A beginner’s guide to Schönberg’s twelve tone technique

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A beginner's guide to Schönberg's twelve tone technique • CharlotteBax.nl

Today’s blogpost is about twelve tone technique. I still remember my first reaction to the assignment in my first year at the conseervatorium: “Why would anyone want to write that kind of music, without any recognizable (and catchy) melody?”

But atonal music, and twelve tone technique with it, is a reaction to the romantic period: some classical composers felt that everything new that could be done with tonal music (music with a clear tonal center: a tonic, dominant, etc) had already been done. Tonality became more and more unclear and after a much needed and long retreat, a now very important composer in history named Arnold Schönberg came up with his twelve tone technique.

So what on earth is this twelve tone technique?

It is a very rigid, one could even say obsessively ordered system where every note is equal to another. There is no way to indicate a tonic or dominant or leading tones. There are strict rules about the notes you use. However, you are totally free in choosing your rhythmic motifs.

The result is (in my ears) totally unpredictable, even though there is a lot of mathematical logic behind it.

Why and how should I use it?

Of course, we are long past the experimental phase of this music, the period where this technique was new and interesting and artistic and innovative. I even wonder if there are any composers out there at the moment who still use this technique to write complete works.

In my eyes, every artistic and innovative technique in any form of art, becomes a gimmick over time, and after that, it becomes a way to achieve some kind of effect. Usually film music is heavily romantic music, but tons of film composers nowadays know exactly how and when to use techniques from 20th century classical composers, or the contrary: when to use composing methods from the classical or baroque period.

But not only in film music you can use this quirky twelve tone technique. Years ago, my friends Ruben once analyzed a very weird guitar solo from a certain progressive metal band (sadly can’t remember the name) and he discovered it was written using this method!

And my boyfriend Paul listens to progressive and technical rock and metal too, such as Last Sacrament. They use techniques such as microtonality, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if they used twelve tone technique as well.

The basics of twelve tone technique

Create a tone row

A beginner's guide to Schönberg's twelve tone technique • CharlotteBax.nl

Let’s create a tone row to start with. It will be a series of all the twelve chromatic tones, no more, no less. You can put them in any order you like (but just a chromatic line might be a bit boring). Octaves don’t matter, so it’s easiest to just put your notes in the middle of the staff without the hassle of ledger lines.

Add the basic transformations of your tone row

A beginner's guide to Schönberg's twelve tone technique • CharlotteBax.nl

  • Retrograde: Your tone row backwards.
  • Inversion: Your tone row upside down. This means you invert all intervals: a major third up will become a major third down. That way of thinking.
  • Inversion of retrograde: Your rtrograde tone row upside down. You know the trick.

You may use any transposition of one of these tone rows in your work, so you have 4 x 12 = 48 variations of your tone row to work with. When you start with one, you have to completely finish it before picking another variation.

Some rules to keep in mind

Of course, just like any method, this one comes with a certain set of rules. But they are quite flexible!

• • •

1 – Every note you write, may be transposed any number of octaves up or down.

• • •

2 – You are completely free in choosing which variation of your tone row you use. They are all equal. This also applies to the prime tone row you started with.

• • •

3 – You can use multiple variations of your tone row at once, or overlapping. This also means you can stack the notes to build a chord.

• • •

4 – You may repeat a note, chord or motif multiple times, as long as you finish your row before picking a new variation.

• • •

5 – When your next tone row begins with the same note your previous variation ended with, you don’t necessarily have to repeat it. You can “glue” the two variations of your tone row together with that one note.

• • •

You can also combine these rules: maybe you use half of your tone row to create a repetitive motive and the other half as a chord or a melody.

So this is the basic knowledge you need to compose using twelve tone technique! The funny thing is that everyone who can read notes, can write twelve tone music using this set of rules. It’s a very mathematical way of thinking. Of course you are not bound by these rules, you can twist and turn this technique any way you like to achieve a certain effect or desired result. And that is where feeling and musical talent come in.

When we had to create a piece of twelve tone music for our teacher all the way back in 2008 (I feel ancient now…), my tone row was really chaotic, but one of my fellow students created a neat set of 3 similar motifs of 4 tones. He already created some recognizable, transposed pattern in the tone row itself.

