Principles of Counterpoint

Real world uses of counterpoint

Apart from the contrapuntal forms mentioned earlier, no study of counterpoint is complete without a look at the everyday applications of counterpoint. Even for the musician who never intends to write a fugue, the following are direct applications of contrapuntal training:

  • Increased attention to inner parts in general.
  • The ability to write more lively and interesting secondary parts in orchestration and arrangement.
  • The capacity to write better chamber music; more sophisticated distribution of interest between the players.
  • Greater fluency and variety in techniques of transition and development in all musical forms.
  • A more intimate understanding and appreciation of major contrapuntal works from various periods.




The importance of counterpoint for transitions comes from the fact that, by its very nature, counterpoint encourages overlapping: Phrases do not always begin and end at the same time. Through overlapping, the joints between sections can be camouflaged.

Avoiding squareness

As mentioned above, contrapuntal thinking encourages overlap. The habit of always keeping interest alive in at least one part, even when another cadences, makes for more interesting phrasing, and mitigates squareness of construction.


Development implies presenting previously exposed material in a new light, providing unity and variety simultaneously. Recombining familiar motives into new lines, as in fugue, is one of the best ways to do this. Also, sensitivity to motivic transformations and the degree of distance from their original forms is useful in spinning out material as richly as possible.


The application of counterpoint to variation is twofold:

  • First, the techniques of interval elaboration learned in the third species correspond almost exactly with the classical technique of ornamental variation, wherein the skeletal notes of a theme are filled in and enriched
  • Second, one of the best ways to present material in new contexts is to add counterpoint to it.





  • Introduction
  • The pedagogy of counterpoint
  • Stylistic assumptions


  • Voice leading
  • Contour
  • Compound line
  • Accent
  • Melodic structure and ornamentation
  • Motives and coherence
  • Neutral lines


  • Richness
  • Harmonic definition
  • Modulation

Relationships between lines

  • Introduction
  • Classifications of contrapuntal texture
  • Invertible counterpoint: a special case
  • Counterpoint and orchestration

Instrumental Counterpoint

  • Range
  • Crossing
  • Specific instrumental idioms and motives

Contrapuntal forms

  • Fugue
  • Canon
  • Passacaglia and chaconne

Real world uses of counterpoint

  • Counterpoint in non-polyphonic forms

Conclusion, acknowledgments, bibliography