Sequence (music)

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Melodic-figurative sequence in Chopin's Etude in C sharp minor op.10.4

Sequence ( lat. Sequentia , "sequence") describes in musical sentence theory a temporal sequence of similar musical sections at different pitches . Each sequence consists of several sequence elements . It begins with a (melodic and / or harmonic) sequence model (motif or figure, or model for short ). The model is then repeated (sequenced) verbatim or slightly varied at other levels. This process is called sequencing . The same designation is used for the sequence elements following the model. An n-membered sequence therefore consists of the model and n - 1 sequencing.

Usually one speaks of a sequence in the actual sense only when the model is sequenced at least twice. A two-part sequence resulting from only one-time sequencing is also called a half -sequence or simply offset .

A frequent sequencing of short motifs or figures are also called chain sequence or sequence chain .

If longer sections are sequenced more than three times, there is a risk of a monotonous and unimaginative effect, so that this is sometimes contemptuously referred to as organistic brains. The equally derogatory terms Schusterfleck and Rosalie refer to a sequence pattern that has been considered trite since around 1750.

Sequence types

falling diatonic and chordal sequence:
JS Bach, Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 , 1st movement
Ascending chromatic sequence:
Franz Schubert, Impromptu in E flat major op.90.2

The variety of possible manifestations allows the following distinctions:

  • According to the type of sequence model: melodic ( motivic or figurative ) or harmonic sequences, both of which often occur in combination,
  • according to the direction of the displacement: rising or falling sequences,
  • according to the respective principle of displacement: diatonic (progressing in the natural steps of the key), chromatic ( advancing in semitone steps ) or chordic (shifted within a harmony) sequences,
  • according to the interval of the shift: second , third , less often also fourth and fifth sequences,
  • according to the relationship to the key: tonal (non- modulating ) and real (modulating) sequences.

Tonal and real sequence

  • The tonal sequence involves sequencing within the key so that the intervals of the musical section (small / large seconds; small / major thirds ) can change.
  • In the real sequence , all the intervals of the musical shape are identically shifted, whereby the key changes.

Example of a tonal sequence

Johann Sebastian Bach, fugue in G major BWV 860 , bars 17-19. listen ? / iAudio file / audio sample

The example shows the sequence in the interplay of a fugue . From a motivic point of view, all three voices are a tonal sequence that leads downwards in steps of one second. Each bar represents a sequence element. The circled tones of the bass voice form a fifth case sequence.

Example of a real sequence

Chopin : from Nocturne op 37.2. , Clock 129 et seq.    Listen ? / i (The audio sample continues the music sample until the end of the piece.)Audio file / audio sample

In the example on the right, a musical section ("sequential element") is repeated three times at an interval of a minor third upwards ("sequenced"), so that a total of four-element sequence is created. A “wandering” modulation takes place, with the red marked tones in the bass (almost) going through the entire circle of fifths downwards.

Quint fall and quint rise sequence

The fifth case sequence (also called falling fifth step sequence) is a very common type of sequence in tonal music. (The also conceivable name of a fourth ascent sequence is not common.) What is meant is a chord progression whose root notes go down in fifths steps. Provided that sound the chords in the basic position, the bass goes, as a rule alternately in Quint cases and Quart leaps upward, thereby forming the whole a gradual downward movement.

The ascending fifth sequence is rarer, but it is also one of the sentence models that were taught in music education in the 17th to 19th centuries.

Examples of quintet cases

Tonal sequence of fifths

op from Schubert's E-flat major Impromptu. 90.2   
listen ? / iAudio file / audio sample

5th case sequence in a corrected.png
Audio file / audio sample Sound sample fifth case sequence in A minor ? / i

In the example above, every note in the scale is the root of a chord. There is a reduced fifth step between the 5th and 6th bass note.

The example of literature (passage in E flat minor from Franz Schubert 's E flat major impromptu op. 90.2) corresponds exactly to the above school example in its harmonic sequence. The only differences are the other key ( E flat minor ) and the replacement of the fifth steps down by fourth steps up. The result is a four-part diatonic descending sequence in second steps, the parts of which are marked by red brackets. The sequencing is not an exact copy of the model, but rather differs slightly in its interval structure. The blue brackets mark another two-part sequence that is interlocked with the first. A comparison of the two sequences demonstrates the difference between a bottom case sequence and a fifth sequence (or in this case between their equivalent counterparts: Quart Stieg sequence and Quart sequence): The "red" Quart Stieg sequence consists of members, each including a fourth step of harmony basic tones, but even in Sekundschritten sequenced down become. So it is not a "fourth sequence", but a diatonic or second sequence . In the "blue" sequence (strictly speaking it is only a half-sequence or offset), however, there is a real fourth sequence because the one-bar sequence element with all voices is offset by a fourth.

5th case sequence in C-corrected2.png
Audio file / audio sample Sound sample fifth case sequence in C major ? / i

The example above has fourteen steps as it steps the octave space twice. There is an excessive fourth step between the 2nd and 3rd bass note and a reduced fifth step between the 9th and 10th bass note. These tritone steps can be avoided by alternately noting triads in the basic position and as sixth chords : listen ? / iFifth case sequence sixth chords.png Audio file / audio sample

In the triad of the seventh degree (3rd and 10th chord) the leading tone is doubled, which is normally "forbidden" and is only allowed in exceptional sequences like this one.