But why use the traditional 12 tones? Maybe you want to use quarter tones as well and you end up with a 24 tone row! Or you choose an exotic (or less exotic) scale and order those notes using the twelve tone system. Anything is possible!

How would you use twelve tone technique? Don’t be afraid to discuss in the comment section! 🙂


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How to transcribe a piano piece to string quartet

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How to transcribe a piano piece to string quartet • CharlotteBax.nl

Do you ever think by yourself: “What a beautiful piece of music, if only it was written for my instrument!”

Well, how about arranging it yourself? It’s not difficult at all, you just have to keep some simple things in mind and be familiar with your own performing skills and and those of the other people in your ensemble.

Today I will teach you how to arrange a piece of piano music for string quartet! 🙂

Some basics to keep in mind

Of course, there are a few rules you have to live by.

1 – Choose a suitable piece of music

Some pieces are too easy, or just have not enough layers. For example, a piece with only a melody in the right hand and arpeggiated chords in the left hand is less suitable, because it only has 2 parts.

For this example I chose the first Promenade from “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Musorgsky, because it shows different amounts of layers already in the first 8 bars.

2 – Know your instrument

What are the highest and lowest notes you can play? Can you play 2 or more notes at once? Ask the same questions to the other people in your ensemble.

3 – Keep an eye on the level of difficulty

You may be able to play fast notes or big chords, but maybe your fellow musician is not at that level yet, or just doesn’t have big hands.

These basics not only apply to a string quartet, but to all musicians, instruments and ensembles.

Learn how to transcribe piano music to strings in 4 easy steps! >> Click To Tweet

Transcribe from piano to string quartet in 4 steps!

1 – Melody

First, start with the melody. Usually, this lies fairly comfortable within the G clef range, and can be played by the first violin. When it goes below the lowest G on a violin, you can assign this melody to the cello or viola.

2 – Bass

Then, check out the bass. You can assign this safely to the cello. Watch out for notes that go below the lowest C on a cello. If this is the case, transpose the entire phrase, or maybe a set of phrases.

3 – Inbetween voices

Now it gets interesting. When there’s 4 notes in a chord, it’s obvious. Just assign the leftover 2 notes to the second violin and the viola. Maybe you need to do some transposing, but most of the time it just fits the range perfectly.

When there’s more than 4 notes in a chord, you can do 2 different things:

  • Simplify to 4 notes per chord, or
  • Get savvy with double or multiple stops.

When you want to simplify the music, take a good look at it. Are there any separate voices and melodies? Try to follow those as close as possible. Is it just chord-filling? Look at what notes you already have in melody and bass and what notes are doubled. You don’t necessarily need to add all 3 G’s in a certain chord, make sure you have the B and D as well.

When you want to keep the music’s complexity, check for every. single. fucking. double stop if it is actually possible to play. For example, you can’t play a low A and C on a violin, because they both can only be played on the G string. Unless you let the violinist play the whole piece with a differently tuned violin.

In bar 3 you can see I assigned the highest and lowest of the “leftover notes” to the viola, and the middle one to the second violin. This is because neither one could practically or comfortably play the otherwise resulting third.

4 – Articulation

This is what makes transcribing from piano to strings so much fun: you can play with different articulations! With a piano, the hammer hits the snare, and you can do that soft or loud. But on a violin you can bow or pluck or bounce, you can bow at different parts of the snares, there’s so much more going on!

How to transcribe a piano piece to string quartet • CharlotteBax.nl

(Clicky for larger picture!)

It’s as simple as that! You just need a little bit of patience, because it takes a little time. But I guess that double checking all those double stops goes a lot faster when you’re a string instrument player yourself!

If you have any questions, just leave them in the comment section below 🙂

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Why I totally overhauled my Patreon page + some worksheets so you get it right the first time!

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Why I totally overhauled my Patreon page + some worksheets so you get it right the first time • CharlotteBax.nl

So here we are. Just a month into 2017 and I already changed my musicpreneurship goals completely. In January, I thought it was wise to focus on producing more music and less on blogging. This because the first is obviously more of a moneymaker, right? And I also had quite an original take on Patreon, which I desperately wanted to work. I thought I finally had made all the right decisions.

Boy, I was wrong!

