Although it may sound like some kind of tricky yoga pose, contrapuntal movement is actually a term used to describe how two musical parts interact.
Think of the relationship between, say, a melody and a bass line, in terms of the directions in which they rise and fall in scale.
If you have a melody with notes going up in scale, getting higher pitched, that’s called “up motion”, while if it goes down in scale, it’s “down motion.”
Simple so far, but it’s when you combine two parts and start experimenting with their movement relative to each other that things start to get interesting.
When you have two parts that work together, like a bassline and a melody, that’s called counterpoint. So when it comes to the direction in which each part moves relative to the other, the general term for it is contrapuntal movement, and it comes in four different flavors: oblique, parallel, similar, and contrary. .
So how is this relevant to modern music production? Well, by altering the relationship between the bass part and the melody, you can produce profound effects capable of injecting tension and movement into a wide range of musical genres.
The four types of movement mentioned above are mostly taken into account when using a composition technique known as voice guidance, which is a whole other story/lesson. For now, we’ll briefly illustrate an example of each movement type just to get the basic idea, ending with a look at the opposite movement and how it can be used in your tracks.
Step 1: Oblique movement occurs when one part rises or falls in height while the other remains constant. In this example, we have a melody that moves up and down the A minor scale, while the bass part maintains a steady A note. It’s a fairly common technique in electronic music, as it’s quite easy to make a melody work over a static bassline.
2nd step: Parallel motion occurs when two parts simultaneously move the same number of semitones in the same direction. If one part goes up a semitone, the other must follow, but because they always maintain a constant interval, like a synth playing two oscillators tuned semitones apart, the parallel-moving parts s rarely harmonize correctly in the current key…
Step 3: Because each pair of notes is always separated by a fixed number of semitones, they often strike notes that are not in the correct scale for the key. It would be better if you could adjust the interval between notes when needed so that each pair of notes harmonizes correctly with its partner and the key of the piece. This is where a similar move comes in…
Step 4: To create a similar movement, we must start by working on the key of the original melody. We’re in the key of C major, so let’s assign a number to each degree of the C major scale, as shown above. We then choose an interval on which we want to base the second part. Thirds and sixths are the most popular options, so we’ll go with thirds as before.
Step 5: Work on the note that is a major third above the root note of the key we are in, which in this case is E, a third above C. Now play the C major scale starting by E as the root note and align this scale next to the original as shown. This will help determine which notes to use to harmonize the melodic part.
Step 6: For example, wherever a C appears in the first part, we must match it with an E in the second part. Similarly, we match D to F, E to G, and so on. When we look at the intervals between each matched pair, we can see that they vary – CE, FA and GB are major thirds (four semitones), but DF, EG, AC and BD are minor thirds (three semitones). tones).
Step 7: The reason this works is that the melody and harmony use notes from the same scale, just starting at different places. All the notes used in both parts come from the C major scale. This is how a similar motion compensates for the key while the parallel motion does not, and therefore works much better harmonically. Compare the result with step 2.
Step 8: Contrary motion occurs when two parts move any distance in opposite directions. As an example, bars 1-2 contain a rising melody in C major over a half-time falling bass line that plays CAG F. Conversely, in bars 3-4 the melody descends, so the bass line bass must rise, playing an ascending sequence of notes: CDF G.
Step 9: To further illustrate, here’s a simple track consisting of drums, piano chords, and a string melody. The melody selects the top notes of the piano chords, which are ascending: CD Eb F. These are the first four notes of the C minor scale, played in octaves for a thicker sound.
Step 10: Now we’ve added a sidechain bass playing long, sustained notes: CD Eb F in an upward motion that matches the string melody. There’s nothing wrong with that – it makes perfect sense for the bass to follow an ascending pattern starting with the tonic, or root note of the scale – but we can use counter motion to make it something a bit more interesting.
Step 11: Here is the same track with a different bass line. While the melody maintains its upward motion, the bass line now descends: C Bb Ab F. The result is much more dramatic as the two elements move in different directions. What also happened is that because it has to go down, the bass part now starts an octave higher than before.
Step 12: For a more dramatic touch, we lower the bassline by a major third to form different chords with the piano part, while working with the existing string melody. Here he plays Ab GF Db, effectively resulting in the progression Abmaj7 – Gm7 – Fm7 – Dbmaj7. Try it out for yourself and see how many more counter-moving basslines you can create!
Tame Impala – Elephant
Discover the end of the first solo section. The guitar and bass descend, while the keyboard ascends the scale in the opposite direction. A more perfect example of contrary motion you won’t find.
Rita Ora – I will never let you down
Pay attention to the bass and guitar in this one – in the chorus, the guitar plays an ascending C# minor scale while the bass goes from an A to an E.
On a mission
Try using the techniques detailed above to influence the relationship between the other lines of your work. Purposefully weaving, say, a vocal melody and a main synthesizer line together so that they move in opposite directions or follow a similar motion.
Whichever method you use, the idea is that when you go out with a particular mission in mind, you often get very different results than you would expect just by trusting your instincts.
To mix together
When looking at how your melody and bassline work together, ideally you should be looking for a fairly seamless blend of the four types of contrapuntal movement as described here. The oblique movement will probably be the most prevalent, as bass parts often pedal on the same note for several beats as the melody wanders above it.