II. Diatonic Polyphony and Functional Harmony

15.1 Introduction

When analyzing tonal music, you will frequently find pitches that are dissonant against the harmonies with which they occur. Pitches that do not belong to the prevailing harmony are called nonharmonic tones. In tonal music, nonharmonic tones are used to embellish chords, to allow for distinctive profiles of melodic lines, and in general to animate the musical texture.

Being able to identify and name nonharmonic tones will be indispensable to your understanding of tonal harmony. Without a firm grasp of the types and nature of nonharmonic tones, harmonic analysis becomes confusing and potentially nonsensical. A clear understanding of nonharmonic tones is crucial for distinguishing between structural harmonies and what we will call auxiliary sonorities, chords that consist partially or wholly of nonharmonic tones (see Chapter 23).

In this chapter we will discuss four types of nonharmonic tones. In the first section we will focus on nonharmonic tones that arise from melodic motion: passing tones and neighbor tones. We will then discuss nonharmonic tones that arise from rhythmic action: suspensions and anticipations.

15.2 Melodically derived nonharmonic tones

The following types of nonharmonic tones are the result of melodic events.

Passing tones

Consider the following example (the second part shows the harmonic intervals heard between the voice and the accompanying bass line):

The second measure of Example 15–1 begins with a consonant minor third. The singer then steps down to an F# forming a dissonant major second against the bass before continuing the stepwise descent to another consonance, a perfect octave. The remaining quarter notes in the excerpt follow suit: the F# in m. 4 forms a dissonant fourth as the singer ascends by step from E to G while the C# in m. 5 forms another dissonant second as part of a stepwise descent from D# to B. Dissonant notes such as these are typically referred to as passing tones and have been labeled “P” in the analysis above.

Passing tones are nonharmonic tones that fill in the space between two chord tones. By definition, passing tones are always approached and left by step in the same direction. Consider the following basic interval progression (see Chapter 12):

In Example 15–3, the upper voice may be embellished by adding a passing tone (again labeled “P”):

The lower voice could also be embellished with a passing tone:

Passing tones typically create dissonance, as in Example 15–3 and Example 15–4, but consonant passing tones are possible, too. Example 15–5 shows how a passing tone added to a 6–3 progression forms a consonant perfect fifth:

Activity 15-1

Activity 15–1

In this activity, you will be presented with a series of basic interval progressions. For each progression, identify a potential location for a passing tone.

Question

Given the following interval progression, where might a diatonic passing tone be inserted? Insert a valid diatonic passing tone.

G between F# and A in the upper voice

Question

Given the following interval progression, where might a diatonic passing tone be inserted? Insert a valid diatonic passing tone.

G between A and F in the upper voice or G between F and A in the lower voice

Question

Given the following interval progression, where might a diatonic passing tone be inserted? Insert a valid diatonic passing tone.

A between G# and B in the upper voice or F# between E and G# in the lower voice

Question

Given the following interval progression, where might a diatonic passing tone be inserted? Insert a valid diatonic passing tone.

D between Eb and C in the upper voice or D between C and Eb in the lower voice

Activity 15-2

Activity 15–2

Question

Identify three locations where diatonic passing tones may be inserted into the following passage:

B between C# and A in upper voice, m. 2; B between A and C# in upper voice, m. 3; D between C# and E in upper voice, m. 4; or D between E and C# in lower voice, m. 4

Typically, as in Example 15–3 through Example 15–5, passing tones fill in the melodic interval of a third. Two passing tones may also be used consecutively to fill in a fourth between chord tones. The melodic fourth in the upper part of Example 15–6 might be embellished with a pair of consecutive passing tones, as illustrated in Example 15–7:

Example 15–7 presents an expansion of a C-major chord over two beats: the lower voice leaps down from the third of the chord to the root while the upper voice leaps from the fifth up to the root. The leap of a fourth in the upper voice can be filled in with two passing tones, A and B. (Although the B is consonant with the bass, it is still considered a nonharmonic passing tone since it does not belong to the prevailing C-major harmony.)

