Two-Voice Counterpoint: First species
The study of Counterpoint should be compulsory for all piano students and piano teachers alike.
The reason: it is the way in which the musical discourse unfolds.
Believe it or not, the Contrapuntal technique started nearly one thousand years ago in medieval times. It developed until the golden era, the Baroque period, being Johann Sebastian Bach the icon which leads this technique to its utmost perfection. In fact, nobody after this composer could improve it further.
The contrapuntal technique starts with two melodic lines in combination, which are called “voices” as in the beginning; it was just applied to “a capella” music (music to be sung). The purpose of Counterpoint is to combine two independent melodic lines or voices into a musical whole that brings balance and a coherent outcome. It is common to start with a “Cantus Firmus” or the short version, CF. This name is a given melody upon which another tune is composed.
There are five ways to perform this combination, and they are called “species”:
1.- First Species: Note against CF
2.- Second Species: Two notes against CF
3.- Third Species: Four notes against CF.
4.- Fourth Species: Suspensions against CF
5.- Fifth Species: Where each of the above species will be combined in a free rhythmic line of Counterpoint against a CF
We start with the first species, in which the CF and the Counterpoint have the same rhythm and are considered the foundation upon which the rest of the species will follow.
This first species is the most difficult, as bereft of any dissonances, or rhythmic differences between voices, one has to think “outside the box” to bring variety into both melodic lines, but at the same time, to have unity between them is the challenge to explore for every student that is up to the task.
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