Principles of Counterpoint


This book is the second in a series of short works on the teaching of musical composition. Here we will take a similar approach to counterpoint, treating it as an aspect of composition training and not as an independant  academic discipline. The other volumes are Orchestration and Harmony. All grow out of my own experience as a composer.

I have also written “Musical Composition: Craft and Art” published by Yale University Press.

A pdf version of this book is available for download here. An Italian version of this book (pdf) is available here. There is also a Spanish version. I am looking for a volunteer to translate this book into German; please contact me.


This series is dedicated to the memory of my teacher and friend Marvin Duchow , one of the rare true scholars, a musician of great depth and sensitivity, and a man of unsurpassed kindness and generosity.


Note concerning the musical examples: Unless otherwise indicated, all the musical examples are my own, and are covered by copyright. To hear other examples of my music, please visit the worklist page. 


Most of the examples, apart from those which are excerpts from longer compositions of mine, are intended for the voice. However, due to the unsatisfactory sound of current choral simulations, they have been rendered with organ sounds.
© 2000, Alan Belkin





  • 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