Friday, May 1, 2009

Chord tones and non-chord tones

Ok, we’ve developed our rhythms, started reading chord changes, learned about major and minor chords, major and dominant 7ths, so let’s start creating some bridges. Every pitch that you can possibly play on your instrument falls into one of two categories: a chord tone or a non-chord tone.

A chord tone is a pitch that is part of the particular chord being played, and a non-chord tone, surprisingly enough, isn’t part of the chord.
Let’s go to our “C dominant 7” chord:

Remember, the notes of this chord are:

So, the “C” “E” ”G” and “Bb” are all considered to be chord tones. So any other pitch you play, by definition, will be a non-chord tone. When you move to the next chord, the pitches used for that chord will be the chord tones.

Now, we can actually categorize non-chord tones based on how we use them. Context determines how we categorize non-chord tones.

The first type of non-chord tone is the passing tone. A passing tone is a non-chord tone that acts as a bridge between two different chord tones. Usually passing tones are used in a melodic line that moves in a single direction. Passing tones give the melody a scalar quality. Here’s an example of passing tones:

In this case, the “C” “E” “G” are the chord tones while the pitches in between, the “D” and “F” are the passing tones. As you progress, you’ll find that you can start to use chromatic passing tones as well.

The next type of non-chord tone is the neighbor tone. A neighbor tone is a non-chord tone that you play in between two notes of the same chord tone. For example:

There are more examples of non-chord tones, but we’ll cover those later.

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