noun \ˈkan-tər-ˌpint\

music : a combination of two or more melodies that are played together

: a melody played in combination with another

: something that is different from something else in usually a pleasing way

Full Definition of COUNTERPOINT

a :  one or more independent melodies added above or below a given melody
b :  the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character :  polyphony
a :  a complementing or contrasting item :  opposite
b :  use of contrast or interplay of elements in a work of art (as a drama)


  1. The guitar and bass are played in counterpoint.
  2. The dressing is a refreshing counterpoint to the spicy chicken.
  3. The painting is a pleasant counterpoint to his earlier works.
  4. The music works in counterpoint to the images on the screen.


Middle English, from Middle French contrepoint, from Medieval Latin contrapunctus, from Latin contra- counter- + Medieval Latin punctus musical note, melody, from Latin, act of pricking, from pungere to prick — more at pungent
First Known Use: 15th century

Other Music Terms

cacophony, chorister, concerto, madrigal, obbligato, presto, presto, refrain, riff, segue



: to put two things together in a way that shows how different they are from each other

Full Definition of COUNTERPOINT

transitive verb
:  to compose or arrange in counterpoint
:  to set off or emphasize by juxtaposition :  set in contrast <counterpoints the public and the private man — Tom Bishop>


  1. The violence of the movie is counterpointed by ironic humor.

First Known Use of COUNTERPOINT


Other Music Terms

cacophony, chorister, concerto, counterpoint, madrigal, obbligato, presto, presto, refrain, riff, segue


noun    (Concise Encyclopedia)

Art of combining different melodic lines in a musical composition. The term is often used interchangeably with polyphony (music consisting of two or more distinct melodic lines), but counterpoint more specifically refers to the compositional technique involved in the handling of these melodic lines. The first recorded use of two melodic lines simultaneously was in 9th-century treatises showing examples of organum (a type of music for multiple voices), though improvised counterpoint—in which the voices probably moved mostly parallel to each other, and thus failed to convey an impression of independence—may date back to some centuries earlier. The desire to ensure pleasant consonances and avoid unpleasant dissonances when improvising (see consonance and dissonance) called for principles of simultaneous vocal motion (voice leading). Because the relative movement of voices approaching and leaving given intervals was thought to produce effects that were more or less pleasing, rules were created to govern various types of relative motion. The “vertical” aspect of counterpoint—the relationship between the melodic lines—came to be studied as harmony, especially from the 18th century. Though harmony and counterpoint are intimately intertwined, most of the multivoiced music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is considered essentially polyphonic or contrapuntal—that is, consisting of a combination of relatively independent and integral melodic lines. In the Baroque era, with the invention of figured bass and the continuo, the balance began to shift toward a harmonic orientation.


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