Pitch Classes

Refering to pitches without specific octave designations (A3, C#5, etc.), serial composers think in terms of pitch classes. Pitch class numbers from 0 to 11 are used to refer to these pitch classes. The most common labeling system regards the first note of a piece as pitch class 0. A chromatic scale beginning on this pitch assigns each of the remaining 11 pitches to a specific pitch class number for that piece.

For example, if a composition begins with the pitch class D, the chromatic scale beginning on D assigns the remaining pitch class numbers as follows:

And, if a composition begins with the pitch class F-sharp, the chromatic scale beginning on F-sharp assigns the remaining pitch class numbers as follows:

In the notation of serial music, an accidental applies only to the pitch which immediately follows and not to subsequent occurences of that pitch within the measure - a departure from traditional notation.

Also observe that enharmonic spellings (Eb and D#, for example) are used indescriminately in serial music unlike in tonal music.




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