Chord Tones and Passing Tones

The interaction of chords and melodies centers on one basic point: chord tones or passing (nonharmonic) tones. In FIGURE 11.2, each note of the major scale harmonized with its own chord. Since each melody note was found in each chord that supported it, only chord tones were used. FIGURE 11.3, “Amazing Grace,” used more than just chord tones in the harmonization; it used passing tones as well. Now revisit that example and see what’s really going on.

FIGURE 11.4 Chord and Nonchord Tones in “Amazing Grace”

In the example in FIGURE 11.4, the chord tones are highlighted and the passing or nonchord tones are printed normally. Compare the harmony to the melody, and you will see many different points of similarity. In general, for a harmony to work for any given melody, the majority of the melodic tones should be contained in the chord that supports it. There is no steadfast rule of how many tones per bar, but for music to sound consonant, the melody needs to line up with the harmony enough times to make the listener feel as if they’re in the same key. A passing tone does not necessarily have to move by step to and from a chord tone, but if you think of the odds, a triad has three notes and a scale has seven, you’re most likely using a passing tone as the triad takes three-sevenths of the scale with it and leaves three of the other four tones as passing tones. Only one tone will exist as a true non-harmonic tone, but then again, it may sound just fine


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In this video, instructor Jeff Richmond gives a lesson on Soloing Through Changes: Chord Tones.