Bach's outer-voice counterpoint
Bach's outer voice counterpoint is founded almost entirely upon consonant intervals.
Follow these simple guidelines.
- 10ths and 6ths are used without restriction
- 5ths and 8ves are best with contrary motion
- 5ths and 8ves are fine with similar motion ONLY IF one voice, preferably the soprano, moves by step.
You will discover that Bach favors beginning and ending phrases with either a perfect
consonance or a 10th. Beginning a phrase with a 6th is possible but not common.
Dissonance at the level of the quarter note.
In a Bach chorale, there are few (1-3 on average) dissonant intervals in the outer voices.
Bach's outer-voice counterpoint is predicated on consonant intervallic combinations.
The most frequent of these occasional dissonances are the 7th and the dim. 5th.
- 7th (2nds) in the melody (bass) must resolve down by step
- dim. 5th (aug. 4th) permissable in connection with chords of dominant function.
- Be aware that 2nds and aug. 4ths, although permissible, are far less frequent
between outer voices than their inversions (7th and dim. 5).
Eighth-notes in the melody (2 against 1)
Chorale melodies occasionally employ two stepwise notes above a single bass note. In
such instances, five possibilities exist. One is consonant (6-5, 5-6), the
The consonant passing tone (5-6, 6-5) is quite common. Of the accented dissonant
figures, the 4-3 is the most frequent while the 9-8 is the least
Listen to Bach's bass lines for the following chorales. Notice how infrequent
dissonance is used in the outer-voice counterpoint.
- O Welt, sieh hier deine Leben Chorale No. 366 (A-major).
Last update: 03.26.99