1 Takus

Counter Melody Writing Music Assignment

Due Monday, January 6, 1997

Be able to sing an arpeggiated I-V-I progression (scale steps 1-3-5-8-5-3-1, 5-7-2-5-2-7-1, 1-3-5-8-5-3-1), singing the note names, in any major or (harmonic) minor key.

Due Wednesday, January 8, 1997

Analyze the underlying chords of two melodies: Frère Jacques, and the first ten bars of the minuet movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 15. Then analyze each melody for the presence of non-harmonic passing tones and neighboring tones. In Frère Jacques, notice the relationships between melodies once the tune is sung as a canon. When do the melodies move in parallel, when do their rhythms differ, how do they fill in missing components of the chords? Try to derive some basic principles of counterpoint (combined melodies) from what you observe.

Continue singing the arpeggiation of I-V-I in all major and harmonic minor keys, as assigned for Monday. Add the subdominant chord to form the progression: I-IV-V-I, in all major and harmonic minor keys (scale steps 1-3-5-8-5-3-1, 4-6-8-4-8-6-4, 5-7-2-5-2-7-5, 1-3-5-8-5-3-1).

Due Friday, January 10, 1997

Write a melody that shares these essential characteristics of the melody analyzed in class:

  1. In D major.
  2. In 3/4 time.
  3. 16 measures long.
  4. Range no greater than a 9th.
  5. No rhythmic value faster than an eighth note.
  6. The entire melody implies only tonic and dominant harmonies.
  7. Each measure implies one (and only one) harmony.
  8. Melody notes all belong to the implied chord, or else are neighboring tones or passing tones adjacent to chord tones.
  9. The form is A-A'-B-A'.
  10. The A and A' sections are centered on the tonic chord; the B section is centered on the dominant chord.
  11. The A section has a "feminine" (unaccented) ending; the A' sections have a "masculine" (accented) ending.
  12. The B section is divided into two identical halves.

Due Monday, January 13, 1997

Continue singing the arpeggiation of I-IV-V-I in all major and harmonic minor keys, singing the note names as you go, as assigned earlier (scale steps 1-3-5-8-5-3-1, 4-6-8-4-8-6-4, 5-7-2-5-2-7-5, 1-3-5-8-5-3-1).

Be prepared to sing the melody that you handed in on Friday, January 10.

Due Wednesday, January 15, 1997

Bring a xerox copy of a piece you are currently studying in your private lessons and are preparing for performance.

Due Friday, January 17, 1997

Analyze the chords of the first three systems of Bach's "Prelude No. 1" in C Major, from The Well Tempered Clavier, book 1.

Write alto, tenor, and bass melodies to complete the harmonization of the two 2-measure melodies handed out in class on Monday. Use one chord per beat, and use only I, IV, or V chords. (V) chord is acceptable only if the seventh is a passing tone.) Use the rules of voice leading discussed in class (which are also explained in Chapter 6 of the Kosta & Payne textbook).

Then write two 2-measure compositions for piano that use exactly the same chords and (implied) voicings.

Due Wednesday, January 22, 1997

Midterm exam on singing I-IV-V-I progression in any major or (harmonic) minor key.

Due Monday, January 25, 1997

Be able to sing an arpeggiation of the progression I-vi-IV-V-I in all major keys, and the progression i-VI-iv-V-i in all (harmonic) minor keys, singing the note names as you go.

Harmonize the melody given in class, for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, using the progression you have been practicing, adhering strictly to the voice leading rules discussed in class (and explained in chapter 6 of the Tonal Harmony textbook).

Read chapter 7 of the Tonal Harmony textbook. Compare the discussion of chord progression in the book to the progression-by-chord-classification guidelines discussed in class.

Due Wednesday, January 27, 1997

Hand in harmonic analysis of the song "Caminando por la calle" by the Gypsy Kings, listing how many measures are spent on each chord. Hand in as much of the dictation of the melody as you were able to complete.

Due Monday, February 3, 1997

Write an eight-measure melody in a range suitable for oboe, violin, or soprano voice. (That is, the melody should be performable by any of those three instruments.) Before you write their melody, you should decide on a chord progression that you will use (preferably a progression such as we have discussed in class so far), and write the chord progression (as Roman numerals) underneath the staff. Then, your melody should use ONLY notes that belong to the current chord OR that are neighboring tones or passing tones between (and directly adjacent to) chord tones. Those are only "rules" you need to follow, although you should keep in mind the natural tendencies of tonal progression (for example, leading tone wants to go to tonic, etc.).

