Stravinsky.  The story goes that he was asked how he thinks of his music , and his response was drawing this image on a napkin

    Stravinsky Napkin Picture

    (Credit to Larry Goves for sharing the story)

    What’s interesting about this diagram to me is that my composing, specifically counterpoint, falls into the harmonic polyphony category, and I’m close to embarking on learning about Bach fugues.  I also find it no coincidence that the last drawing is used as the Perspectives Of New Music logo, just flipped 180 degrees! It got me to thinking about how I visualise my own music.  I’m nowhere near the level of Stravinsky, but it can be done at any level, and better still it can be a great tool for coming up with new sounds.

    Perspectives of new music logo

    Hmmmmmmmm

    Visualising Rhythm

    Seeing this, along with some exercises on graphical scores made me think about how to visualise my own music, in perticular the counterpoint I’ve been jabbering on about for 9 months.  It’s in the space between polyphony and harmonic polyphony and I decided to focus on the rhythm of different Species of counterpoint.  I took the rhytms of 2 and 3 part counterpoint(according to The study of counterpoint) and just looked at how they divide

    Counterpoint Rhytm Diagrams

     

    you can immediately see that the later species will have a more varied sound because of multiple rhythms going on at once, and this is just using 3 note values, uniform on the beat. Originally when there were only 2 voices, rhythms would’ve been quite limited in a similar way, but over time as things like the fugal form developed  and players became daring enough to try new rhythms against the rules of theory at that time ,rhythms and new exotic textures began to emerge.  But I digress, Let’s try something practical.

    We’re focusing on Rhythm here, so I kept to 3 part counterpoint moving through the species in order of complexity of rhythm.  Just by looking through them you can see how they relate to the diagrams above, and listening to them gives an idea of multiple textures happening at one time. 

     Visualising Rhythm – Species 1

    CounterPoint Species 1 Example

    Visualising Rhythm – Species 2

    CounterPoint Species 2 Example

    Visualising Rhythm – Species 3a

    CounterPoint Species 3 Example 1

    Visualising Rhythm – Species 3b

    CounterPoint Species 3 Example 2

     Visualising Rhythm – Species 4

    CounterPoint Species 3+4 Example

     

     

    Beat Shifting and Latin Grooves

    I remember watching a program about latin grooves and salsa a while ago that said the music drives you forward because each instrument is just a fraction off beat from the last eg the bass will be a 16th ahead of the drums and the piano will be a sixteenth ahead of the bass.  If you want an example check out Stevie Wonder or Santana, who are masters of the technique.  let’s try a simplified version.

    The Middle Voice is the main Line, so let’s move the top voice forward a 16th note.

    Visualising Rhythm – Latin Counterpoint 1

    Latin CounterPoint Example 1

    I didn’t expect that to work so well, now let’s shift the lower voice a 16th note ahead of the top voice

    Visualising Rhythm – Latin Counterpoint 2

     

    Latin Counterpoint Example

    The hardest part was transcribing

    As you can hear, It’s the same notes, but it just pulls your ear along far better.  It’s really simple to do, and the sheet music makes you look all professional and stuff.

    Note: I had another latin counterpoint example which  had an extra drum track, but due to technical difficulties they came out sounding rather messed up.

    Horses, Ligatures and Latin Rhythms

    The way Ligatures are a delayed note works very similarly to the shift that just happened there.  In a classical ligature the shift was by a minim (half note), but in the latin music it was only by a semiquaver (16th note). Regardless they both serve to give the music more of a pull, like climbing a rope with alternating hands instead of one big pull with both then another. now that I think of meaphors imagine how a spider moves, with 8 legs all going one after the other propelling it forward.  The same with how horses run.  Isn’t it interesting how the rhythm of a horse running is the same as that of a heart beating? ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum,ta-tum…

    beyond anything else this idea was an experiment for me, a new way to think about music and see where it leads me.  See what you can visualise in your own music and you might just come up with some really interesting ideas!

    With plans a 2 parter

    RedSheep_Signature

     

     


  2. Classical Counterpoint Species 3

    June 24, 2012 by RedSheep

    2 Part Counterpoint Species 2

    In Species 2 of counterpoint we covered using half notes and the rules that come with it.  Now that that’s sorted we can take the next step and move on to quarter notes, allowing for more freedom and melody shapes.   First I’m going to cover the basic rules then move on to how I found it for composing.  

