[Smt-talk] Forward and backward root movements

Bruce Grant bruce.grant at wanadoo.fr
Tue May 8 01:09:10 PDT 2012

For Paul Siskind,

I'm very much in agreement with your May 6 posting that there is no normal
usage of syntax in music except within a given style like the
common-practice period. Note that when I wrote that TST is similar but
contrary to the "ursatz", TDT, it wasn't meant to be disparaging. In fact, I
felt like mentioning the blues grill as a typical example of backwards root
movement, but I think everyone will agree that these postings shouldn't be
too long.  So you've given me an excuse to mention that T S T D S T is the
contrary of the typical common practice T D T S D T but is none the worse
for that! Perhaps "backward root movement" has disparaging implications as
well, but not as bad as talking about progressions and regressions!  Maybe
we should say Forward and reverse, like driving a car.

Perhaps some of you are familiar with Bach's Cantata 150, Nach dir, Herr,
Verlanget Mich. To the words "Leite mich in deiner Wahrheit", there is a
beautiful reverse root movement: Bm, F#m, A, Em, Bm, F#, followed zigzag by
Bm < F#m < Em6 > F#m < GM7 > Em > F#, indeed a beautiful poetic effect!

I teach root movement to piano students by having them link arpeggios TDT,
TST, TSDT and TDST. I keep common notes in the same position using
inversions. For example, in F: F A C is followed by E G C or F Bb D. If the
arpeggio is in the right hand, the left plays block chords or an
accompanying figure, and then the hands are reversed.


The exercise is not tied to a particular style, and forward progression is
not privileged. In fact, it seems to me that the best way to teach root
movement is at the piano, even for non pianists. Few students are capable of
hearing in their heads written exercises. If they have already explored root
movements at the piano they can relate them to written exercises better.


Bruce Grant, DM, Indiana University,

Chef d’orchestre et chef des chœurs,

Théâtre de l’opérette de Lyon, France



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