Let’s start at the beginning.

What is Patreon in the first place?

Patreon is a crowdfunding website. Not a website like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, where you raise a large amount of money to fund one big-ass project. No, Patreon is a website where dedicated fans support their favourite artists / bloggers / youtubers by tipping them a small amount per creation. Let’s say, a dollar for a blog post.

Creating content – whether it’s youtube videos, in-depth blog posts, paintings, music, etc – not only costs vast amounts of time, but also resources. Creator create because they love to share their skills, knowledge and experience with the world. Some purely for aesthetics, others to inspire or educate.

Patreon lets those loyal fans and followers support their favourite creators in a very low-key, accessible way that basically fits anyone. For example, I support Peter Hollens because I totally love his cover songs on Youtube, Joe Brewer because I learn a lot about long-distance hiking from him, and Sophie from the blog Naoki.nl because she does a lot of research on cruelty free make-up and eco approved clothing brands.

On my own Patreon page, you can support me by donating a dollar for every in-depth musicpreneurship blog post, such as a tutorial, a list of tips or a blogpost with a useful download.

   Click here to grab your worksheets!

What I did totally wrong

When I first created my Patreon page a few months ago, my priority was to do something with regularly creating a music production. I wanted to do something original. So I created a “sheet music subscription”: singers and conductors could support me and receive a piece of music every few weeks.

Why did it fail?

1 – It didn’t suit my audience

Before – and with that, I mean “technically almost the entire lifespan of my blog” – I didn’t have a focused audience. I’ve been all over the place, beginning with just updates about my musical activities, and now settling on quality blog posts about creating music and musicpreneurship. My audience are the people who read my blog posts, who want to learn about this.

My Patreon page was focused on choral singers and conductors. Can you spot them in my audience? No? Me neither. Maybe by accident one of you is a singer of conductor who wants to learn more about musicpreneurship.

I love writing vocal music. But I’ve never focused my blog on it. In other words: there would be no support for a sheet music subscription service (man, the idea just starts getting more and more idiotic) with my audience!

2 – I wanted to create something without thinking about my audiences needs

Now I’m graduated, I finally feel like I’m free to write whatever I want. Vocal music. Choral music. I wanted to poop out another piece of sheet music every month. Like a machine. I wanted to create an affordable way to sing new music every month. I was so delighted with the originality of my idea, that I didn’t even consider if people would actually need it.

Big mistake.

There are some living composers who are actually being performed once in a while. But new music from living composers is expensive as hell. My mom performed the requiem of John Rutter once. An immensely beautiful, light and angelic piece of music. Every choir member had to buy the vocal book for themselves, which wasn’t cheap, I assure you. Copyrights and stuff. The orchestral score for accompaniment could only be hired. And then we’re not even talking performance rights…

So, what do you do as a conductor or a singer, when you want to add something new to your repertoire? You check your favourite pieces, or you ask your choir for their faves. Big chance the composer’s already dead for more than 70 years and some enthusiast has scanned and uploaded their complete works on IMSLP or CPDL. Free sheet music, here you have it! And every year, there’s a new bunch of composers crossing that 70 year boundary. A whole new world of music to discover. No need for a “sheet music subscription service” with music from just one single composer, however affordable it is.

Don't make the same mistakes I made when you set up your #patreon page! Click To Tweet

The choices and changes that I made

When I finally saw the light and realized that trying to monetize a service with no demand through an audience that wasn’t even near the perfect fit, I started to ask some questions and really rethink the concept of Patreon. What was I trying to achieve? How could I make it work?

1 – What am I offering my audience at the moment?

I never thought of my blog as a thing in itself. I saw it as a way to drive traffic to my products. But in reality, it is a wonderful place with quality content on music creation and making a living as a musicpreneur in the digital era. I’m putting a lot of effort in it: creating blog posts, promoting on social media, and conjuring up useful PDF downloads. All for free (or, well, in exchange for your email address). That’s quite a lot!

2 – Why would anyone support that?

My blog is really focused on teaching and inspiring. I want to add value to your life and career. And I could imagine that, if you enjoy these creations, you would like to tip a dollar for such a blogpost. Just to let the author know you appreciate the hard work and that it has meaning to you.