Due Wednesday, February 5, 1997

Read chapter 8 of the textbook "Tonal Harmony". Be prepared to sing any of the chord progression arpeggiations practiced so far in class.

Due Friday, February 7, 1997

If necessary, revise and correct the melody you wrote and handed in on Monday. Write a "counter melody" to go along with it, that can be performed by trombone, piano left hand, or baritone voice. The counter melody should follow the contrapuntal rules discussed in Monday's class: acceptable chord-tone intervals between voices are 3rds, 5ths, 6ths, and 8ves (or 8ve plus 3rd, 8ve plus 5th, etc.). Hand in the assignment as a grand staff (bass and treble clef together) containing the two melodies. Keep a copy for yourself so that you can be prepared to perform it the following week.

Due Monday, February 10, 1997

Midterm exam.
1) Chord and melody analysis: identifying chords; identifying non-chord tones.
2) Four-part harmonization: add alto, tenor and bass to a soprano melody to form a proper chord progression with correct voice leading; add soprano, alto and tenor to a bass melody to form a proper chord progression with correct voice leading. 3) Sing an arpeggiation of the progression I-vi-IV-V-I in any major key, and the progression i-VI-iv-V-i in any (harmonic) minor key, singing the note names as you go.

Due Wednesday, February 19, 1997

Read chapter 13 of Tonal Harmony regarding voice leading in progressions involving the V chord.
Practice singing an arpeggiation of the chord progression I-ii-I-V-I in major and i-ii-i-V-i in harmonic minor. Start by saying scale degrees as you sing: 1-3-5-8-5-3-1, 4-6-1-2-1-6-4, 5-1-3-5-3-1-5, 5-7-2-4-2-7-5, 1-3-5-8-5-3-1. Then practice saying the note names as you sing the exercise in each major and harmonic minor key.

Due Friday, February 21, 1997

Be prepared to sing the previously assigned chord progression (from Wednesday's assignment).

Due Monday, February 24, 1997

1. Review pages 50-53 of Tonal Harmony regarding chord inversions and figured bass.
2. Read chapter 11 of Tonal Harmony, pp. 174-187, regarding passing tones, neighboring tones, and suspensions.
3. Complete the following exercises in the Tonal Harmony workbook:

Due Friday, February 28, 1997

Two-part contrapuntal harmonization of the melody provided in Monday's class, in the original key, the relative minor key, and the parallel minor key (with key signature changed).

Due Monday, March 3, 1997

Compose a melody that meets the following criteria:

  • In any key, any meter
  • 8 measures long (suggested length)
  • That you can sing correctly yourself
  • That starts and ends in the tonic harmony of the key
  • In three phrases
  • The first phrase moves away from the tonic harmony, and the second phrase returns to the tonic harmony
  • The third phrase is as long as the first two phrases combined, and it leaves and returns to the tonic harmony with a more extended chord progression than in the first two phrases.
  • The form of the melody is a a' a-extended, such that the second phrase is the same as the first phrase except that it starts on a different scale degree, and such that the third phrase is an extended version of the first phrase (twice as long, and with a more elaborate chord progression)
  • Write the Roman numeral analysis of the implied chord progression underneath the melody
  • It is suggested that you compose the chord progression first, then write the melody so that its notes belong to those chords or are valid passing tones, neighboring tones, or suspensions within that harmonic progression.
  • For extra credit, compose an accompanying contrapuntal melody, or piano part, or harmonization

Keep a copy of the assignment for yourself, to practice, so that you can sing the melody in the next class session.

Also, finish reading chapters 11 and 12 of Tonal Harmony to complete your understanding of the different types of non-chord tones.

Extra credit assignment: Write a four-part harmonization of the chord progression I-ii-I-V-I in major and/or i-ii-i-V-i in harmonic minor, observing ALL the voice-leading rules we have discussed so far in class (and that are presented in the Tonal Harmony textbook). Pay special attention to a) correct voice leading of the 7th and 4th scale degress when you progress from V to I, b) correct voice leading of the 3rd and 1st scale degrees (the notes a 6th and a 4th above the bass) when progressing from I to V, c) correct doubling of the bass in the I chord, d) smoothest possible voice leading in all other cases, retaining common tones between chords when possible.