    Look at all that crotchety goodness. CROTCHETY!

    Rules

    Note 1 must always be consonant

    Notes 2 and 4 can be dissonant if they are moving stepwise and note 3 is consonant

    Note 3 can be dissonant if notes 2  and 4 are consonant

    SPECIAL CASE

    In this species there is the is the cambiata,  meaning ‘exchanged note’.  Named and used by the Italians ,it happens when you go from a dissonant second note to a consonant note by skip.

    Endings

    If the Cantus firmus is in the bottom part the counterpoint may end in one of two ways:

    Species 3 ending example

    If it’s in the upper part, the only option is:

    Species 3 Ending 2

    Note how the leading note used in all cases

    Now, onto what I came up with and the sheet music

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    (Note This is the full set clocking in at 10+ mins, I’ll be cutting it down soon)

    TSOC – 2 Parts Chapter 3

    Thoughts

    The possibillities for melodies grew even greater in this species and the trouble I found was that it was so easy to go crazy with rising and falling notes that I could easily ruin the melody of a piece.  After I’d got some experience on the first exercises I decided to see how high I could take the melody and later how low without ruining the melody, then shifting around and moving in patterns. Because i was still sticking to the rules I could add a fair amount of variety without sounding off key or illogical.  It’s still possible, but it’s a hard error to make.

    (more…)


  3. Latest Music From The Pen

    May 10, 2012 by RedSheep


    Imprisoned in a cage of sound, even the trivial seems profound

    "Imprisoned in a cage of sound, even the trivial seems profound" - John Betjeman

    I’ve been working on ear training and composition skills over the last few months, and thought I’d share some of the little pieces that have come from it.

    Schoenberg Tonic Dominant Practice

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Seven Beats

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Period Form No 1

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Harmonic Minor experiment

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    A Theme of Gentle Winds

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


  4. Short Sample of Album

    February 24, 2012 by RedSheep

    It’s terrible quality sound, but seing as the end is getting so close here’s a quick sample of what’s coming up on the album! The overture isn’t written yet, and looks like it will be the final thing on my list after the other songs but there is a real chance that this is going to make it. It’s been a blast so far and I can’t wait till it’s ready.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Yours fervently

    RedSheep


  5. 2 Part Counterpoint Species 2

    January 31, 2012 by RedSheep

    Species 1  Species 3

    For a short chapter, this one was surprisingly difficult.  New features of this chapter included dissonances, hidden 5ths, more flat notes and the requirement to end pieces in a certain way.  

    The Study of Counterpoint

    Round 2 Fux, Give it all you've got!

    Following the rules from species 1 is quite easy now after going through all the examples, and even here there weren’t many moments of trouble.  the only thing I struggled with was the Idea of having to end pieces in a certain way.  In some examples in the book the writer flattened the second to last note and it took a while to understand why he was doing this.  The Cantus Firmus will always end  with a second resolving to the root of the scale, and depending on whether the CF is in the upper or lower part the counterpoint will either have a fifth then a major sixth if CF is in the lower voice, or a fifth then a minor third if the CF is in the upper voice.  A few examples are shown below, with an explanation of sharps and flats.

    Counterpoint Species 2 Cadence Example

    Notice that some notes are outside the D Dorian mode.

    This book was written before the idea of Major scales and key signatures were in use everywhere.  the 2 modes that are used mostly now are the Ionian Mode and the Aolian mode.  In this Example we used the D Dorian mode, but resolving from the dominant seventh to the root doesn’t resolve as well as a major 7th to the root, which is why the rules are set this way.  by sharpening the second note in each example the music is given a complete sound.  this is a type of Cadence.

     

    One of the things that’s both good and bad in this Species is that each piece must end in a certain way. If the Cantus firms is in the lower part the last two bars must have a fifth, followed by a minor third, with the last bar having a resolving octave. This was a bit confusing because the actual written notation had a gap of major 7th to an octave I. The last bar, though I now realise that the minor third interval referred to the gab between the third and second last notes. This ending is handy, however it does mean that every piece ends the same way.

