MUS 311 Counterpoint
K. Three-Voice Counterpoint, Chapter 11
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There are various possibilities with 3-voice
Movement in voices may be more or less evenly
distributed. When one voice has a longer value, either or both
of the other voices keep the motion going. All three voices
seldom move in shorter values at the same time, except for a few
beats as a relief from constantly alternating motion.
- Two voices may be paired rhythmically, while the third voice takes
a different rhythmic pattern.
- Rhythmic patterns may first occur in paired voices (1 & 2),
then the pairs may shift to the rhythm of the third voice, while the
third voice takes over the rhythm of the upper voices.
- Second and third voices may assume a somewhat accompanimental role
to an ornate melody in the top voice.
- Occasionally, each of the three voices may move in a rhythmically
- A chorale melody may be accompanied by voices moving in much
In that the listener hears the outer voices more readily, these tend
to receive greater compositional concern. The inner voice,
however, should be written so that it is as interesting and independent
- Triads can be fully outlined. Chromatic harmonies
(e.g., altered 7th chords) are more feasible.
- Ties: Often in 3-voice counterpoint, one voice will be tied
into the next beat while the other two voices move, accentuating
- The tie may be harmonic or nonharmonic (dissonant).
- Suspensions may occur, created by ties or note repetition.
- In 3-voice counterpoint, suspensions are described in terms of the
intervals between the bass and the suspended voice. If
the suspension is in the bass, then it is described in terms of the
- Suspensions into the third of the chord are stronger than those
that resolve to the fifth.
- When a suspension resolves by half step to the third of a
chord, the note of resolution should not be doubled in any
octave. If the suspension resolves by whole step, the
note of resolution may be doubled.
General Guidelines for 3-Voice Counterpoint:
- There are times when linear reasons result in two voices sharing
the same chord tone, either in unison, or an octave or two apart.
- Three-note vertical combinations that contain no third are
ruled out. The third is necessary to define color quality.
- On occasion, proper motion of individual voices demands a doubled
fifth, in which case the root must be omitted. (These
situations usually involve stepwise contrary motion in the outer
- Although tripled thirds and fifths are avoided, the tripled
root may be used at the beginning or end of an exercise.
- In 3-part writing, the P4 now becomes usable as a stable
interval between the upper two voices (1st inversion).
It is still unstable, however, when occurring between the bass
and either of the upper voices (2nd inversion).
- One note must be omitted in 3-part, 1:1 counterpoint. Most
often it is the fifth.
- Rarely is the third omitted.
- Do not omit both the third and the fifth.
- The root may be omitted, implying a viio chord.
(Sonorities implying a viio6 are strongest.)
- Nondominant seventh chords are easily implied and usable in 3-part
- Parallel 5ths are still to be avoided in general.
- One exception is: going from a o5 to a P5 in the top
two voices, which is permissible. These 5ths, however, must
not be used in the outer voices. (The ear hears the
outer voices more readily.)
- Repeated notes are permissible in the middle voice where a
change of note is awkward or impossible.
- The middle voice may be written on either the upper or lower
staff, depending on which pitch notation is more convenient.
- Unlike the restrictions of 4-part writing, it is sometimes
necessary to have more than an octave between the upper
voices for brief periods.
- An objective in 3-voice counterpoint is independent writing for
each of the lines, and not mere harmonic successions. Play
each voice separately to test for independence.
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