• 5 Important Contrapuntal Motions Every Classical Musician Must Know

    in Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    In this lesson, we’ll be learning important contrapuntal motions that every serious classical musician must know.

    Warning: This lesson is written with classically trained musicians in mind. However, it can also be of help to anyone who is interested in gaining a classical perspective to the movement of notes.

    I’m aware that a vast majority of musicians reading this have little or no knowledge of contrapuntal music, therefore, permit me to start by giving you a background on contrapuntal music.

    “What Is Contrapuntal Music?”

    Contrapuntal music is an important classical music style that features two independent notes – preferably known as voices. These individual voices, considered as points, are played point against point, creating a counterpoint.

    The Latin word for counterpoint (which is a description of the interaction between the voices) is contra punctum which literally means point against point. Any musical piece written in the counterpoint style can be said to be contrapuntal.

    Once again, contrapuntal music is a classical music style that features independent voices (mostly two or three) and several classical works in classical piano literature are contrapuntal; from Bach Inventions, to Fur Elise and many more.

    It is true that independent melodies are against each other in contrapuntal music. However, there’s a conjunction between the melodies and relationships based on certain principles which we can’t cover in this lesson.

    Yes! The scope of contrapuntal music is wider than what we can possibly discuss in this short lesson. So, we’ll proceed into learning the possible ways the voices can move during a counterpoint.

    “Attention…”

    There are five known ways voices can move in contrapuntal music, and they are…

    • Static Motion
    • Parallel Motion
    • Similar Motion
    • Contrary Motion
    • Oblique Motion

    …let’s go ahead and explore them.

    Static Motion

    In static motion, both voices are stationary.

    “Check Out The Static Motion Between These Two Voices…”

    C and C:

    C and C:

    C and C:

    C and C:

    C and C:

    Guess you saw how stationary both voices were throughout the excerpt. Playing and repeating exactly the same voices on the keyboard over and over creates a static motion.

    Alright! We’re done with that, let’s look at other motions.

    Parallel Motion

    In parallel motion, there’s a movement between the voices in the same direction, and maintaining the same interval.

    There are two things to be mindful of in parallel motion:

    • The same direction
    • The same interval

    To create a parallel motion between two voices, you must determine the interval (or distance) between them and move them in the same direction (either in ascending or descending direction.)

    “Here’s An Example…”

    Before creating a parallel motion between the voices C and A:

    …the first thing to do is to determine the interval between the voices.

    Quick tip: The interval between C and A is a major sixth.

    Knowing that the interval between C and A is a major sixth, we can create a parallel motion between both voices by sticking to a major sixth interval in the same direction – whether ascending or descending.

    “Here’s An Ascending Parallel Motion In Whole Steps Starting From C-A…”

    C and A:

    D and B:

    E and C#:

    F# and D#:

    G# and F:

    “Here’s An Ascending Parallel Motion In Half Steps Starting From C-A…”

    C and A:

    C# and A#:

    D and B:

    Eb and C:

    E and C#:

    I highly recommend the practice of parallel motion using various interval types in ascending and descending directions to all my students, you too can try it out.

    Similar Motion

    Similar motion involves the movement of voices in the same direction, just like in the parallel motion but unlike in the parallel motion, the interval between the voices can change.

    For example, the movement of voices from E-C:

    …to G-D:

    …to G-E:

    …to A-F:

    …and to C-G:

    …produces a similar motion.

    Did you notice the change in the intervals?

    E-C:

    …is a minor sixth interval.

    G-D:

    …is a perfect fifth interval.

    G-E:

    …is a major sixth interval.

    A-F:

    …is a minor sixth interval.

    C-G:

    …is also a perfect fifth interval.

    “In A Nutshell…”

    Save for the fact that the interval between the voices change in the similar motion, the parallel and similar motions are related.

    Contrary Motion

    Contrary motion is the movement of voices in opposite direction. The contrary motion is one of the most important motions in contrapuntal music.

    Studies have shown that the strength and independence of voices increase when they are in contrary motion with each other. When one voice ascends, the other descends and vice-versa.

    A very common example of contrary motion is the warm-up exercise of playing the natural major scale in contrary motion.

    “Check It Out…”

    C-C:

    B-D:

    A-E:

    G-F:

    F-G:

    E-A:

    D-B:

    C-C:

    …And Then It Begins To Descend…”

    C-C:

    D-B:

    E-A:

    F-G:

    G-F:

    A-E:

    B-D:

    C-C:

    “Also Check Out This One…”

    C-C:

    B-D:

    Bb-E:

    A-F:

    Ab-G:

    G-A:

    F#-B:

    F-C:

    Let’s round up with the oblique motion.

    Oblique Motion

    In oblique motion, one voice is static while the other one moves in any direction (whether ascending or descending.)

    “Here’s An Oblique Motion With A Static Upper Voice…”

    C-C:

    D-C:

    Eb-C:

    E-C:

    “Here’s A Bluesy One…”

    Gb-C:

    F-C:

    Eb-C:

    C-C:

    “Here’s An Oblique Motion With A Static Lower Voice…”

    C-Eb:

    C-E:

    C-G:

    C-A:

    C-C:

    Final Words

    I’m certain you enjoyed this lesson. I also believe that now you have the idea of these five different contrapuntal motions at your disposal, that you’ll be able to identify these motions when a contrapuntal piece of music is played.

    If you have questions or need clarification on any of the motions we studied in this lesson, kindly post them on the comment section.

    I’ll see you in another lesson where we’ll further our discussion on contrapuntal music.

    All the best!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Jaime

    Hi, Jermaine/Chuku:
    Please, be carefull.
    I think you´ve made some mistakes on pages 12 and 13:
    12th – Image has to show A-E, not Bb-E
    13th – Images have to show the following notes:
    G-F, not A-F
    F-G, not Ab-G
    E-A, not G-A
    D-B, not F#-B
    C-C, not F-C
    Am I right, dear teachers?
    God bless both of you.
    Jaime

    Reply

    2 Chuku Onyemachi

    Thanks for pointing that out!
    Although you got it the other way round, in actuality, the images are correct while the text was wrong. I’ve effected the correction. God bless you.

    Reply

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