11.5 Harmonizing a Melody With Non Chord Tones: Tutorial

Harmonizing a Melody with Non-Chord Tones

When determining the harmonic progression for a given soprano melody, you can choose to have all soprano melody notes be part of a chord, or can decide that some notes are not functioning as chord tones within the soprano melody and should be labeled as non-chord tones. The harmonic rhythm and melodic motion can help you determine what is an is not a chord tone. Look at these three examples.

Three musical examples that shows the use of non-chord tones in a melody.

In the first example, it is easy to see the non-chord tones because they create faster motion than the beat and are typical types of NCTs.

In example #2a, bars 2-4 outline chords, but bar 1 could be a tonic chord for the entire bar if beat 2 is a NCT, or could use a different chord on each beat. The harmonic rhythm is vastly different from the first two bars to the second two bars, and these bars are linked with a progressive cadence. It makes more sense for each note in bar 1 to be a different chord to match the harmonic rhythm of the piece, as illustrated in #2b. When harmonizing a melody, you can use harmonic rhythm to help distinguish between what is a chord tone and what is a non-chord tone. Keep in mind that each non-chord tone you use needs to be a type of non-chord tone used in music. See chapter 7.3 to review non-chord tones.

Whether you choose to have each note of the soprano supported by a chord with non-chord tones added into voices, or choose to include non-chord tones in the soprano melody, the key to harmonizing a melody using non-chord tones is to make sure the part writing is done correctly first, and does not contain errors. Then, non-chord tones can be inserted.

Guidelines to using NCTS when harmonizing a melody

  • Part writing must be correct, both without the NCT and with the added NCT. You cannot use a NCT to avoid part writing errors.
  • Non-chord tones need to be one of the types found in music:
    • Passing tone
    • Neighbor tone
    • Double neighbor
    • Appoggiatura
    • Incomplete neighbor
    • Escape tone
    • Anticipation
    • Suspension
    • Retardation
    • Pedal tone
  • Make sure to label all NCTS with parenthesis or a circle around the note or notes that are the non-chords and a label that abbreviates the type of non-chord tone used.
  • Do not use more than one NCT in any one spot on or between two chords. It muddies the harmonies and sound, and can create unwanted harmonies.
  • Do not add ornaments between the chordal seventh in any seventh chord and its resolution note. It needs to resolve down by step in the same voice to the next chord.
  • When adding NCTs to a progression, look for places to use NCTS that have the strictest type of motion first (like suspensions).
  • Make sure each NCT added is actually a NCT and is not part of the chord.

Adding non-chord tones allow creativity, motion, and add a personal voice in a composition. Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined as you learn more through further experimentation with NCTS.

Proceed to the theory exercises for a guided example on adding NCTs when harmonizing a melody.


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Comprehensive Musicianship, A Practical Resource Copyright © 2023 by Randall Harlow; Heather Peyton; Jonathan Schwabe; and Daniel Swilley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.