There are a number of passing tones in the following example by Felix Mendelssohn (the second part of the example shows a reduction, in this case omitting everything but the vocal melody and the bass line from the left hand of the piano part):

The passing tones in mm. 1 and 4 should now be easy to recognize. In m. 1 the bass steps down to a dissonant second against a held note in the voice part before resolving to a sixth in m. 2. In m. 4, the eighth-note E fills in a melodic third between a pair of parallel harmonic thirds. The passing tone in m. 3, however, is different. It falls on the downbeat and stands out as a result of this metrical highlighting.

Passing tones routinely occur between beats or on metrically unaccented beats, but may also be rhythmically or metrically accented, as shown here:

When a passing tone occurs on the beat it is called an accented passing tone. In Example 15–9—as in Example 15–3—the E in the upper voice is the chord tone and the D is the nonharmonic passing tone. The occurrence of D on the beat with C in the bass emphasizes the dissonance, giving it a sharper effect (listen again and compare Example 15–3 and Example 15–9).

Note: An accented passing tone may be understood as a rhythmic displacement. The pitches are the same in Example 15–3 and Example 15–9; the only difference is the rhythm. In Example 15–9 the passing tone D has been rhythmically displaced from between beats 1 and 2 to fall directly on beat 2. Other rhythmically displaced nonharmonic tones are discussed below.

Because passing tones are nonharmonic, they are not required to be diatonic. Example 15–10 shows a chromatic passing tone (G#) embellishing the upper voice of a 3–6 progression:

Activity 15-3

Activity 15–3

In this activity, you will be asked to identify different kinds of passing tones and to describe what type each one is.

Question

Which note is the passing tone?

The Gb is an unaccented chromatic passing tone.

Question

Which note is the passing tone?

The D is an unaccented diatonic passing tone.

Question

Which note is the passing tone?

The C is an accented diatonic passing tone.

Question

Which note is the passing tone?

The D§ is an accented chromatic passing tone.

Neighbor tones

Consider the following excerpt (the reduction omits the right hand of the piano part):

At the beginning of the singer’s entrance we find a pair of D#s in mm. 5-6. These notes form dissonant augmented fourths against the As in the bass. Much like passing tones, these nonharmonic tones are both approached and resolved by step. Unlike passing tones, however, the resolution occurs in the opposite direction. Nonharmonic tones such as these are typically referred to as neighbor tones. They have been labeled “N” in the analysis above.

Whereas a passing tone connects two chord tones, a neighbor tone embellishes a single chord tone. In its most common form, a neighbor tone is approached by step and left by step in the opposite direction, returning to the original pitch. There are, therefore, two types of neighbor tones: upper and lower. Example 15–12 shows a melodic embellishment with an upper neighbor tone:

Here the E is embellished by stepping up to the dissonant F. The melody then returns to E, completing the neighbor tone figuration.

Example 15–13 shows the same situation, this time with a lower neighbor tone:

Neighbor tones, like passing tones, can be accented or unaccented, diatonic or chromatic. The following examples each show an accented neighbor tone:

In Example 15–14 and Example 15–15, the C in the bass is held for two beats. An accented neighbor note (lower in Example 15–14 and upper in Example 15–15) appears on the second beat before resolving on the second eighth note of the same beat.

Chromatic neighbor tones can occur as lower neighbors, as in Example 15–16…

…or as upper neighbors, as shown in Example 15–17:

Activity 15-4

Activity 15–4

Question

Identify three locations where diatonic neighbor tones may be inserted into the following passage:

Possible answers: D between the Cs in upper voice, m. 1; Bb between the Cs in upper voice, m. 1; E between the Ds in upper voice, m. 5; C between the Ds in upper voice, m. 5; G between the Fs in lower voice, m. 4; E between the Fs in lower voice, m. 4; A between the Gs in lower voice, m. 6; or F between the Gs in lower voice, m. 6

A chord tone may be decorated with two neighbor tones:

In Example 15–18, the E in the upper voice is first decorated with a lower neighbor (D) and then with an upper neighbor (F). A chord tone may also be embellished with two neighbor tones without returning to the main pitch in between. This figuration, known as a double neighbor (or neighbor group), can be seen in Example 15–19:

Activity 15-5

Activity 15–5

In this activity, you will be asked to identify different kinds of neighbor tones and to describe what type each one is.