For example, I support a few people on Patreon myself: Peter Hollens with his awesome a capella videos, Joe Brewer who taught me a lot about thru-hiking before I set out on my own multi-day hiking trip, and Sophie from the Dutch blog Naoki.nl because she puts a lot of effort in researching cruelty free cosmetics and eco approved clothing brands for her audience.

They are all bloggers / vloggers that I immensely enjoy. I support them on Patreon because I find it important to show my gratitude and give something back when someone adds value to my life.

I know for sure that there’s someone out there just as happy with my content, and just as sure that if you’re a content creator, you can make Patreon work for you, too.

Ask yourself these two important questions when setting up your own #patreon page. Click To Tweet

Get it right the first time, download the worksheets!

Now of course this Patreon page overhaul wasn’t an overnight project. A lot of thinking and brainstorming preceded it.

To help you set up your own Patreon page without making all the mistakes I made, I created some sweet worksheets for you. Download them, print them, make yourself a pot of tea, grab a pencil, you know the drill 😉

   Click here to grab your worksheets!

All ready and set? It would be really lovely of you to set up your Patreon page through my referral link. This way, we can both earn a bonus when more than 30 people become your Patron in the first month.

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5 myths your music teachers tell you that you need to ignore

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5 myths your music teachers tell you that you need to ignore • CharlotteBax.nl

When I was still studying, I had numerous teachers. One for songwriting, one for production, economics, orchestration, music theory… I learned a lot from them, but they also told me some stuff that – looking back – is not true. At all.

Some things they say really stem from the system they have to work with here in the Netherlands: if your learning pace is slower than 4 years for a bachelor in music, you suddenly become very expensive to the school and the government. So they want to get you ready for your graduation in precisely those 4 years. This is far from ideal for a lot of students: everyone is different and leans at their own pace!

And of course there is the industry: the music industry is highly competitive, quite saturated, you don’t necessarily need a music education and in the digital era it is becoming more and more difficult to earn your living in traditional ways. So they teach you what they’ve experienced and works best for THEM.

But this doesn’t have to be the best way for YOU!

In this blog post, I will tell you about some myths your music teachers will tell you and how I feel about that. You have to decide for yourself what will work for you.

Myth no.1 – You have to be as gifted as all the others in your class

No, I’m not as good an orchestrator as Chris, or as good with and equalizer and compressor as Tom. But I have other qualities: I’m good at music theory and writing things down so they’re comprehensible for other people. I’m good at writing vocal music. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and they show in different situations (or classes).

Also, everyone learns at their own pace. I still remember some of my friends who had severe difficulties with reading music even in their third year, but it was something I learned as a young kid. Maybe I wasn’t ready to learn some particular mixing skills 4 years ago, but I could be now. Same for the other guys in my year – they are probably still learning as much as I do right now!

Myth no. 2 – You need to work in a certain part of the industry, or you’ll never make a living

When I was still in college (man, that sounds like I’m ancient, even though it’s only 2 years ago!), more than one teacher advised us to specialize in interactive game audio: this was the upcoming new thing! I found it quite interesting and really wanted to make a proper living for myself, so I turned that way. I did my internship at a game company, I did a minor in composition for games, I even tried to build my own business around it.

But it didn’t work for me.

You know why not? My heart wasn’t in it. I’m not a gamer. I find the mechanics of interactive audio incredibly fascinating, but it’s not what I love to do. I want to write vocal music and sweet piano lullabies and songs that I love. I had literally ditched my own roots to become someone I could never be. Big failure.

At the moment, I create stock music and vocal sheet music. Two ways I can just write what I want – and sell it using the right marketing tools. I’m earning more and I’m happier doing it.

Myth no. 3 – You need to master every aspect of your trade

Why on earth should you do that? Really? I mean, it’s good to know how things work and have some experience with it, so you actually know what you want and can direct others. But why would you do something yourself if there is someone who can do it infinitely better and loves doing it?

For example, I can mix a pretty decent demo song. But for the real deal I will definitely hire someone. I’m a writer, not a mixer. And by working together you can support each other 🙂

Myth no. 4 – Creating stock music is a last resort for composers who can’t land a decent job

Maybe if you’re good at writing stuff for others. Maybe if you don’t have the skills, time or motivation for marketing and promoting your products. But I think it’s certainly no last resort! I found it a great way to make a living from music for introverts, musicians with autistic treats or people who just find it difficult to work with other people, or who prefer to work alone.

