Non-Chord Tones & Melody Styles
[This article first appeared in Contemporary Keyboard magazine in 1976.]
If you've been playing the correct melodies with the indicated accompanying chords and you still hear some fuzziness in your playing (especially when you listen to a recording), chances are you're ignoring the non-chord tones in the melody. Non-chord tones (also called non-harmonic tones) are any notes in the melody that don't belong to the underlying harmony. The Harvard Brief Dictionary Of Music defines them as "...tones that are foreign to the momentary harmony, being added for the sake of greater melodic interest."
There are generally eight categories of non-harmonic tones (passing tone, auxiliary tone, appoggiatura, suspension, echappee, cambiata, escape tone, and anticipation), but for the sake of brevity, I won't try to define and illustrate them all here. If you'd like to see a more detailed discussion of these in this column, drop me a line to let me know. For now I'll just show how to handle non-chord tones that appear in a melody by changing the harmonic accompaniment.
To begin with, you'll have to become familiar with the 12 major scales so that you can find the triads in each scale. You'll also have to know which scale to use with each chord symbol (Example: With A7 use the D major scale, with Am7b5, use the Bb major scale. If no chord symbol is shown, you will have to determine what the chord is by examining all the notes vertically, inverting and adding notes as required until you can identify the chord). Important: Don't accept any chord symbol shown as correct until you have examined the melody notes to be accompanied by it (see my column for Mar./ Apr. '76).
Check the following melodic fragments and decide whether you would accept the indicated chord in each measure:
(1) Cmaj7 would be better, as it would avoid a potential clash with the root in the left-hand chord. (2) Change to A9 on the third beat to accompany the B in the melody. (3) Change to Eb7#5 on the third beat; B-natural is the sharp 5th of the Eb chord. (4) Use G9 on the third beat and G7 (b9) on the fourth beat. (5) Use D7 (b9) on the third beat. (6) Change to C7#5 on the third beat and to C9#5 on the fourth beat. (7) On the third and fourth beats you have a choice between F7sus4 and the modern F11.
Without the suggested alterations and extentions of the original chords, there would be a sometimes extreme dissonance and discord.
Instead of changing the accompanying chord to conform to the melody, you may choose to omit the step(s) in the accompanying chord that clash with the melody notes. In the examples above: (1) Lower the root a half step to change the chord to a Cmaj7; play the root in the bass. (2) Omit the A in the left-hand chord, and use a three-note chord with the root in the bass. (3) Omit the 5th, the Bb, in the left-hand chord. (4) Omit the root, the G, in the left-hand chord. (5) Omit the root in the D7 chord and neither the 9th nor the b9th will clash. (6) Omit both the root and the 5th of the C7 chord and you won't have to change anything for the augmented 7th and 9th chords demanded by the melody. (7) If you can't play F11 (Eb6/F or Cm7/F) then simply omit the 3rd in the left-hand F7 chord to avoid the clash.
The foregoing are solutions for accompanying non-chord tones, but what about when you want to play melody in chords, especially when the melody moves in a scale-like manner? Study the following examples:
There are two types of fixed-position chords that move in a parallel manner that can be used to great advantage in such situations. First, you can form parallel triads by playing the melody in thirds in the right hand, using whatever step of the scale is a major or minor third below the melody note, and playing the note a sixth below the melody note using the left hand on the same manual. All three notes will move together while the bass pedal pattern conforms to the original chord, pedaling two or four beats per measure. Study the parallel triads played with the melodies given above:
Note: In Ex. 2, if you don't like the effect of sustaining the triad shown, it's simple to change one of the harmony notes to conform to the original chord.)
The second type of parallel chords are four-part chords using the notes of the scale a fourth, a sixth, and a tenth below the melody notes. Remember to allow for any sharped or flatted steps.
Fixed-position chords can also be used with other right-hand styles, from single-note lines to full right-hand chords, when the non-chord tones appear at the right point in the melody line. Simply remain aware of the registration on the upper manual and play all chords an octave higher than the original melody when using a 16' setting.