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The Five Species of Counterpoint: My Overview

In advance studies of music in al Conservatories, the study of Counterpoint is a compulsory subject; this is especially important for piano students as they are the ones who perform most of the pieces created with this technique, for example, all J.S. Bach fugues.

Piano tutors also have to be familiarised with this technique to have a profound grasp of how the music of the Baroque period was composed and comprehend the study of the voice leading.

The study of voice leading encompasses many aspects of the musical discourse. It is not limited by a specific era or style of music as we can see this applied to music in the Classical period, Romantic and even 20th century.

The five species of Counterpoint teach us how to differentiate what is structural and what is ornamental.

We can rephrase this by saying that the structure is the "what", and the decorative is the "expression"; the ornamental is how the design is expressed.

The five species of Counterpoint is the perfect step-by-step method to achieve this. It starts with the first species in which we work purely on the structure; we can compare this to the pillars of a building.

The second species introduces the movement through the dissonances, which causes instability and, therefore, the need for stability or resolution.

The third species works the prolongation and ornamentation of the melodic line.

The fourth species is related to the second species, but this time, clashing the dissonance against the other melody through a suspension of the dissonance and its resolution.

Lastly, we arrive at the last of the five species. This species combines all the previous steps into an organic whole: it has to be seen as layer upon layer of species living into the same dimension.

Once you have mastered the five species, your musical understanding of the grammar will be definitively enhanced and more profound.


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