IV. Diatonic Harmony, Tonicization, and Modulation

Embellishing Tones

John Peterson

Key Takeaways

  • A summary of the various kinds of embellishing tones is available in Example 13.
  • We group embellishing tones into three categories:
    1. Involving only stepwise motion: passing tones, neighbor tones
    2. Involving a leap: appoggiatura, escape tone
    3. Involving static notes: suspension, retardation, pedal, anticipation

Chapter Playlist

Overview

Example 1 reproduces Maria Szymanowska’s March No. 6, which we also saw in our discussion of strong predominants. You might have noticed that some of the notes in the bass in mm. 8–10 don’t fit our harmonic analysis. These notes, which are blue and circled in Example 1, are collectively called “” because they embellish notes that belong to the chord. Embellishing tones can be grouped into three categories, which we describe below.

Example 1. Embellishing tones in Maria Szymanowska, March No. 6 from Six Marches (0:00-0:16).

Example 2. Common three-note layout of most embellishing tones.

Nearly all embellishing tones are three-note gestures in which the embellishing tone is the middle note and the notes on each side of the embellishing tone are consonant with the bass (Example 2). The actual embellishing tone itself may be either consonant or dissonant with the bass. In almost all cases, however, the embellishing tone is a note that doesn’t belong to the underlying chord.

Category 1: Embellishing tones that move by step

Example 1 showed the two kinds of embellishing tones that move by step: and . Passing tones are approached by step and left by step in the same direction. They may either ascend or descend (Example 3). Neighbor tones are approached by step and left by step in the opposite direction. There are upper neighbors and lower neighbors (Example 4).

Example 3. Passing tones in a two-voice texture, ascending (a) and descending (b).

Example 4. Upper neighbor (a) and lower neighbor (b) tones in a two-voice texture.

Category 2: Embellishing tones that involve a leap

Examples 5 and 6 show the two kinds of embellishing tones that involve a leap: and . Appoggiaturas are approached by leap and left by step in the opposite direction (Example 7). The appoggiatura typically occurs on a stronger part of the beat than its surrounding notes. Escape tones are approached by step and left by leap in the opposite direction (Example 8). The escape tone typically occurs on a weaker part of the beat than its surrounding notes. Both appoggiaturas and escape tones are more commonly seen in the pattern shown in Examples 7a and 8a rather than 7b and 8b.

Example 5. An appoggiatura in Joseph Boulogne, String Quartet No. 4, I, mm. 5–9 (0:09-0:19).

Example 6. An escape tone in Margaret Casson, “The Cuckoo.”

Example 7. Appoggiaturas in a two-voice texture.

Example 8. Escape tones in a two-voice texture.

Category 3: Embellishing tones involving static notes

Examples 9 and 10 show three of the four kinds of embellishing tones that involve static notes (i.e. notes that don’t move): , , and . A fourth kind of embellishing tone, the anticipation, deserves special comment below.

Pedal tones are often found in the bass. They consist of a series of static notes over top of which chord changes occur that do not include the bass. We typically label them using the scale degree number of the pedal note as in Example 10.

Example 11 demonstrates suspensions and retardations. Suspensions are approached by a static note and left by step down. The suspension is always on a stronger part of the beat than its surrounding notes. Retardations are approached by a static note and left by step up. The retardation is always on a stronger part of the beat than its surrounding notes.

Example 9. Suspensions and a retardation in Joseph Boulogne’s String Quartet No. 4, I, mm. 47–49 (1:30–1:36).

Example 10. Pedal tone in Josephine Lang’s “Dem Königs-Sohn,” mm. 16–18.

Example 11. Suspension (a) and retardation (b) in a two-voice texture.

Anticipations

Like the suspension, retardation, and pedal tone, also involve static notes. But anticipations are a two-note (rather than three-note) gesture, in which a chord tone is heard early as a non-chord tone (Example 12). In other words, it “anticipates” its upcoming membership in a chord.

Example 12. An anticipation in Josephine Lang’s “Erinnerung,” mm. 29–30 (1:54–1:59).

Summary

The table in Example 13 provides a summary of the embellishing tones covered in this chapter.

Category Embellishing Tone Approached by Left by Direction Additional Detail
Involving steps Passing Tone (PT) Step Step Same May ascend or descend
Neighbor Tone (NT) Step Step Opposite Both upper and lower exist
Involving a leap Appoggiatura (APP) Leap Step Opposite Appoggiatura is usually on a strong part of the beat
Escape Tone (ET) Step Leap Opposite Escape tone is usually on a weaker part of the beat
Involving static notes Suspension Static note Step Down Suspension is always on a stronger part of the beat
Retardation Static note Step Up Retardation is always on a stronger part of the beat
Pedal Tone ( [latex]\hat{x}[/latex] Ped) Static note Static note N/A
Anticipation (ANT) N/A Static note N/A The anticipation is usually on a weaker part of the beat

Example 13. Summary of embellishing tones.

Assignments
  1. Embellishing tones (.pdf, .docx). Asks students to write embellishing tones in a two-voice texture and label embellishing tones in an excerpt.

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