The First Species of Counterpoint

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The task in the first species of counterpoint is to construct an added voice (also called simply a counterpoint) either above (upper counterpoint) or below (lower counterpoint) the cantus firmus (c.f.).  In the first species, exactly one note of counterpoint is set against each note of the c.f.


  1. The counterpoint must begin with a perfect consonance.  The upper counterpoint may begin with either the unison, the 5th, or the 8ve of the c.f. tone.  The lower counterpoint may begin only at the unison or 8ve.
  2. Main Body

  3. In its horizontal construction, the added voice is governed by the rules and tendencies set down for the c.f.  There are two exceptions: the added voice is permitted to repeat a tone, and it may begin and end in different registers.
  4. The only intervals that may be used vertically are consonant intervals.  (Remember that in the vertical direction, the perfect fourth counts as a dissonance.  Keep in mind also that one of the fifths in the diatonic scale is diminished, and is therefore a prohibited dissonance.)
  5. The exercise should contain a good mixture of the various consonances, both perfect and imperfect.  Because of their euphonious and mobile quality, the imperfect consonances enjoy a slight preference.
  6. Perfect consonances may be approached only by contrary motion or oblique motion, never by similar motion (whether parallel or nonparallel):
  7. The unison must not occur in the main body of the exercise; its use is restricted to the first or the last bar (see 1 and 7).
  8. Ending

  9. The added voice must close on the tonic tone, at the interval of either a unison or an 8ve with the c.f.  In the penultimate bar, if the c.f. tone is scale degree 2, the added voice must have scale degree 7, and vice versa.

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Copyright © 1998, by John Rothgeb