Week 5: Serialism (F18)

Last modified on August 4, 2023

This week you will learn about 12-tone serial techniques and the variety of ways this can be implemented. You’ll learn how to identify row forms, do a row count, make a matrix, and interpret serial pieces. You will also do a guided analysis of a piece by Ruth Crawford Seeger, “Prayers of Steel” from Three Songs.

Also: make a test comment on this post so that I can approve you as a commenter for next week’s discussion, and so that you can try out the comment function. 

Due Friday, Sep 21

Introduction to serialism

Like last week, this week’s materials will all be drawn from a chapter of : Chapter 6, Basic Concepts of Twelve-Tone Music. You can download this chapter from the Readings folder, and I have placed the whole book on reserve at the library.

For your introduction, read sections 6.1–6.4 (stopping at “Varieties of Twelve-Tone Music”).

Concept check

Complete the Concept Check quiz on Blackboard to see if you are understanding serialism concepts properly.


Read Straus’s model analysis of a segment of Webern’s String Quartet, Op. 28, Variation 4 on pages 342–347. Variation 4 begins at 2:16 in the recording below.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOsoEivce_8&t=2m16s[/embedyt]

Write a 350–word response to this essay (shorter because the introductory reading was so long!). A response essay is your personal take on the readings, and thus you shouldn’t be trying to write the “right answer,” but rather your opinion and reaction to what you’ve read.

Below are some questions to inspire you, which you may choose to answer (you do not have to answer all, or any, of them!):

  • A common critique of serial music is that no one can hear the structure. How do you feel this critique applies to this piece? Can you hear the structure after reading the analysis, or not?
  • What to you was the most compelling and interesting part of the analysis?


  • Go to Blackboard and navigate to your group blog.
  • Click the “create blog entry” button, and paste your text directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.

Due Monday, Sep 24

Respond to peers

Respond to the members of your peer group by clicking the “comment” button under their blog post and typing your response directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.

Analysis assignment


  • Before you begin your assignment, read section 6.5.4, “Crawford Seeger and multilevel rotation,” pages 332–4. This technique is used in the piece you will analyze.
  • On pages 372–4 of Straus chapter 6, you will find a guided analysis of Ruth Crawford Seeger, Three Songs, “Prayers of Steel,” mm. 1–4. Read through the questions (on page 374).
  • Important note: there should be a natural sign on the second F of the oboe line (with the accent underneath it).
  • Listen to a recording here.
  • Analyze this excerpt according to the prompts. You may wish to use a combination of score annotation and verbal responses—do whatever you need to get your point across efficiently.


  • You will be assessed on the following concepts:
    • Understanding of multilevel rotation
    • Analysis of row in terms of interval content
    • Identification of motives in the oboe, piano, and voice parts
    • Interpretation
  • You will be given detailed feedback through the rubric. Click “View rubric” in the gradebook to access this.
  • Assignments are always graded pass/fail, with a threshold of 70% to pass.


  • Submit your assignment on Blackboard.
  • Upload your assignment as a .pdf attachment. Please do not use other file types.

Due Wednesday, Sep 26

Reflection post

  • First: leave a comment below. This will establish you as an approved commenter on this site, which will ensure everything runs smoothly next week with our analysis symposium.
  • Read about the remaining varieties of 12-tone music discussed in section 6.5 (pages 318–338).
  • Pick the technique that you like the best.
  • Write a 500-word reflection on what you like about this particular technique.


      • Go to Blackboard and navigate to Reflection Journals (on the sidebar).
      • Click the appropriate link for this week.
      • Click “Create journal entry” and paste your text directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.


If articles are not available online, you should be able to find them in the Readings folder.

Straus, Joseph Nathan. 2016. Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.