Software for mastering four part writing, voice leading, and counterpoint

March 21, 2017 at 01:38 PM · Does anyone know of any free or paid software that will point out errors in our four part work and also provide a framework for working on species and free counterpoint. I know of one software by Ars Nova called Counterpointer, however it is $65. Does anyone have a better suggestion?


March 21, 2017 at 10:30 PM · The Baroque musician Johann Fux was the author of "Gradus ad Parnassum", a famous textbook on the counterpoint of Palestrina and other 16th century composers. It was the standard work for formal teaching of the art of counterpoint to practically any composer you'd care to name from the Late Baroque onwards, and probably still has an influence, if only indirectly, on modern teaching. Fux wrote his book in Latin, but downloadable English, French and German translations can be found online.

In R.O. Morris's "Contrapuntal Technique in the Sixteenth Century" (Oxford Clarendon Press 1922), the author advises "that the counterpoint of the sixteenth century should first be approached by way of melody and rhythm, and that the student should make himself thoroughly familiar with the type of melodic-rhythmic outline to be aimed at before attempting the harmonic combination of such outlines in two or more parts."

Morris also advises that the student should first acquire a knowledge of elementary harmony before attempting to learn counterpoint.

March 21, 2017 at 11:15 PM · George Wedge is the best book for learning voice leading. Find it on amazon cheap. You don't need a computer program.

March 22, 2017 at 01:36 AM · I can also recommend Tonal Harmony by Stefan Kostka and The Craft of Tonal Counterpoint by Thomas Benjamin. And in case anyone tells you that you have to be a competent pianist, or switch to piano to learn this stuff, you don't. I managed to get through both of these books without ever touching a piano, having studied composition at the post-secondary level.

March 22, 2017 at 05:11 AM · There used to be members in a couple of piano forums who help (even mark!) with your work. Check 'em out.

March 22, 2017 at 10:08 AM · You are asking about software. I haven't used it but Reaper is about $60 (it may still be that you can use it for free and buy the license if you like it). I think it has score view. If you have a Mac then Garage Band comes free with the computer. There are good things for iPad and tablets these days too.

Just a note about learning from books about harmony; it's fine as long as you are hearing these things. I'm just remembering all the years learning Bach harmony as a formula without hardly hearing it - I don't think it taught me much until I heard it. Just be wary that schools and colleges have to be able to teach all kinds of abilities and so Bach harmony gets people to pass an exam by understanding some rules but it doesn't always teach harmony if it's just on paper without hearing it. Personally, I think jazz harmony would be more relevant to teach.

Software is a different matter - you can work by trial and error. You can jiggle notes around if it doesn't sound right. Some find the piano roll view more intuitive and also more detailed for rhythm but you can work with score on most music software. If you can enter the notes on a midi keyboard rather than a mouse, even if one line at a time, then that is even better. All notes can be edited so let it flow! If you have listened to a lot of music then that will inform you better than a lot of theory. The theory is fine later but it's good to make a start. Jump into the pool and flap around rather than read a book on swimming!

March 22, 2017 at 01:19 PM · "Does anyone know of any free or paid software that will point out errors in our four part work and also provide a framework for working on species counterpoint"

Just because of how you ordered your question, I'd say one should study and master species counterpoint FIRST, and then go on to 4 part harmony.

"Software is a different matter - you can work by trial and error. You can jiggle notes around if it doesn't sound right"

As a former teacher of harmony and counterpoint, I'm not sure that "jiggling around notes" till they "sound right" is the best method. What's being learned primarily is a set of ground rules for voice leading. And I wouldn't necessarily advise a student to just depend on their ear. Many errors may not be detectable by a student. As I've seen.

March 22, 2017 at 01:20 PM · Wow, I'd have to say that software that fixes your counterpoint for $65 is a pretty good deal. $65 doesn't even buy an hour of an arranger's time.

March 22, 2017 at 01:53 PM · Scott, all of us composers jiggle notes around! I'm talking about how working with midi you can correct and experiment by moving notes as needed. I'm not saying that schooling is a bad thing, just that it's best to get your hands dirty. Hopefully you get an outside opinion on "errors".

March 22, 2017 at 05:44 PM · Actually the 'rules' were made by those who got their hands dirty. To ignore them is to re-invent the wheel.

