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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Poor Josephus - He's having a time with the first species exercises.  He really needs help.  Can you find all the errors in his counterpoint assignment below?   First person who finds all the errors gets five points! 

Please note that the second exercise starts in m. 12.  When you list the errors, use this format:

Error number     Measure number    Rule that was broken

Here are some examples - they don't apply to the exercise below.

1. m. 3 - Forbidden interval between voices - 7th

2. m. 7 -> 8 - Forbidden leap - major 6th

3. m. 9 -> 10 - Direct motion to an octave

Good luck, and I hope someone can help poor Josephus!  He's a bit confused ..

PS.  You can click on the above image to make it bigger and print it out if you need to!

-- Julie

Hi Everyone - I'm way behind in the class, because I cannot find this paperback book in China - haha.  Does anyone know if this book is available online - like an eBook?

Hello Michael-

When I opened the file you attached, it was the blank file with all the exercises, but none of them filled in.  You must have uploaded the wrong file.   Be sure and ONLY do the Dorian exercises right now.  We'll do Dorian and make sure everyone has correct exercises for the first mode before we go on to other modes.

We all look forward to seeing your first Dorian exercises! 

-- Julie

michael jon bennett said:

Here is my Species One


Hello ChinaBlues -

That is a bit of a disadvantage, not being able to get the textbook!  You might be able to get all you need from the list of rules at the beginning of this discussion.  Try reading through those rules, or even printing them out, then try the first Dorian exercise.   It may prove too daunting without the book, but it's worth a try!

ChinaBlues said:

Hi Everyone - I'm way behind in the class, because I cannot find this paperback book in China - haha.  Does anyone know if this book is available online - like an eBook?

Got it!  We can go over these in your lesson this afternoon, or ask the Collaborative Learning community to give their input.  What's your preference?   Some folks prefer to have their errors corrected in private!  ;-)

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