    This Chapter introduces the idea of the Downbeat on the first beat of each bar, and the upbeat on the third.  the upbeat can be dissonant if it moves stepwise between two notes but the note must resolve to a consonance on the next beat.

    Stepwise vs skips

    Stepwise refers to travelling up the scale without gaps, like so

    In Stepwise notes move along the scale without gaps

    In Stepwise notes move along the scale without gaps

     

    Skips on the other hand refer to skipping a note on the way up or down a scale.

    Skips move in degrees of at least a third or

    Skips move in degrees of at least a third or

    The addition of rules in this species was fairly easy, so by the third piece I was confidently writing easily.  I decided to try stretching the rules. One instance I saw how low I can go, another always moved in skips, another was only in arpeggios etc. I found that some of the pieces sounded great, and having the rules in place as a guideline meant the melody could be kept interesting without becoming dissonant and unlistenable  The most important rule is always to use your ears, because your ears tell you when to follow the rules strictly, and when to deviate.

    Right now all 153 bars are contained in this one mp3 file, but rest assured, They will be split up soon!

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Next we tackle a very interesting note value indeed.  Go Crotchets go!

    Update

    In my original post I said that you can never use descending fifths or octaves when in fact they’re perfectly allowable as long as there’s a skip of at least a 4th between the first note and the second. For example:

    Progressions that aren't allowed in species 2

    Are not allowed because the small interval is not sufficiant to cover up the descending fifths, however:

    Progressions that are allowed in species 2

    Are allowed because the ear “forgets” the sound of the first note and this makes the next note acceptable.

     


  6. Classic Counterpoint Species 1

    January 13, 2012 by RedSheep

    Warning! Simple pieces and whole notes throughout!

    As I mentioned in an Earlier post, I recently invested in some composition books.  Included was “The Study of Counterpoint”  originally by Joseph Fux.  This book was the standard in it’s day held in high regard by both Beethoven and Mozart, and thanks to various translations and updates in notation it has survived as a very readable and valuable book today.  

    The Study of Counterpoint

    Small book - Big read

    The nature of counterpoint is simply that You set 2 or more voices(or parts) that are harmonically independent against each other. (Though me a month to get a clear definition anywhere).

    The nature of counterpoint as it was back then is filled with many rules.  The philosophy was that music should always sound pleasant, and the governing rules of counterpoint allow for a vast variety of sounds while still remaining so.  It’s by this philosophy that the TriTone was banished from counterpoint, as for the other Intervals:

    • Unisons, Fifths and Octaves are deemed perfect consonances
    • Thirds and Sixths are deemed imperfect consonances
    • Seconds, Fourths and Sevenths are deemed dissonant

    Counterpoint is split into various species in the book, but really it’s just a way of starting simple.

    The first species uses only whole notes, and your task in this chapter is to take the main part(called the Cantus Firmus) and write a Harmony part (called the Counterpoint).

    The basic rules in this species are

    1. you can move from any harmony to a perfect  consonance by contrary or oblique motion
    2. you can move from any harmony to an imperfect  consonance by contrary, oblique, or direct motion

    there are many others that are quite interesting as far as their reasons go, and applying them all is called strict Counterpoint.  these include

    • The interval between a note and the next cannot be more than a minor sixth, because parts should be as singable as possible
    • Harmony notes can not move in contrary motion (from more than an octave apart) to an octave on the first measure of a bar, they can however move from less than an octave apart in contrary motion to an octave.  It is called Battuta/thesis in the book, but I haven’t found an online definition yet
    • Never play a diminished fifth.
    • Always start and end with a perfect consonance
    • When writing the counterpoint in the lower part, always start with an octave (this is to establish the key of the counterpoint matches the Cantus Firmus, and the bass note usually has more influence)
    • Never the melodic lines of the CP and CF unless moving stepwise where not doing so would break another rule

    For such a small chapter it took surprisingly long to get used to all the rules and why they each apply, I went through each example and did my own version, and here are the results following strict counterpoint(as far as I could spot).

     

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

     

    The Idea in having so many rules is that not everyone has an orchestra spare, and by writing down methods and rules for making music composers could write pieces for Solo piano to large orchestras step by step, and have a good chance that the music will sound great.  I found it difficult to think in terms of the intervals at first but I found when I listened back that the music sounds very harmonious and varied if a little simple at times.  Next – Minims!