Extra extra credit assignment: Do a second version of the above chord progression(s), but add musically appropriate non-chord tones, which may include passing tones, neighbor tones, suspensions, and anticipations (use that one only in the cadence). When you add non-chord tones, make sure that you do not introduce new voice-leading problems when you do so (such as parallel fifths that were not previously present).

Still another extra credit suggestion: Analyze the first page of Caro mio ben (the song Kristina sang in class on Friday), writing in the proper numeric chord figures (Roman numerals and inversion figures), and circling and identifying all non-chord tones.

Due Wednesday, March 5, 1997

Be prepared to sing your own melody from the previous assignment.

Due Friday, March 7, 1997

Four-part harmonization of the melody and chord progression presented in Wednesday's class.
Optional: Modify the melody by adding accidentals to the existing notes to add chromatic passing tones and neighboring tones. Reharmonize the new melody as appropriate.

Monday, March 10, 1997 through Friday, March 14, 1997

Review of chords, inversions, progressions, voice-leading principles, non-chord tones, and secondary dominant chords covered in the previous nine weeks.

FINAL EXAM: Wednesday, March 19, 1997 8:00-10:00 AM in Music Room 196.

Christopher Dobrian
March 10, 1997

A countermelody gives the listener two melodies at once, and considerably boosts melodic interest. Here’s how to write one.


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A countermelody is a second melody that is sung or played at the same time as the main one. It’s not a very commonly-used compositional device, but can be an extremely effective way of boosting song energy. A great example of countermelody in the pop song genre is Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”, as well as during the ending chorus of Genesis’ No. 1 hit “Invisible Touch”, from their 1986 album of the same name. A countermelody will provide harmonic support for the main melody, but it differs from a simple harmony line by virtue of the fact that it can and should be able to stand on its own as a viable melody.

Normal vocal harmonies usually lack the distinctive characteristic of melodic line. When you write a countermelody, however, you’re giving the audience two melodies at the same time. Having said that, it’s normal for the countermelody to sound somewhat “subordinate” and background to the main melody.

Simon & Garfunkel’s use of countermelody in “Scarborough Fair/ Canticle” has the countermelody appearing relatively early in the song. But in pop songs, it’s more likely that the countermelody will be used toward the end of the song, as a way of increasing song energy. The ending of Radiohead’s “No Surprises” from “OK Computer” uses the countermelody technique of composition.

A countermelody can be created once song is finished, if you’re looking to add melodic interest and song energy. Let’s say you want to add a countermelody to the repeat of your final choruses. Here’s a step-by-step procedure to follow:

  1. Write out chorus chord progression.
  2. Write a new melody that both works with the chord progression and the original chorus melody.
  3. Adjust the countermelody’s rhythm to complement the rhythm of the main melody. This step is crucial to making a countermelody work well. Here’s the basic rule: where the chorus melody is rhythmically active, allow the countermelody to be less active (i.e., use longer note durations). Where the chorus melody is rhythmically slower, allow the countermelody to become more active (i.e., use shorter, quicker note durations). That way, one melody stays out of the way of the other. If the chorus melody holds a long note, this is especially a spot where you want the countermelody to step forward a bit with a more active moment.
  4. Record the main chorus melody and chords, then play it back while singing the countermelody. This is where you keep adjusting the countermelody to work with the chorus. As the countermelody keeps improving, try singing the countermelody by itself; remember, it needs to sound like a viable melody on its own, even if its main job is to act as background to the main melody.
  5. Create lyrics for the countermelody that partner well with the main chorus melody’s lyrics. You want to create lyrics for your countermelody that keep referring to thoughts and imagery you used in the main lyric. That way, the countermelody’s link to the main chorus melody is further enhanced.

It’s possible to create more than one countermelody so that you have three, or even more, melodies happening simultaneously. The finale of Act 1 of the musical Les Miserables (“One Day More”) is a great example of this.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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Posted in Melody and tagged chord progression, countermelody, Melody, song energy, songwriting.

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