|Free Counterpoint and Realizing Harmony|
In its Free Counterpoint mode Counterpointer allows you to write in any number of voices up to 8, while choosing for yourself which style rules to enforce. You can also choose a particular "style set," such as Palestrina style, or Bach Vocal Style. But before you begin writing without any training wheels you might find it worth your time to practice creating polyphony that follows particular harmonies. In doing that you leave the "modal counterpoint" of the Palestrina style and enter the tonal world in which underlying chord changes are shaping the progress of polyphony rather than being an accidental result of it.
Most composition students will at some point practice the realization of harmony in four parts following Roman numerals. The rules of counterpoint will be about the same as those studied in species counterpoint, though somewhat more flexible, but the student will have to create in those four voices the harmonies specified by the Roman numerals. Counterpointer has a long series of such exercises in increasing length and difficulty, each based on the harmonies found in particular chorale harmonizations by J.S. Bach. While Bach used chorale tunes as a slightly flexible cantus firmus, you'll be given nothing at all except the Roman numeral chords: all melody will be up to you.
Figured Bass (Thoroughbass)
An earlier form of almost the same exercise was well known to Bach and his contemporaries: the realization of harmony specified by figured bass, or thoroughbass. Early composers used a kind of shorthand much as a jazz arranger might today: they did not necessarily write all the notes for a keyboard accompaniment, but wrote just the bass line with numbers underneath to indicate the desired harmonies to be built on the bass. The keyboardist then was expected to improvise accompaniment based on those figures, while still paying attention to the usual principles of counterpoint that govern the graceful combination of voices. Counterpointer includes these exercises too, but you don't extemporize; you treat these figures much like the Roman numerals except that now the bass is specified and you are providing the other three voices. These exercises are also based on harmonies extracted from Bach's chorale harmonizations. We'll look first at realizing harmony from Roman numerals.
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