Non Chord Tones - Understanding the Melody

Non-Chord Tones - Understanding the Melody

We can find non-chord tones in almost every piece of music ever created and understanding the use of non-chord tones is essential for every aspiring musician.

It is a very important building block in your musical knowledge and for jazz players, it is certainly mandatory to understand these subjects.

Thinking guitarist, approach notes

In order to understand non-chord tones, we need to look specifically at melodies, analyze them, and see how they function.

With these new tools, you will be able to create more interesting melodies whether it’s a solo, a vocal part or any other composition.

Non-chord tones can appear in many situations and in various forms. There is a simple way to look at it, a non-chord tone can either be an approach note, an anticipation note or a delayed note.

what is an approach note

Ok, Let’s Begin!

The Approach Note

What is an approach note?

Approach note is a note that is used for moving into a chord tone or a chord tension, an approach note will last a semitone or a tone.

The difference between the different types of approach notes is what notes come before them. Each one can be useful in various ways and combining them together will add sophisticated and interesting texture to your sound.

The Simple Approach Note

baby drawing

The simple approach note is a non-chord tone that moves into a tension or chord tone. The simple approach note can be diatonic or non-diatonic and will be located on a weak beat.

 How to use an approach note

The first stage of implementing approach notes in your playing is to start with chord tones and only then add the approach notes in between them, let’s look at this II-V-I cadence in C major.

how to use approach notes

Now, let’s add an approach note a semitone away from each chord tone. Don’t worry, even though these aren’t notes from the current chord or scale, their location on weak beats makes them only a step of the way towards a goal note.

how to use approach notes, approach notes examples

Try to play these two examples and notice that the general colour of the phrase isn’t changed, it’s only more “seasoned”. It’s just like cooking, sometimes you need more seasoning and sometimes simpler is better, you’re the chef!

Passing tone

bowling ball drawing

A passing tone is a note that serves as a passage between two notes and lasts a tone or a semitone. The Passing tone will always come in the middle, between two notes and can be either diatonic or non-diatonic.

How to use a passing tone

The best way to that is, again, start with a simple chord tone melody over a II-V-I. In this example, the chosen notes will be located closer to one another in order to create a suitable situation for passing tones use.

how to use a passing tone in music

Now, let’s start connecting these notes, we can use diatonic and non-diatonic notes. Try to always search for these “passageways” inside a melody and remember that you can squeeze a passing note even between notes that are located only a tone from each other.

how to use a passing tone in music

Upper and Lower Neighbouring Tone

arrows up and down

The neighbour tone is used to extend a certain area in the melody and stay for another moment in a certain melodic surrounding.

This extension is achieved by a semitone jump upwards or downwards and then a move back to the original note (a chord tone or tension).

Let’s look at this simple II-V-I phrase and see how we can extend it by incorporating a neighbouring tone.

neighbouring tone in music, example

Now let’s see how we can extend a part of the melody and extend our stay on a certain note by adding an upper and a lower neighbouring tone.

neighbouring tone example

Here we can see that when the neighbouring tones are added we can stay on a certain note for another moment while still keeping the rhythmic qualities of a phrase.

Double chromatic approach

double, two number double

The double chromatic approach note is simply two chromatic notes in a series that resolve into the goal note. This technique gives a more “unstable” flavour to the phrasing and can really help you stretch the chromatic boundaries of your playing.

The double chromatic approach note can appear in two variations, the first is ascending or descending series of chromatic tones. and the second form uses the two upper and lower neighbouring tones on the way to the goal note.

Let’s start simple with a stripped-down melody over a II-V-I

double approach note

Now let’s add both ascending and descending double approach notes to this melody, notice how this movement creates a certain “fall” into the goal note and puts a little more emphasis on the goal note.

double approach note example

Interesting note: in our musical (western) world there are only 12 notes, so a note semitone away from a chord tone or a tension will usually be non-diatonic or at least non-chord tone.

When you take another step in the chromatic approach you will find out that most of the time this will be a diatonic or a tension note (because there are 12 notes in music in total, 7 of them are diatonic, out of those 7, 4 are chord tones)

Anticipation and Delay

Anticipation and delayed notes are used to stretch or anticipate a resolution note. The goal note will be postponed or early by a semitone. 

Delay and anticipation notes help us emphasize our goal note by locating it in an unpredictable location. Our ear will “wait” for this resolution to happen and when this happens in an unexpected place in the melody, we feel a stronger sense of surprise and emphasized resolution.

Anticipation Note

red clock

The anticipation note is a sneaky one! It squeezes the resolution in before we expect it which makes the chord that comes right after it feel stronger.

Let’s take a look at this II-V-I, and find the proper places we can modify by dragging a note one semitone backwards.

Anticipation Note in music

Ok, now let’s drag these tones backwards and anticipate the resolution of these notes!

Anticipation note in music example

Delayed Note

blue clock

A delayed note is a resolution note that is late by one semitone. The goal of this method is to surprise the listener. Our ear will always “expect” certain things to happen and when these things happen differently we get a great sense of surprise.

The delayed note mirrors the anticipation note, it does the same thing only backwards.

Let’s look at the same II-V-I phrase from the last section and try to do the opposite.

Delayed note example

Now, instead of dragging notes backwards, try to drag them forwards by a semitone. This way the notes fall just a tiny moment after where we expect it to fall. This little moment creates tension that emphasizes the “fall” into the goal note right after.

delayed note in music exampleOkay fellas, this is all for now, with these new tools you will be able to stroll freely with your melodies and understand better the functionality of melodies and music!

If you wish to be an educated and professional musician, be sure to check our variety of music theory and guitar lessons!

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