Chapter 1.

TONL Composition Introduction

Twelve-tone Organic Non-Linear Composition — A new method of composing with twelve tones which are related with one another

Why TONL? The T of TONL is probably the most self explanatory of the bunch, and it stands for twelve tone. I wanted to make mention that for the intents and purposes of introducing this method I have restricted the musical examples to using the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. Certainly, exploration into microtonal idioms as well as other non-western pitch organisation systems warrant further examination. 

Blind Texas Marlin

Blind Texas Marlin

When I first heard the description of music developing Organically, I was playing with a band called Blind Texas Marlin. The melodica player used this word to describe how the music developed from one section to another with out any preordained instructions. It was a way to differentiate between purely improvisatory music and that which is structured, but contains improvisatory elements. When we would play together we would know that we were starting at point A and moving to point B but the way that we would get there was never the same. TONL uses this same concept in its compositional process. 

Non-Linear refers to the freedom with which we treat our tone-row. This could also be described as deserialising the music.


The following treatise will contain many disclaimers. I’d like to make clear what TONL is as well as what it is not.  For one, I am not reinventing the wheel.  I am not writing a dissertation on how to compose.  This is simply a new look and approach to an old idea.  A background in composition would be helpful in understanding many of the concepts put forth, but isn’t strictly necessary. 

Throughout, enharmonic spellings of notes are observed to make for easier visual recognition.  As such, intervals such as diminished 4ths, augmented 5ths, diminished octaves etc. will be avoided.

Because TONL is primarily concerned with harmony, I have purposefully limited the variables of texture, timbre, dynamics, and rhythm so as to more easily focus our attention on the content at hand.  Obviously these elements will play a huge part in how our music is perceived and written and cannot be overlooked in the larger scheme of things.

Many of the examples used in the explanation of TONL are written on two staves, and played on piano.  These examples needn’t be thought of as music for piano, but rather as sketches that could bear further development and be adapted for any instrumentation. A few of the examples have been arranged for piano trio to show how a fuller ensemble might soud playing some of these passages.

As you can see with the orchestrations some liberty has been taken with the sketch from which the orchestration is borne.  Choosing to adhere strictly to the sketched material would have hindered the piece’s realisation and so some freedom was taken in this regard.  As mentioned earlier the most important facet is to serve the music and not strictly follow a method that helps us get there.  We use TONL when needed and discard it when it no longer serves us.

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