Diatonic Sequences: A Listening Strategy

A Listening Strategy for Identifying Diatonic Sequences

  1. Determine the direction: Does the sequence ascend or descend (overall)?

This brings the range of possible sequences down to four.  There are just four descending sequences, and there are just four ascending sequences (see below).

  1. Listen to the bass line: Match the bass line’s intervallic pattern to one of those shown below.

This determines the specific sequence out of the 4 descending or 4 ascending sequences.


1. Descending Sequences:

Conventional Term         Interval of Restatement      Root Motion

Descending 5ths           ↓2                                      (↓5↑4)

desc 5ths bass line

Variant: Descending 5ths, 6

desc 5ths, 6 bass line


Descending 3rds            ↓3                                     (↓4↑2)

desc 3rds bass line

Variant: Descending 3rds, 6

desc 3rds, 6 bass line


2. Ascending Sequences:

Ascending 5ths               ↑2                                     (↑5↓4)

asc 5ths bass line

Variant: Ascending 5ths

asc 5ths, 6 bass line


Ascending 2nds                      ↑2                                     (↓3↑4)

asc 2nds bass line

Variant: Ascending 2nds

asc 2nds, 5-6 bass line