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Topic: Counterpoint and Arranging

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  1. #1

    Counterpoint and Arranging

    For those of you who are interested in arranging, I really recommend you learn counterpoint. I find that counterpoint opens up a whole new world for arrangers, especially if you are interested in writing independent lines for strings. I purchased Counterpointer from ars-nova and have really enjoyed it. The program teaches counterpoint and grades your work, marking all errors such as parallel or direct fifths. Counterpoint may seem old school and dull to some, but I really think it will make you a better arranger. If you are well grounded in the fundamentals--counterpoint, harmony, instrumentation and orchestration--you will be that much better in the long run. RK certainly knew all these and it shows in his work. Just my two cents.

  2. #2

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    Quote Originally Posted by Ron St. Germain
    For those of you who are interested in arranging, I really recommend you learn counterpoint. I find that counterpoint opens up a whole new world for arrangers, especially if you are interested in writing independent lines for strings. I purchased Counterpointer from ars-nova and have really enjoyed it. The program teaches counterpoint and grades your work, marking all errors such as parallel or direct fifths. Counterpoint may seem old school and dull to some, but I really think it will make you a better arranger. If you are well grounded in the fundamentals--counterpoint, harmony, instrumentation and orchestration--you will be that much better in the long run. RK certainly knew all these and it shows in his work. Just my two cents.

    that's shure...but i think we are talking about orchestration here and composition....but yes...studing bach is great for learning counterpoint

  3. #3

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    Counterpoint is especially vital to orchestration, not just in the classical sense, but in terms of giving the non-melodic instruments something to do besides just accompanying the melody in whole notes and other simplistic harmonizations. For example, most composers just starting out tend to view the bass instruments as only being able to play the bass line, when simple imitation in instruments such as the bassoon or double basses could make things so much more interesting. Also, it is important to see how the first violins, second violins, and violas can all play different lines but still be supportive of the main melodic line. In the classical sense this is just simple polyphony and voice leading (contrary motion, rhythmic offsets, etc.) but you see it all the time in orchestrations by Mahler. It's not just for writing Bach fugues.

  4. #4

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    Hello,

    to me it seems also essential, that you can activly apply the rules of counterpoint. I still can not imagine how it is possible to improvise over a given theme like Bach did. But I still have a long way to go. Anyway: A program which for me is really important is Tonica.

    Take a four part fugue, extract the voices, let the voices be played by different instruments (Viol 1, Viol 2, Viola and Cello) and you are deep in the problem of orchestration (even without GPOA )

    And last but not least there is a free Counterpoint teaching system from the University of Bremen ThInC (The Incarnate Counterpoint) http://thinc.informatik.uni-bremen.de/index.html


    Hajo
    ---
    ... indessen wandelt harmlos droben das Gestirn

  5. #5

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    Quote Originally Posted by aLfR3dd
    that's shure...but i think we are talking about orchestration here and composition....but yes...studing bach is great for learning counterpoint

    I think counterpoint principles go far beyond composition. Voice leadings are critical to good writing from the standpoint of orchestration, too. Why? Because when you make the mistake of parallel 5ths or octaves (as opposed to when you use them intentionally, which create perfectly valid effects) it steals the sound and creates what amounts to a new instrument. If you know about FM synthesis, you know that stacking harmonics creates new timbres. When two instruments parallel each other in 5ths, especially, the effect is a synthesis of the sounds so that a new sound is created momentarily. That is very distracting from an orchestration standpoint, because the timbres of the instruments is temporarily lost, replaced by this new "uber-instrument." An example of this in practice (intentionally) is the horn/piccolo duo in Ravel's Bolero, wherein a new instrument is synthesized by the combination of the two, especially when the players match sounds, i.e., the piccolo plays sans vibrato to blend into the horn.

    Thus, learning to avoid 5ths an octaves in parallel is essential to orchestration. Philip Glass made the claim that of the modern composers, his music is unique in that his voice leadings are perfect. Why? Nadia Boulanger, who was a stickler for proper counterpoint. He says it almost ironically, self-deprecatingly, as if it's a habit he can't break because she drilled it into him so deeply, but I detected a certain pride behind the laugh. It is a skill, and when used properly, it is something to be proud of.