March 22, 2017 at 09:35 PM · Scott is right--there are 'harmony' errors that will escape your ear/brain's notice, like parallel fifths--they are easier to see than to hear! I took a couple years of harmony courses at university and enjoyed the exercises that were assigned (and graded). I advise college harmony courses for Gautam and anyone else who obviously has a serious interest in music. After some supervised practice, one can start "jiggling around" notes. Wish I knew of software to recommend, but isn't a class better?

March 22, 2017 at 09:48 PM ·

There's two ways of learning the 'rules' of previous composers. One is by reading books and the other is by listening. Most successful composers have done both both but I don't think reading books alone is enough. Of course you don't re-invent the wheel but you do need to evolve it otherwise you will be putting a cartwheel on a Ferrari! That is if we are not just talking strictly pedagogy.

Software is ultimately a tool but it has opened up composing to a lot of people.

March 23, 2017 at 12:59 AM · I don't know about putting a cartwheel on a Ferrari, but I'm pretty sure I've seen 22s on a Gremlin.

March 24, 2017 at 12:32 AM · Hammering them out on a piano is by far the best starting point. You don't need to be a pianist: learn to play the chords, and then progressions.

I've seen many 15 year old rock guitarists and bass players who can do their thing along to chord progressions they have never seen before (except they have played through similar progressions, or even the same progressions, in their private worlds of playing along with the radio, to mp3s and videos). In their idiom, their ears have grown to an impressive degree.

Learn chord progressions before you get to hankered by voice leading.

When you write music for sections (brass, strings, woodwind, etc) you will have good voice leading by following the more accessible techniques taught in arranging texts. Then, learn to apply these same techniques across mixed instrument ensembles. (There are tricks to learn with this approach, but it is all music, and not rules you have to learn to listen for.)

Then, ask yourself why you want to learn counterpoint and voice leading.

I have recently polished my contrapuntal skills because I am writing duets for cello and fiddle, and I wanted to see what I was missing by relying on many years of jazz theory for commercial music arranging.

It has been a decent challenge for me, and I've recovered some long forgotten knowledge. But music theory for working musicians has come a long way in the past eighty years, or so.

If you simply want to pass exams where you must write in "old school" procedures, spend the $65.00. What do you imagine could be cheaper?

March 24, 2017 at 05:04 AM · Anybody mentioned musescore? .org is the free program, .com the community. I'll bet the community has people into harmony and counterpoint.

March 24, 2017 at 05:49 AM · Musescore is good for writing. However, I am not aware if there is a species counterpoint/four part framework or plugin that can pinpoint all the overlooked rules.

March 24, 2017 at 06:40 AM · I wouldn't think it existed anywhere. Besides, no machine could ever tell you if it's 'in the style' - it's about finding people to help.

March 24, 2017 at 07:07 AM · Check this out:

March 24, 2017 at 10:39 AM · musescore is free and full-featured. Technical analysis can be handled via plug-ins. I wrote one to analyze chord progression in orchestral pieces for a music theory course I took.

There are well documented rules for counter-point and voice leading for the classical period. So you might find a programmer to work with you to create a plugin.

Of the two, voice-leading might be the easiest. Classical counter-point would seem to me to be roughly analogous to jazz ensemble in that there are variation in rhythms spread out among the parts that can be especially problematic to capture in a computer algorithm.

March 24, 2017 at 12:21 PM · I think a program that "sensed errors" in either harmony (say, chorale writing) or contrapuntal writing (say, a string trio), would be fairly easy to program. One giant switch statement to test each vertical alignment,each horizontal movement ...

However: 1) it would be dull work to enter your exercise, or arrangement, for the computer to do its job. 2) It is only for a short while that you need someone to check the work for rules broken. After a few months you should well and truly be able to spot things yourself.

It is my guess that most music today is written by people who have no (or very limited) idea about Free and Strict counterpoint, or even harmonizing chorales in a C17th vocal style.

Are you trying to pass exams, or to write music? (No criticism intended, either way, but different help might be appropriate.)

March 24, 2017 at 12:47 PM · Yes, I am curious aw well as to Gautam's purpose in seeking part writing/counterpoint software...thanks for asking, Graeme. Hope we find an answer here shortly :)

March 24, 2017 at 02:03 PM · "Scott, all of us composers jiggle notes around!"

Chris, we're not talking about a creative process here, Just learning a set of rules.

In the case of voice-leading and counterpoint, there really should be no sound involved. One should be able to simply look at the score and see the mistakes. Theory teachers don't grade tests by playing the students' exercises, but by simply looking at which directions the voices are going, and what the intervals are. I have nothing against checking for errors with a piano, but it shouldn't be the primary method.

