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  • Writer's pictureManuel Diewald

Non Chord Tone Series: Passing Tone

My name is Manuel Diewald and I am a Sydney-based guitar teacher in West Pennant Hills with a B.Mus. (Hons) (First) in Music Pedagogy from The University of New South Wales (UNSW).

When we think of harmony in music (chord progressions) we may tend to think more about the notes in the triad of those chords, and with good reason, though have you ever wondered how we might identify the notes that are not part of the triad that are used within those harmonies? For reference, I am looking at so-called compositions that are composed on sheet music rather than looking at pop songs that focus mainly on strummed or plucked chords.

So what is a Non-Chord Tone (NCT) and what are they used for? A NCT, as the same suggests, is a note used within a melody or harmony that is not part of the triad of the chord used within that harmony. A NCT is a compositional technique that is used to create a melody that has more interest to evoke certain feelings and emotions with the use of tension and resolution. As you can imagine, a melody would be quite limiting and boring if we could only use the notes of a triad within the harmony of each chord being used.

In this series, the first NCT we are going to look at is called a passing tone (PT). A PT is a note that is not part of the triad (dissonant) which is placed between two chord tones (consonants). For example, if we take a C Major chord within the key of C Major (no sharps or flats) consisting of C - E - G and place a NCT within the C Major key signature but not part of the C Major triad in that bar, we will get a PT (see example A below). In Example A, we have used the notes C and E within the triad of C Major and have also added the note D on the second beat. Since note D is not part of the C major triad though it is still a note that is within the C Major key signature, it becomes a PT. A PT can occur on a strong beat or on a weak beat (see example B). It is important that a passing tone is approached by a step and is resolved by a step.

Example A

Example B



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