(musTh1) Embellishing Tones

All material is from Chapter 7 of the Gauldin. Read this chapter.

Embellishing Tones

Essential tones in a melody (or any voice) are always chord tones, but not all chord tones are essential. Non-essential tones are referred to as embellishing tones. Embellishing tones provide rhythmic motion and added melodic figuration. If embellishing tones are chord tones, you will encounter consonant leaps between notes. If embellishing tones are non-chord tones (NCT), they will tend to move by step (although some leaps are possible). Chordal embellishments often lead to compound melody (two or more moving lines written in one part). 

NCT Embellishment Categories

NCT categories are derived from the melodic profile (approach and exit direction and interval) and rhythmic accentuation (accented or unaccented, on or off the beat).

  • Unaccented/Stepwise (US): off the beat, approached and left by step or common tone.
  • Unaccented/Leaping (UL): off the beat, with either the approach or departure by leap. It is unusual to find both the approach and exit are leaps, but not impossible.
  • Accented/Stepwise (AS): on the beat, approached and left by step or common tone.
  • Accented/Leaping (AL): on the beat, one the beat, with either the approach or exit by leap.


Generally speaking, we can leave off unaccented from the name, and simplify the naming of NCT’s a little bit.

  • Passing Tone (P): approached and left by step, all moving in the same direction. This has the effect of filling in a gap between two chord tones a third apart.
  • Neighboring Tone (N): approached and left by step, with a change in direction. The effect is an ornament of a single chord tone.
  • Anticipation (A): approached by step, held as a common tone into the next harmony. The next chord tone is arrived at early compared to the rest of the chord. 


Unaccented/Leaping NCT’s are also referred to as Incomplete Neighbors (IN). Leaps into or out of an IN are always balanced with a change in direction for the stepwise movement.

  • Escape Tone (E): approached by step and left by leap in opposite direction.
  • Leaping Tone (L): approached by leap and left by step in opposite direction.
  • Double Neighbor Tone (DN) or Changing Tone (CT): approached by step, followed by the leap of a third in the opposite direction, completed by stepwise movement in the original direction (change again). The first and last tones are harmonic. For example, a DN figure of C – D – B – C could occur starting C (supported by a C major triad), followed by D (step up), then B (leap of third down), and completed by returning to C (step up). The ending C is a chord tone (either C major, F major, or Ab major triads). 


Accented/Stepwise NCT’s are very similar to unaccented/stepwise NCT’s, with the chief difference being the dissonance occurs on the beat.

  • Accented Passing Tone (AP): approached and left by step, all in the same direction. (same as P)
  • Accented Neighboring Tone (AN): approached and left by step, with a change in direction. (same as N)
  • Suspension (S): approached by common tone, and left by stepwise movement down. (opposite approach/exit of anticipation) A suspension has three parts: a consonant preparation; the dissonant suspension (on the beat); and the consonant resolution (off or on the beat). Note that the resolution of a suspension is always down by step.


  • Accented Incomplete Neighboring Tone (AIN): approached by leap and left by step in the opposite direction. This can also be referred to as an Appoggiatura (App).
  • Free Tones (F): approached and left by leap. These are extremely rare. In fact, if you think you find one, check it more than once to see if there is not a better explanation.

In a Category of Its Own

The Pedal Point (or simply, pedal), is a held bass note (approached and left by common tone) against one or more changing harmonies above. The beginning and end of a pedal should be harmonic. In between, any combination of harmonic and non-harmonic can occur. If the pedal point is not in the bass, it is called an Inverted Pedal.


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