March 25, 2017 at 12:53 PM · Fair enough. I guess I'm talking creative process and working with software too.

I don't have issue with you but I do have issue with the on paper method. I was taught this way also and I can say as a working composer that it just isn't relevant to me. The problem a theory teacher has is that there are mixed abilities - some having no musical ear or intuition. It's easier to grade a mass of students on a set of rules than on good composition. We have to take a step back from the cycle and really see how relevant it is to making good music that people enjoy. If learning rules is just about passing an exam so that you can teach other people to pass exams then I think the original aim has been lost. Just one of the many pitfalls of musical academia. My experience was that a lot of college professors who taught composition were more academically inclined and went from degree to masters to doctorate to being a professor without much idea of careers in the real world. I remember one student that had a talent for writing musicals for kids was pretty much told off for doing so and encouraged to write more avant-garde. By the end of the degree it really felt like he had lost his way and his music was not very good. Something he could have had a career with was taken away by professors who never had to make it in the real world.

As for theory classes, it seems that things like Bach harmony, fugues and 12 tone serialism are handy for teachers to teach but really not so relevant to somebody that wants to work as a composer.

Sorry if my rant is not so relevant to the OP, I just think it's sad that not all learning is conducive to creativity if it intimidates or indeed makes intellectually inclined neural pathways.

As an aside. If you want to see somebody who got their harmony together and was completely self taught in doing it (as well as teaching himself virtually every instrument) you have to check out Jacob Collier. His harmonies are amazing! He enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music and dropped out as I think he was well beyond them. Prepare to be blown away!

March 26, 2017 at 12:52 PM · @Lieschen: Couldn't agree more about Stephan Kosta's "Tonal Harmony." I think it is the best music theory book out there. It is my absolute FAVORITE -- clean, clear explanations in a logical order, with wonderful examples. That was the textbook I used when I was teaching theory.

March 28, 2017 at 08:36 AM · "Software for mastering four part writing, voice leading, and counterpoint"

A keyboard, a pair of ears and what's between them!!

English Hymnal, or Baptist Hymn Book, Handel's Messiah, Mendelssohn's Elijah, then Stainer's Crucifixion to study closely the difference between talent and genius.....

March 28, 2017 at 01:30 PM · I have started reading Walter Piston's book on harmony and counterpoint. My intention is to clear my Grade 8 ABRSM theory paper and delve deep into the art of fugue, advanced harmony, and counterpoint at my leisure. I'm not a professional musician or college student but an avid music theory mania. I've been reading about tonicization, secondary dominants, augmented sixth, Neopalitan sixth, species counterpoint, fugue, altered chords etc and I must say that I am improving musically. Studying about composition and harmony is helping me a lot both in getting new musical ideas as well as being able to appreciate complex tonal music. I'm having some trouble implementing all the rules of harmony in part writing, which is why I wanted a software that will be able to check if the rules have been adhered to. This is the only problem I seem to have at the moment. I need to get myself accustomed to part writing and books aren't gonna help me beyond a certain level. Jiggling notes on Musescore does help but I want to internalize these rules like the way I did for high school Euclidean geometry. Most books concentrate only on the theoretical aspects and I am on the look out for quality exercises with solutions. I'm not able to find one though.

March 28, 2017 at 02:22 PM · In that case you must start learning to hear two part writing in your head. Oh, the joy!

March 28, 2017 at 07:56 PM · This why I said "a keyboard", even if you would find the notes very slowly.

Rules for harmony are very much "fuzzy logic", not Euclidean! Do play through hymn tunes, play the melody with bass line to sees if you can "feel" what's missing; then play tenor then alto voice with the bass line, and with each other.; the full chords, even if it takes minutes per chord. Only then compare with the textbook rules, which are often broken.

When familiar with well-written hymn tunes, we can move on to Bach's amazing harmonization of Lutherian chorales. Compare several settings of the same tune. you will never accept bad harmony again.

March 28, 2017 at 10:58 PM · Gautam, I found your post about your progress through Piston et al. fascinating. May I suggest you find a local university music theory TA who is experienced at correcting voice leading and harmony exercises and offer to make a barter: the TA can give you exercises and correct them in exchange for receiving tutoring by you in Middle Eastern music. No cash outlay, and you will get the guidance you are looking for... a virtually free university-level theory course. Instead of paying tuition, you will be in a class of one for free. I took two years of university theory for free, as at the local university, auditing is open to anyone over 65 at no cost. I found the exercises very interesting and enjoyable. I hope you find a way to do the same.

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