Twelve Tone Composition
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Twelve Tone Composition

September 28, 2019


hey, guys, welcome to 12tone. today, we’re
gonna talk about 12-tone composition. as a warning, this is some pretty advanced stuff. so advanced, in fact, that it’s almost entirely
unconnected to traditional functional harmony, which means we can skip ahead and stare straight
into the abyss. so if you’re wondering what it looks like
out here in the compositional deep end, brace yourself, because things are about to get
weird. but first let’s look at the history. through the development of western harmony,
we’ve seen a fairly consistent trend toward dissonance. as time goes on, we lean more
on unstable dominant function chords, we wait longer to resolve, and we use weirder, harsher
chords. in effect, we start to let go of our tonal grounding. eventually, in the early 20th century, we
reached the logical conclusion of that progression, which Arnold Schoenberg referred to as emancipating
the dissonance. this compositional style was known as free atonality. after that, the next step was an attempt to
regain some form of structure. this is the role that 12-tone writing, and
serialism in general, sought to fill. invented primarily by Schoenberg and developed
by him and the students of the Second Viennese School, 12-tone writing replaced the rules
and conventions of functional harmony with their own strict structural requirements,
instating order over the chaos of atonality. the fundamental conceit of 12-tone composition
is the idea that all 12 notes are equal. there are no special notes, no tonic, no dominant. no note is more important than any other note. in order to accomplish this, the rules state
that we have to play every note once before we begin the cycle again. so for instance if our piece started on an
F, we couldn’t play F again until we’d played all 11 of the other notes. further, in a given composition, we construct
a specific set or order for the 12 notes, known as a tone row, or just a row. the row is stated in its entirety, over and
over, to form the piece. if your instrumentation allows it, you can
also have multiple statements of the row happening in parallel. this is especially useful with piano, with
independent left and right hand lines. but even then, it would be incredibly boring
to just loop the same 12 notes, in the same order, for an entire composition, so we are
allowed to apply a couple transformations. the first transformation we’re allowed is
called the retrograde. this is pretty simple: we just play the row backwards. so if our row was this: (pow) the retrograde
would sound like this: (wop) the second transformation is known as the inversion. this one’s more complicated. in the inversion, for each interval, we flip
the direction in which it’s going. so if our row starts by ascending a major
third, the inversion starts by descending the same distance. so the inversion of our row would sound like
this: (zip) and of course we can combine the two, forming the retrograde inversion: (piz) the last transformation we’re allowed to
apply is transposition. we can take the entire row and shift every
note up the same interval. in effect, we can start our row wherever we want, as long as
the intervals remain the same. and, of course, we can apply this to the retrograde, the inversion,
and the retrograde inversion as well. note that 12-tone composition says nothing
about octave. only the note name itself matters. for instance, our prime row, as written, starts
by going from C up to E. however, it’s equally valid to go from C down to E, or to jump from
C up to E in a higher octave. we’re also not bound by rhythm. we can sustain each note for as long or as
short as we want. you can even repeat a note more than once,
but once you leave you can’t come back until you’ve completed the row. you can even create chords of sorts by playing
multiple consecutive notes in the row simultaneously. now, all of this is great, and mathematically
fascinating, but what does it sound like? what sort of music does it make? well, of course, that depends what you do
with it. you can make nearly tonal music, you can write
rows designed to emphasize dissonant intervals, or you can just go nuts and make your row
with a random number generator. but to give you a sense of the possibilities,
here’s a short piece of my own composition. (ZWABOW!) so that’s the basics of 12-tone writing. we’ll come back to this, but for now play
around with it, and keep on rockin’.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. I wonder why a big majority of 12 tone stuff is incredibly boring and uninspired, i don't know how this technique works but is it because of it?

  2. To say that you can't go back to a note you already played is a misconception, I think. In some cases you can understand the use of the serie in groups of notes, with in a particular group the notes are used more freely. Check out Schoenberg's variations for orchestra op 31 🙂

  3. 3:40

    i believe there are some rules in some forms of twelve tone where there are rhythmic constraints in order to insure the equality of the 12 tones where the notes with natural emphasis, the first and last notes, cannot be prolonged for too long. i think this applies for the highest and lowest notes as well in the tone row. just a little thing i guess if you're somebody particularly interested in an extra challenge

    anyway, great videos. i'm really happy i discovered this channel. 🙂 <3

  4. ヽ(ಠ_ಠ)ノ You didn´t highlighted the title at the end with the yellow marker!!!

    …with Emmanuel these things didn´t happened

  5. Is it really "advanced"? I mean, to me it sounds more different than advanced, since you don't really have to know much about music theory to get this…

  6. Nice vid, very well explained! The only thing that I didn't really like about this vid is your composition. The main goal of twelve tone serialism is to break free from tonality! By using chords in your composition it makes it seem like there's a tonal context, and it makes it kind of sound tonal. That's why I think that, in my opinion, your composition is really weak and not very interesting. There's no explorations into dissonance, it's just some random notes with some diminished chords here and there. But still a pretty good vid. Actually, I've been binge watching your vids lately, they're really entertaining!

  7. To someone who'd never heard of atonality, I showed this to my little brother. He said it sounds like a jazzy national anthem from an odd middleeastern European country

  8. blotted science used this method to create an album, forget the name of it, but they have the song Cretaceous Chasm on it, the album is brilliant to me

  9. hey sorry to bug you, but there's something I'm confused about. (I'm sure you've answered something like this already, but I think I missed it). When you say "you can't repeat a note until you've finished the row", does that mean you can only start employing the inversion of the row after you've finished the last note of the row? (so if the last three notes of my row were "A C E" I could finish the first row with "A C E" and then immediately employ "E C A"?)

  10. modular electronic music alla Buchlayout drives it a bit longer…. but it is exponential more fare out less people listen to it

  11. for harmony i understand i can cluster groups of the tone row together to form chords..
    but i was wondering is it possible to play 2 tone rows simultaneously to attempt to form different harmony as these 2 tone rows group together vertically?

  12. need help…. To compose a melody using a given 5-note row and harm
    onise it with an appropriate keyboard texture (up
    to 10 bars).

  13. QUESTION: The melody part is quite easy to understand, but the chord progression is hard to come up with😣 help please

  14. A great example of this is "Cool: west side story" by Bernstein, which uses 12 tone quite often and actually sounds like the name of the song, cool

  15. Dude, you should totally make a class on this, and have Strauss for reference. I know I would buy it, heck you can take my money anytime if you really make a complete series or something

  16. So twelve tone music can use harmonics? Could you limit yourself even more by requiring that chords should count as part of the row? Or would that make it easier?

  17. What order of notes starting with E? I like to draw the scales out. I feel as if it is a language, a holy scroll with a hidden message. the ultimate puzzle.

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