« 2:1 Writing in the 18th-century Style | Main

3:1 and 4:1 writing with 2 parts.

First, let’s review. We’ve had a lot of guidelines and rules so far about melody and counterpoint in the baroque style. But there are ways to summarize them quickly:

I. Counterpoints form at least one “essential interval” with every cantus firmus note. Essential intervals need not occur on the thesis. Most essential intervals in 2-part writing imply a triad. Inessential intervals—usually dissonances, but not always—must behave like one of several formulae for non-chord tones.  

[ —- > This is covered in rule 1 (a, b, & c) of the post above: ”2:1 writing in the 18th-c style”]

II. Step-skip rules: steps followed by skips in the same direction often create a swooping or stalling motion that feels unbalanced. Two rules are designed to fix that problem. (1) Avoid stepping to weak and then skipping to strong in the same direction. (2) Compensate all step-skips. 

 [ —- > See rule 2 (a & b) of the 2:1 writing rules.]

III. Interval succession: 

i. Do not write || PCs (parallel perfect consonances). [See Rule 3b:i for a complete description.]

ii. Write in such a way that, except at the beginning and at cadences, imperfect consonances occur regularly, and leave perfect consonances “mobilized” and “transient.” [See Rule 3a.]

(This means not “exposing” the stability of PCs by writing them successively [Rule 3b:ii], or approached by leaps in both voices [3b:v], approaching them similar motion [Rule 3b:iii], or landing on them at strong beats [3b:iv].


Now, as we add more than one note between the “theses” of the cantus firmus (the given line against which you are writing a new line), we have just a few more rules to keep in mind.

Crucial Rules

1. Hidden parallel 5ths and 8ves

- Take care not to lose track of perfect consonances, now that there are more notes. Any 5th or 8ve formed on weak or strong subdivisions of a given beat or beat, followed by the same interval on the following thesis, forms problems with parallelism.

2. Dangling dissonance

- Do not write a dissonant note at the end of a stepwise run of notes, unless it properly resolves by step, as an NCT. Escape tones are difficult, and inadvisable as “dangling dissonances.”

3. Harmonic clarity

- Is always important in this style. To proof-read against “harmonic ambiguity,” consider that whenever perfect consonances are involved, there should also be a full triad involved.

Some other issues to look out for

1. UNITY—Try to avoid using too many different “shapes” in a single phrase. Repeating the same shape without any deviation would be overdoing it, but try to “reduce re-use and recycle” 1 or 2 patterns, varying and contrasting occasionally.

2. Movement is the goal. Avoid patterns that involve repetition within a single group of 3 or 4, especially repetition across from weak to strong.

3. When writing arpgeggiations (Kennan calls them “broken chords” on p 64), take care not to produce parellel 5ths or octaves that would result if the chords were collapsed onto a single point in time. For example, a series of triads, played from the 5th to the 3rd to the root in each case, sounds just as awkward as a succession of parallel fifths produced between simultaneous notes.



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