Week 4 (Sep 13): Serialism (F21)

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.


Introductory video

I have made a video based on Chapter 6 of . If the video is not detailed enough for you, you can download this chapter from the Readings folder, and I have placed the whole book on reserve at the library.

download serialism slidesdownload serialism transcriptlink to video

Concept check

Optional: Complete the Concept Check quiz on Blackboard to see if you are understanding these concepts.

Due Thursday: Reading and response

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.

In the Reading Responses channel on Teams, post a message with some type of response about the readings/videos. You may either make a new post or reply to someone else’s post (both count for this participation grade). You can approach this in a bunch of different ways! You might ask clarifying questions about the reading, summarize an important bit of it, share a related personal anecdote…anything counts, as long as it relates to the reading in some way.

More on response essays
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. Remember that these are graded pass/fail, so anything you write is valuable in that sense. Feel free to use I/me pronouns and to freely express yourself (while remaining professional) and your opinion of the reading.

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?

Due Sunday: Analysis assignment

You’ll be analyzing the first movement of Ernst Krenek’s Suite for Solo Cello, Op. 84. The score can be found in the Readings folder.


  • Before looking at the serial pitch content, listen to the piece several times to determine phrase boundaries.
  • The piece uses the P2 row exclusively throughout. With this in mind, you should be able to quickly find the beginnings of each row.
  • Write a brief essay ≤500 words in which you discuss the following, giving specific examples (reference measure numbers, pitches, etc) in each case:
    • How are phrase boundaries articulated?
    • How do the row boundaries align with the phrase boundaries (or not)?
    • What other pitches, pcs, pc sets, or set classes seem to be important in this piece?
    • How does your understanding of these organizing principles (serialism, set theory) impact your hearing/experience of the piece?


  • You will be assessed on the following concepts:
    • Identification of phrase boundaries
    • Comparison of row/phrase boundaries
    • Identification of other significant pitch techniques
    • Description of listening experience
  • 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 only your short essay.
  • Submit your assignment on Blackboard.
  • Upload your assignment as a .pdf attachment. Please do not use other file types.



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

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