(musTh1) Second Species Counterpoint

Second species counterpoint uses two notes in the counterpoint line for every one note in the cantus firmus. When writing second species counterpoint you need to make sure that the counterpoint line maintains shape and direction, rather than continually circling around the same few notes.

The meter for second species is cut time (2/2), with the first beat metrically stressed and the second beat metrically unstressed.

Unless otherwise contradicted by a second species rule, all first species rules still apply.


  • The stressed half note must be consonant.
  • The unstressed half note can be either consonant or dissonant.
  • The only dissonance allowed (for the unstressed half) is the passing tone (PT). A passing tone fills in the gap of a melodic third.
  • A PT may be consonant or dissonant. A consonant PT involves either the intervals 5 – 6, or 6 – 5.
  • Neighbor notes (NN) for the unstressed half note must be consonant, involving the same intervals as the consonant PT.
  • If the unstressed half note is consonant then it must remain within the same triad implied by the first half note.
  • Avoid parallel 5ths and 8ves between successive strong beats. Consecutive parallel 5ths and 8ves are already not allowed, but this rule pertains to the intervals on the beginnings of measures.
  • Unisons can only happen on weak beats.
  • Do not repeat notes in the half note (counterpoint) line.
  • The counterpoint can begin with a half rest.
  • The last note in the counterpoint must be a whole note. The cadence in the counterpoint can both be whole notes.
  • Climaxes can happen in the same measure if the climax of the counterpoint happens on the unstressed beat.

Note that a lot of the rules pertain to how dissonances must be handled, and how the second note fits with the first.

Writing Strategies

For beginners I think that it is much easier to start by writing a first species counterpoint line. From there you can add the second note for each measure while thinking about second species rules. With the given rules it is natural that your second species counterpoint line will have more leaps than a first species line. However, your second species line should still be mostly stepwise. You will also find that second species lines will have more changes of direction, since you have almost twice as many notes than the cantus firmus.

With practice it becomes easier to conceive a second species line from the start, skipping the first species framework.


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