Contemporary Harmonic Fluency

A majority of the repertoire that has been written for trombone, euphonium, and tuba was written in the contemporary era and utilizes several compositional techniques and patterns that move away from classical harmonies.  Therefore it is important to not only familiarize yourself with classical harmonic fluency, but also contemporary harmonic patterns.


Terms like “scales”, “arpeggios”, etc. get convoluted when working within the contemporary harmonic structure. Several contemporary composers tried to break away from the conventional harmonic framework by avoiding the same patterns of expectation.  One of the most common techniques is through the use of even intervals, which create scales, arpeggios, and chords that are void of the typical dominant-tonic gravitation.  For example, Whole tones can create clusters of notes that are evenly distributed.  Several whole tones in a row form a whole-tone scale, and whole-tone scales are comprised of every other enharmonic note.  There are really only two different collections of whole-tones that contain no common tones between them.  These two scales can create a polarization of two different collections of notes with little gravitation from one to the other.  This creates an ethereal quality of harmony typically found in (for example) the music of Debussy.  It would behoove the contemporary low brass player to familiarize themselves with such patterns.  Several patterns are of great importance and frequently used in the contemporary literature:

Minor Seconds- chromatic scales and passages

Major Seconds- whole steps whole tone scales, polar tonality

Minor Thirds- diminished arpeggios

Major Thirds- augmented arpeggios

Perfect Fourths- commonly found in Hindemith

Augmented Fourths/Diminished Fifths- considered quite dissonant by classical standards, tritones split the octave into two equal halves.

Perfect Fifths- commonly found in the music of Copeland

Watch this video where I demonstrate how I practice even intervals.