Real quintessential sequence

Real Quintfall Sequence.png Audio file / audio sample listen ? / i

Only pure fifths down and fourths up are used here. There is a modulating tour down the circle of fifths. (In the fourth measure, G flat major is enhancedarmonically reinterpreted in F sharp major .)


Step-fifths and, in particular, case-fifths sequences have been found again and again in music literature for more than 300 years. As a particularly successful means of modulating or walking through a certain key , it can be found in all times and epochs. It was clearly themed by Simon Sechter (1788–1867), Franz Schubert's teacher . That is why the fifth case sequences are also referred to as the "sixth sequence".

They can be heard particularly frequently in music of the 17th and 18th centuries, in the baroque and classical periods . In the Baroque in particular, almost all modulations are made using sequences of fifths. One encounters particularly extensive fifth case sequences in the compositions of Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz . Modulating examples can be found in almost all of Johann Sebastian Bach's works . The characteristic bass is only retained in the basic sequence forms.

Quint cases are a defining element in jazz harmony and can be found in many jazz standards, such as " Autumn Leaves " and " Fly Me to the Moon " as well as in rock and pop music , for example in "Still Got The Blues" by Gary Moore and " I Will Survive " by Gloria Gaynor (chord progression for both Dm - G - C maj7 - F maj7 - Hm b5 - E 7 - Am), or with Santana in "Europa" (Fm - B - Es maj7 - As maj7 ...). Taizé songs with sequences of fifths are " Nada te turbe " and "Miserere domini". This is only a small excerpt from songs and songs of all genres since the baroque. In the jazz standard "Fly me to the moon" the fifth case sequence with seventh chords, here in the key of A minor, can be found right at the beginning. (Compare first note example with chord symbols)


  • Willibald Gurlitt , Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (Ed.): Riemann Music Lexicon. Material part. 12th, completely revised edition. B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1967, p. 865 f.
  • Marc Honegger, Günther Massenkeil (ed.): The great lexicon of music. Volume 7: Randhartinger - Stewart. Updated special edition. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau a. a. 1987, ISBN 3-451-20948-9 , pp. 335 f.
  • Wulf Arlt : Sentence theory and aesthetic experience. In: Angelika Moths, Markus Jans , John MacKeown, Balz Trümpy (eds.): Music theory at its limits. New and old music. Peter Lang, Bern a. a. 2009, ISBN 978-3-03910-475-8 , pp. 47-66.
  • Thomas Enselein: The counterpoint in the instrumental work of Joseph Haydn (= Musicolonia. Vol. 5). Dohr, Cologne 2008, ISBN 978-3-936655-59-9 , p. 136, (Also: Cologne, University of Music, dissertation, 2008).
  • Clemens Kühn : teaching music theory - conveying music . Bärenreiter, Kassel 2006, ISBN 978-3-7618-1835-0 .
  • Johannes Menke : Historical-systematic considerations on the sequence since 1600. In: Christian Utz, Martin Zenck (Ed.): Passages. Theories of transition in music and other art forms (= music.theories of the present. 3). Pfau, Saarbrücken 2009, ISBN 978-3-89727-422-8 , pp. 87-111.
  • Hubert Mossburger: Poetic harmony in the music of Robert Schumann (= music and musical perception in the 19th century. Studies and sources. Vol. 10). Studio-Verlag, Sinzig 2005, ISBN 3-89564-079-4 , p. 157, (“From here ( m . 96) a harmonic sequence begins with the tonic sequence of thirds and fourths, which, after a three-bar stay on the Dominant C major (T. 102-104), in a descending sequence (fifth case-third rise) ... “), (at the same time: Halle (Saale), University, dissertation, 2000).
  • Werner Pöhlert , Jochen Schulte: Analysis of the scale “theory” based on Pöhlert's basic harmony. Musikverlag Zimmermann, Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 3-921729-36-X , p. 322, ("Continuous case of fifths with simultaneous chromaticism form a unit in the case of permanent fifths [...] that" the circle of fifths is by no means the generally valid regulator of harmonic sequences " , and that "other principles or ...").
  • Marius Schwemmer : Maurice Duruflés' organ work in organ lessons. A contribution to form, aesthetics and technology. Tectum-Verlag, Marburg 2003, ISBN 3-8288-8578-0 , p. 122 ( online ).
  • Jules Speller: Mozart's Magic Flute. A critical discussion about their interpretation. Igel-Verlag, Oldenburg 1998, ISBN 3-89621-084-X , p. 117, online .
  • Jan Philipp Sprick: The sequence in German music theory around 1900. Olms, Hildesheim u. a. 2012, ISBN 978-3-487-14830-4 .
  • Michael von Troschke: Sequentia / Sequence . In: Concise dictionary of musical terminology . Vol. 5, ed. by Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht and Albrecht Riethmüller , editor-in-chief Markus Bandur, Steiner, Stuttgart 1972 ( online ).

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. See e.g. B. Kühn 2006, pp. 41, 87, 109, 113.
  2. Heinrich Lemacher , Hermann Schroeder : Harmonielehre . 3. Edition. Musikverlag Hans Gerig, Cologne 1958, p. 76 .
  3. Gerald Drebes: Schütz, Monteverdi and the "Perfection of Music" - "God stands up" from the "Symphoniae sacrae" II (1647). In: Schütz yearbook. Vol. 14, 1992, ISSN  0174-2345 , pp. 25-55, spec. P. 40 and 49, online ( Memento of the original from March 3, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /