Contrary motion is the movement of two melodic lines or pitches in opposite directions. The movement can be inward, i.e. lines or pitches moving toward each other, or outward, i.e. away from each other. While obviously creating movement within a piece, contrary motion also adds a greater sense of structure, an essential element in composition.
Play Ex. 21 and listen to two G major scales in contrary motion. Starting one octave apart, the exercise ends with two notes three octaves apart. [The last note G (6th string, 3rd fret) is played using a hammer-on with the index finger of the right hand, while sustaining the high G (1st string, 15th fret) with the left hand]
In Ex. 22 we hear a beautiful descending chord sequence against an ascending melody. The sequence descends chromatically, resolving to a Cmaj9 chord played in harmonics on the 12th fret. The root of the G7(sus9) chord is again played using a hammer-on with the index finger of the right hand.
Ex. 23 is a turnaround sequence in the key of G major played using block chords. Note that the top voice of each chord ascends and the bottom voice (root note) of each chord descends.
In Ex. 24 we hear a reharmonisation of the opening bars of jazz pianist Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood. Contrary motion occurs when a descending melody line harmonises the ascending opening melody line.
Ex. 25 demonstrates a skeletal arrangement of the last four bars of jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas. Hear the descending melody line and the ascending root movement (inward contrary motion).
Ex. 26 shows bar 9 of the same tune, this time demonstrating an ascending melody line with descending harmony (outward contrary motion).
1. Familiarise yourself with the concept and play slowly through all the examples.
2. Write some examples of your own.
3. Apply the technique to songs in your repertoire.
Originally published by Hugh Buckley in The Guitar Chord Doctor.