Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is Counterpoint?

Learn what counterpoint means in music.

In this video, Robert tells you what counterpoint is in music with some examples taken from the classical and baroque repertoire.

Released on November 12, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is and I am Robert Estrin. Here's the question today. What is counterpoint?

You may have heard this term before and wondered exactly what that means. You probably have a vague idea that it has something to do with the Baroque era of music primarily. We're going to cover this today, and I'll give you some examples so you can get your head around it and maybe get more insight if you already are familiar with what counterpoint is.

Counterpoint is simply music that is built linearly. That is, there are several different musical lines that could interweave one another, at least two. If you only have one line, you have monophonic music. Once you have polyphony, you have more than one note, you can have the possibility of counterpoint.

However, not all music really works with counterpoint. For example, if you play Mozart, you have a clear melody and harmony, for example in the C Major Sonata K545. The left hand is just broken chords while the right hand is the melody. The left hand by itself really doesn't have much of a melody to remember. That's all that's going on there, so it's all about the melody. You have a melody and an accompaniment. The same thing is true with later music in Chopin like his E Minor Prelude. You have a gorgeous melody on top which is supported with these changes of harmony underneath, clear delineation, a function of these different parts.

In counterpoint, you have equal melodies. You have melodies interweaving. For example, in the Bach E Minor Toccata in the second movement, notice how all the parts are equal. They're equal in importance, and they should be played equally, too. You should bring out the important lines and they can be anywhere. They can be in the top, the bottom, the middle. Listen to the difference of music that relies on counterpoint instead of melody and harmony.

You can't really pick any one part as being the melody or the harmony. They're all melodies. Somehow, Bach can interweave them together. He has two part inventions where two lines just play around one another and dance beautifully, three part symphonias, and then fugues which can be three, four, or sometimes even five voices. That is five separate lines interweaving.

We'll have another show for you about what is a fugue. A fugue is really an amazing composition in the hands of a master like Bach, Handel, Telemann, and others.

Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and Look forward to more shows.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Richard Blocher on November 15, 2017 @6:56 am PST
Dear Robert, thank you for sharing this love of music, with me. It has always amazed me with the piano. I am still learning, and my heart is full of Love, and Respect. Thank you for all that you do, in such a negative time in our country.
Robert - host, on November 15, 2017 @12:08 pm PST
We must embrace beauty wherever we find it. You can watch Alma Deutscher for inspiration.;list=FLko931Zq7P1bswc3YDT3m7Q&index=21
Mary Wancewicz on November 22, 2014 @9:07 am PST
This will help me when listening to music. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks!!
Johan Everaert * VSM MEMBER * on November 13, 2014 @9:58 am PST
Thanks for that clear explanation !
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on November 12, 2014 @4:59 pm PST
Great explanation of counterpoint. Didn't understand it as well before. Now when I think of counterpoint, I can think in terms of two or more melodies interweaving, and not get it confused with a melody on top that simply has a supporting harmonic underpinning.
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on November 12, 2014 @10:26 am PST
Great explanation! I guess my brain cannot handle 2 melodies at the same time, therefore I have to stick with Mozart and Haydn! Smiley Face
Erna Tas on November 12, 2014 @2:10 am PST
Make it more clear bij showing the partiture
Robert Estrin - host, on November 12, 2014 @10:26 am PST
You are right - it's easy to understand the linear nature of counterpoint if each part is written on its own separate staff.
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