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Using Tone Rows in Jazz Composition Part III

Jazzed Magazine • Basic TrainingJanuary 2014 • January 6, 2014

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It is intriguing to realize that from a somewhat random tone row, several options that contain harmonic order are present.  Consider that the previous progressions that we have examined have only focused on dominant seventh chords, without delving into other sonorities. The harmonic palette is vast when all chord types and intervallic relationships are explored.

If Lydian chords were used exclusively as harmonic material, the following progression could be used as a possibility:


Here is another possibility utilizing all major seventh chords with elements of parallel equidistant relationships.


Another progression that maintains similar harmonic sonority throughout all four measures is:


Simple functional harmony also occurs in a few places among the harmonic possibilities. A V7 to I progression could be found from D7 to G and E7 to A.


With a simple chord substitution one of the most common progressions in tonal music and jazz can be found.  If a G13, or G13(H9) is backward-substituted for the Fdim7 chord, a ii V I VI progression is possible.


A ii V I progression is also present in the second third and fourth measures, in the key of B major.


If more than one chord per measure is used the following ii V and ii V I progressions are possible.


Using multiple chords per measure also creates a common jazz harmonic possibility: a i iv H6 V progression in D minor with the A7 acting as a V pivot chord to the parallel major (DMaj7) followed by a dominant IV(H5) chord.


Even the “Coltrane Matrix” (major chords descending in major thirds) is a harmonic possibility in this tone row, but only in the last two measures.


At this point we have just scratched the surface of exploring the chord progression possibilities that could be extracted from this tone row. There are a multitude of other chord progressions that could occur depending on the composer’s choices. More formal serial music techniques could be applied to the tone row as well, like inversion and retrograde inversion, which would create new pitches within the cells and an entirely new set of harmonic possibilities. This process is an excellent teaching tool, theoretical exercise, and compositional device. It’s a great way to explore new melodic and harmonic content and it creates a backdrop that facilitates fresh musical ideas.

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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