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Music theory - Non chord tones

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Composing a melody you can use not only notes of the current chord but notes not belonging to the tertian texture of a chord. Non-chord tones sound unstable relatively to the current chord and have a tendency to resolve to the chord note.

There are non-chord notes of the following types:

  • Neighboring
  • Passing
  • Appoggiatura
  • Escape
  • Neighbor Group Tones
  • Anticipation
  • Retardation

Let’s take a detailed look at these types.

Neighboring non-chord tone. Neighboring non-chord tone (see number on Figure 1) is the note one scale degree above or below the primary tone (see number on Figure 1). It links a chord tone with its repetition (see number on Figure 1).

 Figure 1.

Passing non-chord tone (see number on Figure 2) links chord tone (see number on Figure 2) with another chord tone (see number on Figure 2).

 Figure 2.

Appoggiatura non-chord tone. Appoggiatura non-chord tone (see number on Figure 3) is approached after a chord tone (see number on Figure 3) by a leap, then fluently resolves to the nearest chord tone (see number on Figure 3).

 Figure 3.

Escape non-chord tone. Escape non-chord tone (see number on Figure 4) adjoins to a chord tone (see number on Figure 4) one second above or down. Then a non-chord tone doesn’t resolve fluently but it is ‘escaped‘ and resolves to a chord tone by a leap (see number on Figure 4).

 Figure 4.

Neighbor Group Tones. Neighbor Group Tones are two non-chord tones (see numbers and on Figure 5) that adjoin to chord tone (see number on Figure 5) above and below. Then the last non-chord tone resolves to the same chord tone (see number on Figure 5).

 Figure 5.

Anticipation. Anticipation is the non-chord tone (see number on Figure 6) which becomes a chord tone in the next measure on the up-beat (see number on Figure 6).

 Figure 6.

Retardation. Retardation is the non-chord tone on the up-beat (see number on Figure 7) which resolves on the down-beat (see number on Figure 7). There may be a prepared retardation, when the delayed tone comes from the previous chord (see Figure 7). The chord tone from the predecessor chord (see number on Figure 7) is delayed in the new chord (see number on Figure 7) and then resolves to the nearest chord tone on the down-beat (see number on Figure 7).

 Figure 7.

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