Fall 2023

Tonal Harmony and Counterpoint

Listed in: Music, as MUSI-341


Amy M. Coddington (Section 01)


Whether it’s a rapper lyrically flowing over a looped breakbeat or a Bach fugue’s imitative melodic lines helping determine the piece’s structure, most of the music we interact with on a daily basis involves the careful interplay of two or more musical elements. Putting musical lines in conversation creates grooves, harmonies, and complex timbral sonorities. But how do musicians and listeners make sense of the relationship between simultaneously sounding musical ideas?

In this class, we study how simultaneously sounding musical ideas interact, by examining the ideas of counterpoint and harmony within four distinct musical traditions. We begin the semester by exploring species counterpoint, a European pedagogical compositional technique popularized in the 18th century by Austrian composer Johann Joseph Fux. From there, we analyze ideas of counterpoint in hip hop from the United States, looking at the relationship between flow, beats, and rhyme schemes. Then, we engage with the harmonic language of two tonal music traditions: Western art music of the 18th and 19th centuries, and American popular music of the last 60 years. Through composition, analysis, dictation and performance, we will develop theoretical and practical tools to cultivate a deep understanding of the conventions of counterpoint and harmony across these styles.

This course is the first of the required music theory sequence for majors. Three class meetings and two ear-training sections per week. Students who have not previously taken a course in music theory at Amherst College are encouraged to take a self-administered placement exam available on the Music Department Website (https://www.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/music/theoryexam). Students are also encouraged to discuss placement in music theory with a member of the Music Department.

Requisite: MUSI 211 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Professor Coddington. Fall and Spring semesters.

How to handle overenrollment: Preference given to first-year students and sophomores

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: artistic work, aural analysis, readings, written work, oral presentations, and group work.

MUSI 341 - LEC

Section 01
M 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM ARMU 212
W 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM ARMU 212
F 11:00 AM - 11:50 AM ARMU 212


Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025