For writing 12 tone or serial music, one generally makes a tone row, and then uses that for constructing a melody. I want to know what would be the maximum range of intervals between any 2 consecutive notes of the tone row that will be feasible to sing/play?

For example, can I move from a B down by a major 7th to a C (if B and C were two successive notes of the tone row)? Will this jump be ok for a singer or any instrument (especially wind instruments) to play?

  • 1
    General rule of thumb - keep it singable. Any really big jump needs a note after to be closer to the first note.
    – Tim
    Jul 7, 2019 at 6:07
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    You're not locked to one octave when using the row. You can use B - C as a minor second. Rows are about pitch classes, you can get creative with the intervals. Jul 7, 2019 at 11:03
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    Following up on what Your Uncle Bob says, I've seen 12-tone serialist piano music change which hand plays successive tone row notes (e.g. right hand plays Note 6, left hand plays Note 7).
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 7, 2019 at 13:52
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    One of the first twelve tone row pieces I learned at the university was Dallapiccola's Die Sonne Kommt, and the very first interval is a major seventh, B down to C (in the transcription for high voice). Not a problem with a little practice. vdocuments.mx/dallapiccola-die-sonne-kommt.html Jul 10, 2019 at 12:42
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    This is not a well posed question. Feasible to sing or play is dependent on the instrument and/or vocalist. Withe a 4 octave range there aren't too many limits. And the difficulty in getting from one note to another is not, imo, dependent on the instrument as much as the instrumentalist. Singing a Maj 7 should be east for a well trained singer. I can think of some classic musicals that have that interval in solos.
    – user50691
    Apr 10, 2020 at 15:30

1 Answer 1


As the comments suggest, there is no real maximum range between two pitches of the tone row.

This is because, more accurately stated, these are pitch classes, not just pitches. In other words, we are dealing with octave equivalence: if the next member of your tone row is a B, it can be a B in any octave. Thus, if you come from a C, this B could be a major seventh above it, a minor second below it, or any other B. In short, the octave equivalence makes these intervals largely moot.

As for the technical demands of vocalists and wind players, serial composers were pretty demanding. In the opening measures of the first movement of his Op. 21 Symphony, Webern asks one horn player to move a descending major fourteenth (a major seventh plus an octave), another horn player to move this same interval ascending, and then the clarinet to return to this interval in its descending form.

It seems that the intervallic demands you speak of are less the demands regarding intervallic leaps and more the demands of the ranges of the instruments themselves.

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