The same melodic rules for composing a good cantus firmus apply to composing a good work of counterpoint. The two melodies should display melodic independence. They should contain independent climaxes, independent melodic contours and no voice crossing.
Sequences should be avoided in first species counterpoint. Although sequences and patterns play a large role in most forms of musical composition and improvisation, a primary part of their musical function is to flesh out an idea across a larger piece of music. Counterpoint is a small and concentrated piece of music. When composing such a piece of music, the entire piece should represent one independent melodic phrase.
Some additional rules for first species counterpoint include the fact that the resolution should be reached by contrary stepwise motion. The cantus firmus and counterpoint should be kept within a perfect 12th of each other. Distances greater than this cause the harmonic connection between the two voices to become too weak. Unisons should be avoided except for the first and last measures. Unisons within the middle of the piece cause the second voice to seem to disappeared. In addition to these rules, the basic rules of polyphonic motion that we discussed last week all apply.
When composing first species counterpoint, I suggest starting with the final cadence. This interval must be either a unison or an octave. Based on this choice, and the way the cantus firmus resolves, there will be only one solution for the pitch in the second to last measure of your counterpoint. Now you have a target to aim for in your resolution.
Next I would suggest considering which pitch you will start on, and where your climax will be. Once these important points of the composition have been established, the rest of the measures can be filled in. Try to use contrary and oblique motion as much as possible since direct motion requires more care to avoid issues. Also, try to use a majority of imperfect consonances, so that your counterpoint contains an abundance of rich harmony.
Try to maintain a smooth melodic line. Use mostly stepwise motion. Fill in skips (especially ones larger than a 4th) with stepwise motion in the opposite direction. Avoid repetitive sequences. Remember, you are composing a concise melodic phrase. Also, avoid crossing over the cantus firmus. If you are writing above the cantus, remain above for the entire melody (and if below, remain below).
Voice exchange is a beautiful effect that can occurs when the pitches of two melodies move in contrary stepwise motion in a fashion that causes the original pitches to exchange parts at the end. This occurs most often in first species counterpoint between imperfect consonances. Remember, imperfect consonances are the most desirable harmonic intervals in counterpoint. Plus, voice exchange between imperfect consonances occurs after only two steps of contrary.
This Learning Music With Ray video discusses the topic of first species counterpoint. In this video I discuss the rules that govern composing a work of first species counterpoint. I also provide some helpful tips that will make your experience composing first species counterpoint easier. Finally, I compose a line of first species counter point both above and below a cantus firmus in order to provide a live demonstration of the principles discussed in the video.