Especially in this digital era, the possibilities are endless for those who once couldn’t reach their full potential due to these character traits.

Myth no. 5 – If you want to make it in music industry, work has to be your first priority

Not everyone wants to be the next John Williams or Hans Zimmer. Of course, they are great composers and I really look up to them. And yes, I know some of my fellow students have already landed epic jobs in Hollywood, or have even won awards! But not everyone needs to be that ambitious. It’s not a bad thing to just want a regular income, or even a side hustle while your partner provides for your family.

One of the guys in my year got a job in Hollywood and I know what he had to give up: he had to leave his family and his girlfriend behind, he worked 10 to 12 hours a day and basically didn’t have a social life. I would never even be able to cope with that!

Yes, it’s true that you have to make work a priority it you want to be the number one – but there only can be just one… And it’s totally fine if that’s not your top priority and that you settle for something a little more comfortable.


What things did your teachers tell you, which you later found out to be outdated or irrelevant?

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Making musicpreneurship plans for 2017

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Making musicpreneurship plans for 2017 • CharlotteBax.nl

Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a great night and still have all 10 fingers 😉

With a new year comes a new business approach. When I look back at 2016, I’ve tried a lot of things. Some worked, some didn’t. What will I take with me to 2017? What do I leave behind? Are there any new things to try? Time to make new musicpreneurship plans for 2017.

What I did in 2016

Blogging once a week

Okay, I did not do this the entire year, but at some moment I really wanted to have something new online every week. New content attracks new readers and reminds people to check back regularly. But it is hard to find new things to write long quality blog posts about, and it takes a lot of time – time I’d rather spend creating some music.


I actively use Pinterest combined with Board Booster to promote CharlotteBax.nl. And it works! One of my pins really took a flight and had 13.000 views and 144 repins last month alone! This is “viral” compared to the runner up with 270 views and 3 repins. The “viral” pin is an infographic, so I know what to create more of then!


A few months ago, when I overhauled my entire blog design, I also revisited my AudioJungle profile, revamped it, and put it back into use. With success! I’ve had sales in the USA and Japan, compared to exactly none when I used my own webshop for stock audio. Even though the percentage AudioJungle gets is really high, I’m so glad for the exposure I get from joining a big renowned library.


I’ve also created a Patreon account. I wanted to create some sheet music every month so people can subscribe to my vocal sheet music service. However, after creating the page and uploading my welcome gift to new subscribers, I got a really bad fatigue & pain spell and haven’t really added something as of yet. My focus has been elsewhere.

My musicpreneurship plans for 2017

Focus no. 1 on AudioJungle

As of now, AudioJungle is my main income source. When I still studied, a lot of teachers and fellow students were quite negative about writing music for stock libraries. They made me feel that kind of music and income is “less worthy” than commissioned work. However, I found it is a really great way to earn some income when you’re not the extravert business owner type.

   Visit my AudioJungle portfolio

Focus no.2 on Patreon

I also really want to get my Patreon page active and running! My initial goal for this first year is one piece of music every month. That should be doable, even with chronic fatigue playing it’s nasty games with me.

Become an early adopter and you won’t miss a thing!

   Visit my Patreon page

Blogging less

Yes, yes. I know. That means less stuff to read for you. I’m sorry. I have to reasons for this: the first is that this blog isn’t really the focus of my business. It it more an enhancement of my business, something to get people to know me. But the real money is in creating the actual stuff – and I’ve been focusing too much on blogging and not enough on creating. The second reason I already mentioned above in the 2016 part: I want to create lengthy and helpful blogpost. Quality over quantity. Not pushing out a blogpost every week because I have to, but writing when I want you to know or se or hear something, or when I can actually teach you something.

Stretch goal: Starting a Youtube channel

When you buy sheet music, you want to know what it sounds like, right? For instrumental music it’s easy to make a pretty decent sounding MIDI mockup, but for vocal music it’s music easier – and nicer! – to make a vocal arrangement to sing myself.


What are your musicpreneurship plans for 2017? Share them in the comment section below!

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