What is the four tonic system? What's the theory behind it? How is it used in improvisation, harmonization, reharmonization?

  • See also Robert Bailey's notion of the "double tonic complex," where two tonics, typically a third amount equally control a span of music.
    – Richard
    Jul 11, 2016 at 4:35

1 Answer 1


4-tonic system -- not to be confused with the Teutonic system -- means that a piece of music emphasizes four notes, usually equal intervals apart (in other words a diminished 7th), as its tonic centers. The chords and melodies generally related to those four tonal centers.

Coltrane's Giant Steps is a popular example of 3-tonic, leaping amid G, B, and Eb.

These don't have to be unequal divisions of the polychromatic scale, but that's pretty commonly what these terms are used to refer to in Jazz.

The best example of 4-tonic in a diminished scale which comes to mind to link to is Egg's Contrasong, which jumps around on these centers. Also, King Crimson's Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part One has some of this beginning at around the 2:50 point.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.