Despite the fact that 12-tone music has been described by well-known scholars of music perception as difficult to aurally comprehend, recent empirical evidence suggests that undergraduate music majors with no formal training in nontonal music can learn repetitive intervals and trichordal motives from simply listening to an unfamiliar 12-tone composition without a musical score. Attuning to these repetitive intervals can reveal a composition’s larger narrative, and sample interval-based analyses will illustrate ways to hear structure in 12-tone music. Numerous works composed by Schöenberg, Webern, and Dallapiccola, as examples, contain repetitive intervals, and focusing on these intervals can provide us with multiple insights.
Before sharing this listening strategy with my undergraduate ear-training students, I begin my introduction to 12-tone music with a shortened version of the experiment described by Brown, which teaches students that there are many benefits to listening to 12-tone musical recordings without the score. In the eight-minute, in-class version of the experiment, students hear Webern’s Op. 24/iii four times and then respond to eight forced-choice questions wherein they must choose which of two trichordal motives appeared in the composition. Materials for this in-class demonstration will be shared in the chapter for other teachers to use.
Lesson plans herein encourage students to actively engage with recordings of 12-tone music, namely, by attuning to repetitive intervals on the musical surface to ascertain motives, considering text/music relationships, and determining the formal design of the compositions. I argue that this approach makes more cognitive sense than hearing certain works as a series of 12-tone rows, aligning well with previous analyses of post-tonal compositions that focus upon intervals on the musical surface.