(musTh1) Writing Non-Harmonic Tones

With practice, adding non-harmonic tones (NHT’s) to part-writing examples will come naturally. Until then, here are some tips that can help.

Look for the melodic interval of a third in a single voice. This interval can usually be filled with a passing tone (accented or unaccented).

Repeated melodic notes can have neighbor tones inserted between them. (accented or unaccented) However, don’t overuse neighbor tones. Too many in a single voice will make it sound like your line is not moving in a direction. Neighbor tones are often great if followed by passing tones in the opposite direction of the neighbor tone. This makes the neighbor tone seem like it is initiating the movement that follows.

Melodic lines that descend by step may allow for suspensions. You must, however, check the intervals that are formed with the bass. Upper voice suspensions can only be 9 (-8 resolution), 7 (-6), or 4 (-3) steps above the bass (including compound intervals). If the bass line suspends, it will form a 2 (-3) with an upper voice. No other intervals are allowed. Since the bass voice moves in a bass suspension, the resolution interval 3 is larger than the suspension interval.

Other NHT’s depend on the situation and figuration that you want. Appoggiaturas generally leap up to the dissonance and then resolve down by step. Generally they are not overused, but tend to repeat with the same part of the phrase, or the same melodic motive. Escape tones generally step up to the dissonance and leap down to the resolution. Same melodic guidelines apply as with App’s. Anticipations can be used where the melody moves stepwise.

It is very important to keep track of part-writing guidelines when using NHT’s. 

  • NHT’s cannot fix part-writing errors. Parallel fifths are still parallel, even if you stick an NHT in one voice.
  • NHT’s can create part-writing errors. A sixth that moves to a fifth can become parallel fifths if you insert an NHT.


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