Question

Which note is the neighbor tone?

The Bb is a chromatic upper neighbor tone.

Question

Which note is the neighbor tone?

The C# is a chromatic lower neighbor tone.

Question

Which notes are the neighbor tones?

The D# and F# are double neighbor tones.

Question

Which note is the neighbor tone?

The D is a diatonic lower neighbor tone.

Incomplete neighbor tones

The following example contains two neighbor tones:

The F# s in m. 2 are decorated with a neighboring E§ in the manner described above. The Bb in m. 2, on the other hand, decorates the A as an upper neighbor, but does not resolve back to A as expected. Instead, it leaps down a third to G. The Bb functions as a neighbor tone, but the figure is incomplete.

Unlike passing tones, neighbor tones need not always be approached and left by step. When a neighbor tone is approached by leap and left by step—or vice versa—it is known as an incomplete neighbor tone. In the following example, the note E in the upper voice is decorated by the neighbor tone F, which is approached by leap and resolved by step.

Instead of approaching the nonharmonic neighbor tone by step (as would be the case with a complete neighbor tone), the upper voice leaps up from C up to the neighbor F, forming a dissonant ninth with the lower voice. The nonharmonic tone then resolves by step down to E. Example 15–22 shows another example of an incomplete upper neighbor, this time embellishing the first of two structural notes:

Here, the upper voice steps up to the upper neighbor E. Then, instead of resolving back down to D before continuing to C, the voice leaps away from the dissonant nonharmonic tone, down to C, a chord tone, on the second beat. This particular type of embellishment, an upper incomplete neighbor note, is called an échappée, or escape tone. The incomplete neighbor we saw in Example 15–20 is an example of an escape tone.

Lower neighbors may appear in incomplete form as well. In Example 15–23, the chord tone C in the upper voice is approached with a dissonant incomplete lower neighbor (B):

Incomplete neighbor tones have a different effect than complete neighbor tones because they involve a leap. The leap, especially when the incomplete neighbor forms a dissonance, draws attention to the nonharmonic tone by changing the contour of the melodic line.

The examples of incomplete neighbor tones shown so far are unaccented. However, they also appear in accented form. Example 15–24 uses the same pitches as Example 15–21, though here the neighbor tone is rhythmically displaced to produce an accented incomplete upper neighbor tone on beat two:

The term appoggiatura is generally used instead of the cumbersome “accented incomplete upper (or lower) neighbor tone.” As in the example above, appoggiaturas leap into a dissonant accented neighbor tone and then resolve by step in the opposite direction.

Activity 15-6

Activity 15–6

In this activity, you will be asked to identify various types of passing and neighbor tones in several excerpts of chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Question

Identify an unaccented passing tone in this excerpt:

Question

Identify an unaccented upper neighbor tone in this excerpt:

Question

Identify an unaccented lower neighbor tone in this excerpt:

Question

Identify an appoggiatura (accented incomplete neighbor tone) in this excerpt:

Question

Identify an accented passing tone in this excerpt:

15.3 Rhythmically derived nonharmonic tones

Passing and neighbor tones are nonharmonic tones that fill out or embellish a melody. That is not the case with all nonharmonic tones. Others result from rhythmic activity and do not add pitches to an underlying basic interval progression. The two main types of rhythmically derived nonharmonic tones are suspensions and anticipations. Like passing and neighbor tones, these can be understood as alterations of a basic interval progression framework, this time affecting the rhythm instead of the melody.

Suspensions

The following example features several nonharmonic tones in the highest voice on the downbeats of mm. 1, 3, and 7:

In m. 1, the C from the pickup chord is carried over the barline as the bass leaps up to Db. The resulting dissonance—a seventh—is resolved to a sixth when the upper voice steps down to Bb in the next measure. The same thing happens two bars later, though here the resulting dissonance is a fourth which resolves in a similar fashion to a third in m. 4. The seventh on the downbeat of m. 7 follows suit, though in this case the dissonance is resolved with a step up in the upper voice.

