Fifth Species Counterpoint

As a garden is full of flowers so this species of counterpoint should be full of excellences of all kinds... Fux, Gradus ad Parnassum (1725), 64.


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Florid counterpoint, the richest species and the one closest to "free" counterpoint, is a combination of the techniques of the first four species. In addition to these now-familiar idioms, a few new techniques will be introduced.


The fifth species counterpoint line should begin slowly with a suspension figure, with the same interval constraints as always: the upper counterpoint may enter at a 5th, 8ve, or 12th against the cantus firmus, and the lower counterpoint may enter at a unison or 8ve against the cantus firmus.


The last two measures should also emulate 4th species by providing a suspension into the leading tone in the penultimate measure, closing in the final measure on a whole note tonic.

Eighth notes can now be used, but only under controlled conditions. Eighth notes always occur in pairs, and an eighth-note pair may only be used on the weak 2nd or 4th quarter of a measure. Only one pair of eighth notes should be used within a single measure; in fact, care should be taken not to overuse this note value.


Never forget that species counterpoint is a vocal genre, and faster note values are more difficult to sing (more instrumental in nature) than slower note values are.


Eighth notes are not used on strong beats (1st and 3rd) in fifth species, and must form either a neighbor-note figure (example 1a), or a passing-tone figure connecting two tones a fourth apart (1b).

Example 1a: 8ths as N

Example 1b: 8ths as two Ps

These are the only typical eighth-note idioms. Remember that all eighth-note pairs must be both entered into, and left, by step. Never leap into or out of a pair of eighth notes! Eighth notes are delicate, sensitive creatures – smooth treatment only, please.


Suspensions can take on a more elegant character in fifth species by way of embellished resolutions.


The suspension figure can now be embellished in one of several ways:

1. The resolution can be anticipated by a quarter note (reducing the duration of the suspension itself by half) (example 2a).

2. The anticipation of the resolution can be decorated by an eighth note lower neighbor-note figure (2b).

3. The suspension itself can be embellished by its upper neighbor (2c). This figure is known as an échappée or escape tone.

4. Finally, the suspension can be temporarily abandoned with a descending consonant leap to a consonant interval (1st and 2nd quarters) before leaping back up to the expected resolution (2d).

This figure is similar to the embellishing tone of 3rd species: the goals of both the descending leap from the suspended note and the ascent back up to the note of resolution, must be consonant against the cantus firmus. 




Example 2a: anticipated resolution



Example 2b: anticipated resolution with N




Example 2c: suspension with e.t. 




Example 2d: sus and res separated by cons skip


Please note: just as in 4th species, both the suspension's preparation and its resolution must occur in the middle of the measure, on the third quarter note, whether or not the resolution is anticipated, or the suspension figure otherwise embellished, on the measure's second quarter note.

To summarize: in a four-quarter measure, the preparation begins on the 3rd beat, the suspension begins on the next downbeat, and the resolution occurs on the 3rd beat.


In contrast to the previous four species, measures in fifth species can contain a mixture of several rhythmic values.


The whole note value should be reserved for the last measure of the counterpoint -- otherwise, its use in the body of the exercise will result in a sense of stagnation or premature closure. Try to maintain a healthy rhythmic flow throughout the exercise.


In a measure containing both long and short values, half notes should precede quarter notes unless a half note is suspended into the following measure (example 3a).

Example 3a: rhythm in quarters and halves  

Syncopation only occurs at the half-note level of meter. Quarter-note syncopation (beginning a half note on the second quarter of a measure, or tying a quarter from the fourth beat of one measure over the barline to another quarter on the first beat of the next measure) is not permitted in fifth species, or in any other species of strict counterpoint in the sixteenth-century style (example 3b).

Example 3b: no long notes starting on 2nd or 4th beat!  

Since eighth notes are used only on the 2nd or 4th quarter notes, they will always be preceded by quarter notes (3c). Try to avoid rhythmic sequences, or the repetition of a rhythmic figure (3d).

Example 3c: rhythm in quarters and 8ths 


Example 3d: avoid sequences and rhythmic repetition  

The fifth species counterpoint line will often exhibit a rhythmic crescendo: longer note values and conjunct motion prevail at the very beginning of the exercise, with gradual introduction of quarter and eighth note values, and disjunct motion, as the exercise gets underway.


All other procedures follow the rules and principles of the species from which they derive.


Here's a summary of the new suspension techniques available in 5th species:

0) The normal, unembellished suspension: P | S R. P and R = half notes beginning on 3rd quarter, consonant, and S = half note beginning on 1st quarter, consonant or dissonant.

1) P | S anticipation(R) R. P = half note beginning on 3rd quarter, S on 1st quarter, ant(R) on 2nd quarter, R = half note on 3rd quarter.

2) P | S ant(R) LN(ant(R)). P = half note on 3rd quarter, S on 1st quarter, 2 eighth notes, R = half note on 3rd quarter.

3) P | S e.t. R. P on 3rd quarter, S on 1st quarter, e.t. on 2nd quarter, R = half note on 3rd quarter.

4) P | S emb R. P on 3rd quarter, S on 1st quarter, embellishing tone on 2nd quarter, R = half note on 3rd quarter. 





First example  

Second example  

Third example  

Fourth example 


You will need manuscript paper to complete these exercises.


1) What are the basic characteristics of fifth species counterpoint?  Consider rhythm, melodic behavior, and harmonic behavior (the behavior exhibited by the two parts together).


2) Describe and illustrate typical eighth note behavior in 5th species counterpoint.


3) Describe and graph (or illustrate in two-part notation) the embellished suspension figures used in 5th species counterpoint, and indicate consonant and dissonant parts of each figure with the letters "C" and "D".


4) Print the four examples found directly above, and write the harmonic interval quantities between the staves for each example. Circle all dissonant harmonic intervals. Indicate which type of dissonance is used ("S," "ant.," "e.t." the various "N's," "P") above the counterpoint note or notes involved.


5) Add a line of fifth species counterpoint above and below cantus firmi chosen by your instructor. Circle all dissonant harmonic intervals, and label all dissonant figures with the appropriate abbreviation. Remember to have a suspension in the penultimate measure wherever possible.


Copyright © 2003 Irene Girton