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Lesson 155: 12- Tone Music

A Tone Row

A tone row is an ordering of the 12 pitches in the chromatic scale. Every pitch has to be used before any pitch is repeated, the same pitch can be used twice in succession, however.

An Example

I experimented a little and came up with the following tone row: c b g bb a f c# e d eb f# ab. I started with the phrase consisting of the first five notes and then tried to use the rest of the pitches to make up a logical sounding four-bar phrase. I put much emphasis on making it rhythmically interesting. I decided to repeat the a in the beginning of the the second phrase - that sounds good and logically connects it to the first phrase.

I then used this 12-tone row as the source material for a bass line:

  • in its prime form
  • then retrograded and
  • finally inverted and transposed a minor third down so that the first note is an a
I kept the rhythm the same throughout. Then I harmonized it using chords that make it sound like it is more or less in C major. I have always had some kind of misconception that 12-tone music equals atonal music. But this tune of mine doesn't sound atonal at all, at least not to my ears. I named the tune Zwölf Uhr - you can look at the entire lead sheet here.

© 2016 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.