Using Tone Rows in Jazz Composition Part II

December 17, 2013

by Paul j. Musso

The following table examines note group two compared to all root notes.  Numbers without flats or sharps are major or perfect intervals, depending on the intervallic indication.  Establishing a table like this for each note group is an excellent way to begin the process of determining all harmonic implications before notating the chords.  It is also an excellent theory exercise for students.

Harmonic Worksheet Table for Note Group Two


Summary of Harmonic Possibilities – Note Group Two of Tone Row



Harmonic Worksheet Table for Note Group Three



Summary of Harmonic Possibilities – Note Group Three of Tone Row



Harmonic Worksheet Table for Note Group Four



Summary of Harmonic Possibilities Note Group Four of Tone Row






At this point, the harmonic movement and chord progressions can be extracted from the tone row. The chord progression combinations number in the thousands (at least 14,641) considering that each measure contains at least eleven chord options. Rather than creating all possible chord progressions, I will examine some harmonic implications common to jazz and tonal music.

One tonal possibility involves secondary dominant chords.  This progression uses dominant seventh chords through the cycle of fourths.  This harmonic movement is common to the bridge of “I’ve Got Rhythm” and many Dixieland songs’ harmonic structures.  The foundation of each dominant seventh chord is indicated below.  The simple dominant seventh chord could be utilized if voiced below the melody.  The tone row melody would then create the upper harmonic colorations and extensions.  The altered chords could also be employed depending on personal compositional preference.


Another possible harmonic progression is a chromatic dominant seventh progression, starting on the D7 chord.  Once again, the extensions could be used in the harmony or avoided, depending on the performer or composer’s choice.



Dominant seventh chords could also be used in parallel whole steps starting on the C7 chord.



The previous three progressions all focused on dominant seventh chords with equidistant intervallic root relationships.  The last progression in this vein starts on the C7 chord and moves in ascending minor thirds.



Paul Musso is an assistant professor and area head of Music Performance in the Music and Entertainment Industry Studies Department at the University of Colorado Denver. He is the author of three Mel Bay publications for jazz guitar: Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar/Teaching Your Guitar to Walk, Graded Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Solos, and Fingerstyle Jazz Chord Soloing. His recent CD release, Tonescapes, is available for download on iTunes.


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