View Full Version : polyphony

02-18-2004, 04:55 PM
Hi- This is my first post. I was very happy to find this site because all of the regulars here seem very well-informed and helpful, unlike some other music sites that I have come across.

I'm interested in writing music for more than one guitar in a polyphonic setting. After taking some time off from listening to shred, and practicing this technique-oriented approach, I've come back to it with what seems(for me) like a fresh perspective. In the process, I've been listening to some of my old favorites and found that on most of the older shrapnel stuff, the harmony is very clearly homophonic; there may be guitars playing in harmony above the chords, but they rarely split off into a genuine baroque feel and never seem to employ forms like canon and fugues. I'm not sure of the reason for this since some of those guys(Tony MacAlpine for example) are very classically trained. Anyway, my question is this - does anyone here know of a resource for learning how to write a fugue, and conversely can you suggest any modern shred guys who might be taking the concept more in that direction? George Bellas sounds interesting, but I've never listened to any of his stuff. I'd appreciate any recommendations people here might have.

03-01-2004, 01:08 AM
all the help i can give you is to point you out into this page, wich is good, but you must speak spanish, italian or french.


Hope to be of some help...

03-01-2004, 03:36 PM
I went a googling so here are some links I came back with, they may or may not help but just showing that with Google you can find anything, yesterday I found Jimmy Hoffa while looking for Bass Tabs :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphony <= Quick Definition of Polyphony
http://www.medieval.org/emfaq/harmony/pyth.html <= All About Polyphony and Pythagorian Tuning
http://www.medieval.org/emfaq/harmony/2voice.html <= Thirteenth Century Polyphony
http://trumpet.sdsu.edu/M345/Knowledge_Webs/5Baroque_MusicY/polyphony.htm <= More on Polyphony
http://www.stanford.edu/~jrdx/medieval.html <= Birth of Polyphony

Hope that helps

03-03-2004, 09:22 PM
Thanks for the links. I'll check them out. It seems like a progressively more difficult subject the more I think about it. I mean, all the music the I've really immersed myself in has been homophonic, with greater or lesser degrees of complexity in the way the melody relates to the harmony. Lately I've been listening to fugues and really trying to hear the different voices, and they are blowing my mind.

The search continues.

03-03-2004, 09:27 PM
If anyone else is interested in this topic, I just found a cool link:


Seems like some great info. I have so many random, but cool ostinato-type parts that are just taking up space in my head - maybe I'll figure out something to do with them now.

03-17-2004, 02:40 PM
I have a Bachelors in classical music and also don't write fugues and other classical forms for several reasons, despite heavily using other classical things I know and having written classical music itself. Here are some thoughts:

A fugue is the single most intricate and complicated thing there is. It's A LOT of work, and the counterpoint rules go through the roof. Writing fugues is not for the faint of heart. Even serious classical composers feel a bit daunted by them. There's not much reason for a guitarist to do it unless they really want to.

You need to know A LOT about counterpoint and have a lot of practice writing it, or someone who knows more will see/hear your errors and not take you seriously. No parallel 5ths and octaves, for example. Theme and countertheme. How's your invertible counterpoint skill?

You also must know the form of a fugue. Episode, restatement, transition, and other things I don't remember off the top of my head.

I once recorded a fugue I wrote in college, using distorted guitars. It sounded sort of cool, but mostly silly. It was fun, but even I was snickering at the way it sounded.

My guess is that most see it as a lot of work, and without serious training, it won't really work out. Also keep in mind that many of us have a hard time writing even one cool part. Writing 3-4 lines with tons of rules in place and having those lines mesh perfectly and form chords at the write time, etc., isn't easy. You must also know how to write/read music fluently.

That being said. Good luck!!!!!:)

03-17-2004, 03:19 PM
Well, obviously a complete fugue might be a little ambitious to start things off. My couterpoint skills are ok, and I'm aware of rules about parallel 5ths etc. I'm not really so much interested in writing a strict fugue, but I am interested in knowing some of the rules of fugues and cannons so that I can start applying those ideas to my own stuff. Most of my ideas are single note lines which outline a particular time signature, so I'm interested in arranging them for more voices, rather than just coming up with a harmonic foundation which supports them. I have nothing against parallel fifths though - I grew up lstening to metal, and later started liking Steve Reich and Phillip Glass, so I'm a big fan of that "quintal" sound.

I'm interested that anyone with the kind of background in theory that you describe would bother defending a band like White Lion. Then again, I have a real soft spot for Guns 'n Roses, so I really have bothing to say about it.

03-17-2004, 04:42 PM
I'm interested that anyone with the kind of background in theory that you describe would bother defending a band like White Lion. Then again, I have a real soft spot for Guns 'n Roses, so I really have bothing to say about it.
Hahaha. Well, I was a metalhead before a classical player, and I'll be a metal head till death.

I see your point. I like 5ths, too, and it's idiomatic to the guitar, but the problem is that if you aren't consistently doing it and then suddenly do it, it sticks out when you don't want it to.

A good way to start is to write, say, a mostly quarter note theme, then write counterpoint that is maybe 16th notes. They actually teach that in school, and it does help. This can be very good for a guitar and bass guitar scenario. Maybe the guitar in 16ths and the bass in quarters. Can sound very cool. A lot of Baroque (Bach) stuff was like this.

03-17-2004, 04:47 PM
As for rules, a fugue is basically like this, for form:

etc. to end.

Each statement is in 1 key. A transition is for two things: develop the theme freely with variation techniques, and change keys within. The key change is cemented by the following statement in that key, so....

Statement in A major
Transition to E major
Statement in E major
Transition to B major
Statement in B major
Transition to A major
Statement in A major

Statements are usually literal transpositions of the original. In a transition, melodically, take a motif of your theme and write new music with it.