A suspension is a nonharmonic tone that results when a note is held over (suspended) from the preceding harmony, thereby rhythmically delaying its melodic continuation and intruding as a nonharmonic tone on the subsequent harmony. Consider the following familiar interval progression:

What would happen if the upper voice began one beat later than the lower voice? The G in the upper voice would be held over into the second measure while the lower voice continued its melodic ascent to D:

In Example 15–27, the consonant G of the upper voice prepares the dissonant suspension, a nonharmonic tone, on the following beat. On the downbeat of the second measure, the upper voice holds (suspends) the G as the lower voice changes, creating a dissonant fourth. This is the actual moment of suspension. Finally, the dissonant G resolves down to the chord tone F on the second quarter note of the bar. The F is the resolution of the suspension. This particular suspension is referred to as a 4–3 suspension. The suspension may be tied to the preparation, as in this case, or it may re-articulate the pitch, as we saw in Example 15–25.

It is helpful to think of the suspension as occurring in three consecutive stages, the preparation, the suspension, and the resolution:

Note the positions of each part of a suspension: the preparation occurs in a metrically weak position and the suspension occurs in a metrically strong position. Unlike passing and neighbor tones, suspensions are always accented. In Example 15–27 and Example 15–28, the preparation occurs on the weak beat of the measure while the suspension falls on a downbeat.

One common deviation from this pattern finds an extended note forming the preparation:

In Example 15–29, the G in the upper voice is extended into the second measure before stepping down to F, thus creating a dissonant 4–3 suspension.

There are two important rules to remember regarding the resolution of suspensions:

1. Suspensions must always resolve by step (half-step or whole-step) and
2. suspensions usually resolve downward (suspended notes that resolve upward are called retardations and will be discussed momentarily).

Note: Rule 1 above states that suspensions must always resolve by step. Occasionally a dissonant suspension will leap to a chord tone and from there leap to the expected resolution, as in the following example:

In Example 15–30, the upper voice first leaps down to D before leaping back up to the expected resolution F. Example 15–31 shows a similarly decorated suspension, this time leaping to a dissonant E (an incomplete lower neighbor) before resolving to the F.

Similarly, the suspension could be decorated with an escape tone:

Although there is another pitch in between the suspension and the resolution, the underlying voice-leading remains intact in each of these examples: the suspension resolves by step from G to F.

Suspensions are usually labeled by indicating the two intervals formed between the suspended voice and the bass. Four of the most common types of upper-voice suspensions are shown in Example 15–33:

In each case, the suspended note becomes a nonharmonic tone. With the exception of the 6–5 suspension, all of these nonharmonic tones form a dissonance with the bass.

Suspensions may occur in the lower voice as well. Example 15–34 shows several common bass suspensions:

Again, with the exception of the 5–6 suspension, all of the nonharmonic tones form a dissonance.

Note: You may have noticed that nonharmonic tone in the 9–8 suspension from Example 15–33 forms the same interval as the nonharmonic tone in the 2–3 suspension from Example 15–34: a compound second. To distinguish between the two, 9–8 is commonly used to indicate a compound second suspension in the upper voice and 2–3 is used for a suspension in the lower voice.

Activity 15-7

Activity 15–7

Question

In the following example, which voice contains a suspension: soprano or bass?

The soprano has a 6-5 suspension.

Question

In the following example, which voice contains a suspension: soprano or bass?

The bass has a 4–5 suspension.

Question

In the following example, which voice contains a suspension: soprano or bass?

The soprano has a 7–6 suspension.

Question

In the following example, which voice contains a suspension: soprano or bass?

The bass has a 7–8 suspension.

Question

In the following example, which voice contains a suspension: soprano or bass?

The soprano has a 9–8 suspension.

Question

In the following example, which voice contains a suspension: soprano or bass?