    Shooshie

  6. #6

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    Quote Originally Posted by Shooshie
    I think counterpoint principles go far beyond composition. Voice leadings are critical to good writing from the standpoint of orchestration, too.
    Agreed. I'm not sure you can be a good composer or arranger without knowing as much as possible about harmony, counterpoint, and part-writing.

    An example of this in practice (intentionally) is the horn/piccolo duo in Ravel's Bolero, wherein a new instrument is synthesized by the combination of the two, especially when the players match sounds, i.e., the piccolo plays sans vibrato to blend into the horn.
    Yeah. The same principle is used in the organ stop known as the cornet (pronounced French-style, without the t), where several pipes play different overtones simultaneously to create an oboe-like tone.

    Actually, that passage in the Bolero bears an in-depth explanation, I think (I'm working from memory here, so please feel free to point out errors). Let's recall the overtone series for a moment, using C as fundamental:





    12345
    Ccgc1e1


    Ravel uses this exact spacing in the Bolero: the horn plays the melody mf at the fundamental frequency (starting pitch: concert c2). It is doubled quietly at the two upper octaves (2nd and 4th overtones; starting c3 and c4) by the celesta, and at the twelfth and seventeenth (3rd and 5th overtones; starting g3 and e4) by two piccolos. The resulting sound is extremely nasal and like no single instrument. It's pretty cool (and, BTW, it's the only place the celesta is used in the whole piece).
    Philip Glass made the claim that of the modern composers, his music is unique in that his voice leadings are perfect. Why? Nadia Boulanger, who was a stickler for proper counterpoint.
    Yup. I too had very thorough training in counterpoint (in fact, I studied it before studying harmony), and it shows: I very often notice myself automatically being extremely picky about my part-writing. It's weird, perhaps, but I think it makes for better music, not to mention making each individual part more interesting to play.

    Of course, like any rules in the arts, those of part-writing should sometimes be broken, but it's worth understanding them before you decide they don't apply in a particular instance. It's also worth remembering that a lot depends on style: big-band jazz and French impressionist music are two excellent examples of styles where parallel fifths are perfectly acceptable.
    Last edited by marnen; 06-01-2006 at 12:27 AM. Reason: Removing extra white space.
    Marnen E. Laibow-Koser
    Composer / Web developer
    http://www.marnen.org

  7. #7

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    For a good example of what contrary motion (an important aspect of counterpoint can do for a score) see Lesson 4, Score Reference 14,
    measure 9. Note the simulaneous upward movement of the flutes and the downward movement of the cellos. It's a wonderful sound.

  8. #8

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    big-band jazz and French impressionist music are two excellent examples of styles where parallel fifths are perfectly acceptable.
    Thank you Marnen for saying this while presenting your thorough explanation of counterpoint along with the classic Ravel Organ Stop technique from Bolero (it seems to bbe a favorite passage for orchestration books).

    So many people seem to issue blanket statements regarding parallelism in modern music. Through some long standing research I have for a book on string writing in popular music and jazz I have found a plethora of examples on parallel 5ths and other intervals. I write in this idiom but I would be the first to admit that my contrapuntal technique has come from my study of 18th century counterpoint and part writing - after that, it's all idiomatic to me. If I want to write a 1930s sounding big band chart I will have few if any chromatic extensions in a dominant chord - b5 is associated with bebop, and it goes on and on. IMO, a study of counterpoint teaches the writer to think about the line from the player/vocalist's standpoint and therefore I always recommend to emerging jazz writers.

    David.

  9. #9

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    that Counterpointer software looks extremely interesting. Too bad there is no demo for it. I'd really like to hear more about it.
    "Music is a manifestation of the human spirit similar to a language. If we do not want such things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest number of people understand their secrets" -- Zoltan Kodaly

  10. #10

    Re: Counterpoint and Arranging

    Hello,

    Quote Originally Posted by dewdman42
    that Counterpointer software looks extremely interesting. Too bad there is no demo for it. I'd really like to hear more about it.
    Thinc is free and for Tonica you will find a demo.

    Hajo
    ---
    ... indessen wandelt harmlos droben das Gestirn

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