Some questions I get about counterpoint: “What do you think of counterpoint? Is it a useful thing for a modern composer? Isn’t it just an academic exercise? Do you use it in your film music? Should I learn it?”
First, let me tell you my personal story regarding counterpoint.
I had graduated with a Masters degree and decided not to get a doctorate in composition but rather continue developing my skills on my own.
At the end of my studies I got a glimpse of what I wanted to be as a composer, the kind of music I felt was me. And part of what I felt was important to me was counterpoint. So upon graduation I started to woodshed and part of this was an intense study and practice of counterpoint.
I studied books and did their exercises, and spent a ton of time studying Bach, Bartok and others, and hours upon hours of writing practice.
I wrote especially in two lines, which I loved. I loved the Bach inventions and the two voice writing of others like Handel. I saw it (and still do) as the essence of good writing. If felt that if you could write music in two lines that had variety, interest, form, motion and texture as well as solid control over motivic design, of line contour and the interactions of those lines, then you were a composer.
I worked very hard, exploring various musical avenues and languages with two lines, from diatonic to chromatic, from quartal to completely dissonant. Writing inventions was my favourite thing to do. I assimilated elements of Bach and Handel at first and then Bartok, Lutoslawski, jazz, funk, Benny Goodman, drum lines and many more into my lines.
Through this work I felt my grasp of composition, my clarity and control over my music grow dramatically. I started to feel like a composer in control of his craft. It was a huge turning point in my writing and it crystallized my voice as a composer.
So to answer those questions at the start of this post:
- What do I think of counterpoint? I love counterpoint!!
- It is not just an academic exercise and should not be treated as such. (But I know it often is. To me it as alive and important and that’s how I teach it!)
- And yes, the skills I developed from counterpoint I apply every single day in all my writing including film scoring.
Should you learn counterpoint? I think by now you know my answer to that!