Music Theory
Acoustic Composition
1 of 2

What is a counter melody?

Sometimes, when a composer/arranger wants to add excitement or complexity to a section of music a simple “stock” accompaniment pattern just isn’t enough. Adding one or more moving lines that support the melody can thicken a homophonic texture while still maintaining the melodic clarity that defines homophony.

Here are some examples of the melody from the previous section arranged for string quartet featuring counter melodies.

In this example the counter melody should look familiar. Notice that the viola and cello are providing an eighth note accompaniment pattern based on chord tones.

In this example we see violin 2 harmonizing with the melody and the viola playing a syncopated counter melody. The viola and cello have simple rhythmic figures that fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. The viola plays mostly on beats 1, 2, and 4 while the cello plays mostly on beats 1, 3 and 4.
In this example the cello has the melody, violin 1 has the counter melody, and the remaining instruments are harmonizing with violin 1. Notice how the use of staccato notes and rests give space for the cello’s melody to sing through the texture.
This example shows what happens when a melodic line is fully harmonized in a homophonic texture. This texture commonly occurs in settings of hymns. Notice that each line is distinct, yet dependent on violin 1’s melody.