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6th’s, 3rds and Thelonious Monk

6th’s, 3rds and Thelonious Monk

I have always loved the music of Thelonious Monk and have marveled at the outward “simplicity” of his tunes and the inward difficulty in their seemingly simple construction.

I was listening to an early Monk LP “The Thelonious Monk Quartet” 1958 and the tune “Misterioso” illustrates this very concept.

As you can see the melody is written using sixths. Monk uses 6ths in a number of his compositions and solos but this one sticks to 6ths throughout the entire piece.


Let’s talk about intervals for a moment. An interval is the difference in pitch between two notes. Here are the intervals in C major

C to D=Major 2nd C to E=Major 3rd C to F=Perfect 4th C to G=Perfect 5th C to A=Major 6th C to B=Major7th

2nds and 7ths invert each other, 3rds and 6ths invert each other, and 4ths and 5ths invert each other. This means:

D to C=Minor 7th E to C=Minor 6th F to C=Perfect 5th G to C=Perfect 4th A to C=Minor 3rd B to C=Minor 2nd

As you can see, all major intervals invert to minor and all minor intervals invert to major.

  • 2nds — 7ths (2+7 = 9)
  • 3rds — 6ths (3+6 = 9)

• 4ths — 5ths (4+5 = 9)

Note also how the sum of an interval and its inversion always equals 9, which is the number of steps spanned by the operation including the stationary note.

Take a look at the next example:

Now take a look at Misterioso in 3rds:

I have taken the melody and broken it down in its’ inversion so where the melody was in 6ths, it is now in thirds.

This should truly give you a lot to work with because you can now take any melody and invert it. This could be a great way to develop a solo as well as develop your ears.


David C Gross has been a bassist for a lot of people, and is also the author of 14 bass instructional bass books, 3 instructional videos and has a band named Theorcolus. You can contact him online at:


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