Counterpoint Studies - First Species

Textbook:  "The Study of Counterpoint" from Johann Joseph Fux's "Gradus ad Parnassum", translated and edited by Alfred Mann.  Each student should have his/her own copy of this text.  Order Textbook - Gradus ad Parnassum

In this collaborative learning class, we'll each study the book on our own and do the exercises.   Each student can then post his/her exercises for others to learn from and to give feedback.  We can learn just as much from checking each other's exercises as we do from writing out the exercises ourselves!   Note that there is a Finale 2011 file attached with all the exercises from First Species.  If you work in Sibelius, it would be great for you to share a file with all the other Sibelius users.

Steps for this class:

  • Read this description and order the book
  • Read the introduction, then download the exercises or create your own version.
  • Do a few exercises, reading along in chapter 1
  • Post your finished exercises to get feedback and/or correction from others.
  • Ask questions or share information through responses to this discussion.
  • Happy learning!


In this famous textbook, counterpoint is taught using the practices of Palestrina's time.  The rules of counterpoint and voice leading are taught gradually, by ascending "species":

  • First species is one note against one note. 
  • Second species is two notes against one note. 
  • Third species is four notes against one note. 
  • Fourth species introduces suspensions/resolutions, and syncopation.
  • Fifth species is "florid counterpoint".

Glossary of terms:

  • Cantus Firmus (c.f.) - a fixed, given melody which uses only semibreves (whole notes)
  • Counterpoint (c.p.) - line written by the student as counterpoint to the cantus firmus
  • Intervals: Consonances - Unison, fifth, and octave are perfect consonances.  Third and sixth are imperfect consonances.
  • Intervals: Dissonances - Second, fourth, diminished fifth, tritone, and seventh are dissonances.  Notice that what we now call the perfect fourth was considered dissonant in this system.
  • Modes - exercises are written in the Ecclesiastical modes: dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian and ionian.  Notice that there was no locrian mode in Palestrina's day.
  • Motion - there are three kinds of motion used in these exercises: direct or parallel motion (voices move in the same direction), contrary motion (voices move in opposite directions), and oblique motion (one voice is stationary, the other moves)

Melodic rules which apply across all species:

  • The counterpoint and cantus firmus must be in the same mode. To establish the mode from the beginning, observe the following rules:  With an upper voice cantus firmus, the opening interval must be an octave or unison, not a perfect fifth. With a lower voice cantus firmus, the opening interval must be an octave, unison, or perfect fifth.
  • The following skips are forbidden: tritones, sevenths, major or minor descending sixths, ascending major sixths, and any interval greater than an octave.
  • "Exposed tritones" are also forbidden.  An exposed tritone is a line such as C, D, E, F#, where the first and last notes of the line create a tritone. 
  • Leaps of an ascending minor sixth or octave or a descending octave must be recovered.  To recover the leap, it is immediately followed by a step or skip back into the range covered by the leap. 
  • Avoid repeated notes.  Fux makes exceptions to this rule in Species One, but rarely in the other species.

First Species - counterpoint is set against the cantus firmus, one note against one note.

  • Direct motion into a perfect consonance (octave, unison or fifth) is forbidden.
  • Use contrary and oblique motion as often as possible.
  • Use more imperfect consonances than perfect; otherwise, the result may lack harmony.
  • In the next to the last bar, there must be a major sixth if the cantus firmus is in the lower part.
  • In the next to the last bar, there must be a minor third if the cantus firmus is in the upper part.

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Hello Michael, Stephanie, Karl and Gabe (and whoever else drops in to this class!)

Welcome!   Two things ...

  • First - the author's name of our textbook is pronounced "Foox" - rhymes with "kooks"
  • Second - as soon as you post a message to this discussion, you'll get an email each time there is new activity.  It would be good if each person just signed in, said hello, and let us know if they have the book or if it's on order.

Be back soon!!


Hi Everyone - I would also like to join this class.  Hopefully there is an electronic version of the Fux book.

Welcome, ChinaBlues!

Hello counterpoint class!  

Each class member should sign in so we all know that everyone is ready to start.  Also click on the link below the Reply section that says "Follow - Email me when people reply".  That way, you'll know when there have been updates from someone in our class.

I got my book im here

Question: Is the Finale .MUS file above basically the same as the .PDF above?  If so, then we can possibly export MusicXML from Finale, and import directly into Sibelius.

Sibelius Users : Please try to import the attached Music XML file above directly into Sibelius: CounterpointSpeciesOne.xml

Gabe, would you try importing the .xml file into Sibelius and see if you can create a .sib file that way?  It could save a lot of entry time.  

All three files - Finale 2011, .pdf and .xml are at the bottom of the original discussion.  Gabe will be adding a .sib file for Sibelius users.  Thanks, Gabe!

Here is the Sibelius file that I get by importing the XML and saving.



That .sib file looks great, Gabe!   Thanks!   Will that work for you to start the exercises?   All our current and future Sibelius users thank you, and you just got 20 extra bonus points!!

Hi, Michael - so glad you have the book now and that the overview is inspiring you!  We're all excited about this class.  Next step:  read the introduction in the book and do the first two exercises in Dorian, then post the .pdf file here for everyone to check.  Remember, everyone gets points for their work, and for checking each other's work.  So here we go!!!!

That's so exciting, Stephanie!   Hope you enjoy reading the introduction and getting started ....

Stephanie Wang said:

I got the book! 

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