The bass has a 2–3 suspension.

As mentioned above, suspensions tend to resolve downward by step. A suspended note that resolves upward to a consonance is called a retardation. In the following example, the B of the upper voice is suspended into the second measure:

The suspended B resolves upward by half-step to the tonic pitch. A suspended leading tone typically resolves to the tonic. The dissonant seventh we saw on the downbeat of m. 7 in Example 15–25 is an example of a retardation. Another may be found in m. 10 of the Fanny Hensel song discussed above (Example 15–11):

Here, the C in the melody is brought over from the previous bar. It forms a dissonant fourth with the bass and resolves up by step immediately after.

Activity 15-8

Activity 15–8

For each exercise In this activity, you will be given a bass line and asked to write a suspension in the upper voice. Remember, the preparation occurs on a weak beat and the suspension itself occurs on the following strong beat, resolving on the next weak beat. Here is an example:

becomes…

Question

Complete the following suspension by adding the upper voice:

Question

Complete the following suspension by adding the upper voice:

Question

Complete the following suspension by adding the upper voice:

Question

Complete the following suspension by adding the upper voice:

Anticipations

A number of different nonharmonic tones may be found when comparing the soprano and bass lines in the following example:

There is a passing tone in the pickup measure forming a dissonant fourth above the bass which resolves via contrary motion to a sixth on the following downbeat. There are also several 4–3 suspensions, one of which occurs when the resolution to the neighboring C# in m. 1 is delayed while the bass continues stepping down. Although these nonharmonic tones are here used in combination, they all follow the conventions described above. The nonharmonic F# at the end of m. 2, on the other hand, does something new. Like a suspension, we find a note being held over as the harmony changes, but unlike a suspension this occurs at the moment of resolution, not the moment of preparation. This kind of figuration is commonly referred to as an anticipation. It has been labeled “Ant.” in the analysis above.

Anticipations are, in a sense, the reverse of suspensions. As we saw, a suspension delays a voice movement until after the harmony changes, creating a dissonance at the change. Conversely, an anticipation rushes the voice movement ahead, creating a dissonance before the harmony changes. Furthermore, while suspensions are rhythmically accented, anticipations are unaccented. Consider again the basic interval progression 5–3:

If the F in the upper voice were to arrive before the bass D on beat two, the following would result:

By stepping down earlier than the change in the bass, the upper voice anticipates the arrival of F on beat two. Anticipations usually enter by step and can be tied to the anticipated chord tone or reiterated. One of the most common anticipations occurs at the ends of musical phrases, where scale degree $\hat1$ in the soprano is anticipated before the arrival of the tonic in the bass:

The octave leap in the bass is a typical accompaniment to this type anticipation.

Activity 15-9

Activity 15–9

Question

In the following excerpt, what type of nonharmonic tone is the red note?

unaccented diatonic lower neighbor tone

Question

In the following excerpt, what type of nonharmonic tone is the red note?

appoggiatura (accented incomplete lower neighbor tone)

Question

In the following excerpt, what type of nonharmonic tone is the red note?

unaccented diatonic passing tone

Question

In the following excerpt, what type of nonharmonic tone is the red note?

decorated 4–3 suspension

Question

In the following excerpt, what type of nonharmonic tone is the red note?

anticipation

15.4 Summary

There are four main categories of nonharmonic tones: passing tones, neighbor tones, suspensions, and anticipations. Passing and neighbor tones are melodically derived embellishments. They result from melodically filling in gaps between chord tones and from embellishing chord tones in order to create interesting melodic lines. They may be diatonic or chromatic, accented or unaccented. Suspensions and anticipations, on the other hand, are rhythmically derived embellishments. They result from rhythmic modifications (delays, accelerations) of melodic lines. Suspensions are accented, anticipations unaccented.

Nonharmonic tones are important features of tonal music. Composers use them to enrich and enliven their compositions. A firm understanding of the functions and peculiarities of nonharmonic tones is necessary for doing accurate harmonic analysis. Be aware, though, that they can sometimes make it difficult to identify structural harmonies.