Exploring Counterpoint

July 15, 2005

When music features counterpoint, harmony occurs from the interaction between the independent melodies, rather than as a result of chordal accompaniment. While counterpoint can be technically demanding—it’s a primary component of classical guitar—the fundamentals are relatively easy to master, as you’ll discover in this lesson.

We’ll begin with the simple melody in Ex. 1. As you play this five-note phrase, notice how it occurs on the top two strings. Ex. 2—our second melody—falls on the lowest three strings. Play this phrase a few times to familiarize yourself with its sound and get the hang of the fingering.

The fun begins when we stack these two melodies to create Ex. 3’s counterpoint. You can play this passage fingerstyle or use a hybrid picking technique. Either way, the outcome is the same: You’ll hear a lazy treble-string melody floating above a denser melody on the bass strings. Each strand stands alone, yet also works in tandem with the other.

As you practice this example, focus on each individual line and then listen to the harmony that emerges as a result of playing them together. When you can shift back and forth between these three perspectives, you’ll have grasped the magic of counterpoint.

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