Types Of Non-Chord Tones (Also Called Non-Harmonic Tones) Monday March 4 2024, 2:15 PM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
Types Of Non-Chord Tones (Also Called Non-Harmonic Tones)

What Are Non-Chord Tones?

Music is a language, and just like any language, it has its own set of rules and vocabulary. In the realm of harmony, nonchord tones, often called non-harmonic tones, add color, tension, and interest, much like spices do in cooking.

Let's break down some of the most common types of nonchord tones in a way that's easy to digest. I will use simple musical examples in the key of C Major to illustrate each type of nonchord tone.

Passing Tone

Imagine you're walking from point A to point B in a straight line, and you briefly step on point C in between. That's what a passing tone does musically. It's a note that steps from one chord tone to another, in the same direction, creating a smooth connection.

Context: C Major chord (C-E-G) moving to an F Major chord (F-A-C)

Example: In a melody over these chords, you might have the notes C (chord tone of C Major), D (passing tone), E (chord tone of C Major, moving towards F Major).

Neighbor Tone

Now, picture stepping out from your home (point A) to check the mail (point B) and then stepping right back home. A neighbor tone steps away from a chord tone and then immediately steps back, moving in the opposite direction, like a quick visit to a neighbor.

Context: C Major chord (C-E-G)

Example: If the melody notes are E (chord tone), F (upper neighbor tone), E (return to chord tone), the F is a neighbor tone because it steps away from and then back to the chord tone E.


This is the dramatic entrance to the party. The appoggiatura leaps onto the scene (from a chord tone) and then steps down gracefully to resolve into conformity. It's a leap followed by a step, often highlighting emotional points in the music.

Context: G7 chord (G-B-D-F) resolving to C Major chord (C-E-G)

Example: A melody might leap from a C to a B (appoggiatura) over the G7 chord, and then resolve down to a G when the harmony resolves to the C Major chord.

Escape Tone

The escape tone is the opposite of the appoggiatura. Imagine stepping out cautiously (from a chord tone) and then making a bold leap in the opposite direction. It's a quick step away followed by a leap, like making a sudden, unexpected move.

Context: C Major chord (C-E-G)

Example: A melody could move from G (chord tone), step up to A (escape tone), and then leap down to F (a note in the next chord or a continuation of the melody in an opposite direction).

Double Neighbor

Think of this as a combination of two neighbor tones. You start at home (a chord tone), visit one neighbor, come back home, and then visit the other neighbor before returning home again. It's a step away to one side, a step back, and then a step to the opposite side before returning.

Context: C Major chord (C-E-G)

Example: Starting on E (chord tone), the melody could move to F (upper neighbor), back to E, down to D (lower neighbor), and return to E. This creates a double neighbor figure around the chord tone E.


This is the moment right before everyone shouts "Surprise!" at a surprise party. The anticipation tone steps away from a chord tone and then holds its position, landing on the next chord a bit early and waiting for the harmony to catch up.

Context: Moving from a C Major chord (C-E-G) to an F Major chord (F-A-C)

Example: Over the C Major chord, the melody might include the notes E, G, and then F (anticipation), where the F anticipates the next chord (F Major) before the harmony actually changes.

Pedal Point

A pedal point is like a steadfast friend, staying constant amidst change. It holds the same note while the harmonies change around it, providing a grounding effect that can be both dramatic and stabilizing.

Context: A progression from C Major (C-E-G) to F Major (F-A-C) back to C Major

Example: The bass might hold a C note (pedal point) throughout changes from C Major to F Major and back, despite the harmonic changes.


Imagine holding onto a rope swing a moment too long before jumping off. A suspension holds a note from one chord into the next and then steps down to resolve into the new chord, creating a moment of tension and release.

Context: Moving from C Major (C-E-G) to F Major (F-A-C)

Example: If a melody or voice holds onto the G (suspension) over the change to F Major before resolving down to F, the G acts as a suspension.


The gentle counterpart to the suspension, a retardation, also holds a note into the next chord but resolves by stepping up instead of down. It's like hesitating before accepting an upward nudge, offering a softer resolution.

Context: Moving from F Major (F-A-C) to C Major (C-E-G)

Example: A melody or voice might hold onto an A (retardation) as the harmony moves to C Major, and then the A resolves up to B, a chord tone in C Major.

Yona Marie

As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 300 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!

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