How to Learn Counterpoint from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum
Counterpoint is the art of combining two or more independent musical lines that harmonize with each other. It is one of the most important skills for any composer or musician to master, as it can enrich the texture, variety, and expressiveness of music. Counterpoint has a long and rich history, dating back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and reaching its peak in the Baroque era with composers like Bach and Handel.
One of the most influential sources for learning counterpoint is Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus) by Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741), an Austrian composer and theorist. Fux wrote this treatise in 1725 as a guide for students who wanted to learn the style of Palestrina, a 16th-century Italian composer who was regarded as the epitome of Renaissance polyphony. Fux presented his method in the form of a dialogue between a teacher (Aloysius) and a student (Josephus), who go through various exercises and rules for composing counterpoint in different species and combinations.
Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum has been widely used and admired by many composers and theorists since its publication, including Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky. It is still considered a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn the principles and practice of counterpoint.
However, Fux's treatise is not without its limitations and challenges. Some of the rules and examples are outdated or inconsistent with modern musical notation and terminology. Some of the exercises are too difficult or too easy for beginners. Some of the explanations are too brief or too obscure for clarity. Therefore, it is advisable to use Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum with some supplementary materials and guidance from a teacher or an expert.
One of the best ways to learn counterpoint from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum is to download a PDF version of the book from the Internet Archive[^1^] [^2^] [^3^] and follow along with a video course or a podcast that explains each chapter and provides feedback on the exercises. For example, you can check out The Art of Counterpoint by Dr. Alan Belkin, a Canadian composer and professor who has created a series of videos that cover Fux's treatise in detail and offer tips and corrections on how to write good counterpoint. You can also listen to The Counterpointer by Dr. Peter Schubert, an American-Canadian composer and professor who has produced a podcast that discusses Fux's treatise in an engaging and humorous way.
By using these resources, you can learn counterpoint from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum in a fun and effective way. You will be able to understand the logic and beauty behind each rule and example, apply them to your own compositions, and appreciate the works of great composers who have used counterpoint in their music.How to Practice Counterpoint Exercises from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum
Once you have learned the basic rules and concepts of counterpoint from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum, you need to practice them by doing the exercises that Fux provides in his treatise. These exercises are designed to help you develop your skills and creativity in writing counterpoint in various styles and situations.
However, practicing counterpoint exercises from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum can be challenging and frustrating for several reasons. First, you need to find a suitable cantus firmus (a fixed melody) to use as the basis for your counterpoint. Fux gives some examples of cantus firmi in his treatise, but they are not enough for all the exercises. You can also use melodies from other sources, such as hymns, folk songs, or classical tunes, but you need to make sure they are suitable for the species and mode of counterpoint you are working on. Second, you need to check your work for errors and mistakes. Fux does not provide solutions or answers for his exercises, so you need to rely on your own judgment or consult a teacher or an expert to correct your counterpoint. Third, you need to evaluate your work for quality and originality. Fux does not give much guidance on how to write good counterpoint, so you need to develop your own taste and style by listening to and analyzing the works of great composers who have used counterpoint in their music.
Therefore, it is important to practice counterpoint exercises from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum with some tools and strategies that can make the process easier and more enjoyable. Here are some suggestions:
Use a notation software or an app. Writing counterpoint by hand can be tedious and time-consuming, especially if you need to make changes or corrections. Using a notation software or an app can help you write counterpoint faster and more accurately, as well as play back your work and export it as a PDF or an audio file. For example, you can use Musescore, a free and open-source notation software that has a built-in counterpoint checker that can detect errors and violations of Fux's rules. You can also use Counterpointer, a paid app that can generate cantus firmi and solutions for Fux's exercises, as well as provide feedback and scores on your work.
Use a reference book or a website. Reading Fux's treatise alone may not be enough to understand and apply his rules and examples. Using a reference book or a website can help you clarify and supplement Fux's method with more explanations, illustrations, and exercises. For example, you can use The Study of Counterpoint by Alfred Mann, a modern translation and edition of Fux's treatise that includes an introduction, a bibliography, an index, and some additional exercises. You can also use Open Music Theory, a free and open-source online textbook that covers Fux's method as well as other topics in music theory.
Use a peer group or a community. Practicing counterpoint by yourself can be lonely and boring. Using a peer group or a community can help you share your work and get feedback and support from other people who are learning or teaching counterpoint. For example, you can use r/counterpoint, a subreddit on Reddit that is dedicated to discussing and practicing counterpoint. You can also use Counterpoint Club, an online community that offers courses, workshops, challenges, and forums on counterpoint.
By using these tools and strategies, you can practice counterpoint exercises from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum in a fun and effective way. You will be able to improve your skills and creativity in writing counterpoint in various styles and situations. aa16f39245