Nonchord Tones

(click to play Beata es Virgo Maria by Giovanni Gabrieli, performed by The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble)

In some of my animated graphical scores,
I use visual layers to show the relationship between
   notes that are members of chords forming a harmonic progression
   nonchordal notes.
This page shows what that looks like.

(note: an animated version of the following five images can be viewed here)

Harmonic base. These ellipses represent the notes of a simple chord progression ...

... and these lighter lines show the melodic motion of the notes within that progression ...

Passing tones are melodic nonchord tones that fill the interval between chord tones ...

Aniticipatory tones are like passing tones but arrive at the destination before the chord changes ...

Suspensions are similar to anticipatory tones, but they move after the chord changes
(and always downward, which is why they're called "suspensions") ...

Other ornaments. Sometimes, I use a third layer to show trills and other faster notes
that further elaborate either the harmonic base or the nonchord tones, like this ...

(A fuller discussion of nonchord tones can be found on this Wikipedia page).

What do the colors mean?

When harmony/tonality plays an important role it a piece of music,
I use a system I call Harmonic Coloring to show the harmonic/tonal
function of the notes (described here).


To see how this plays out, let's look at a piece by Giovanni Gabrieli.

Here's how colors are assigned to pitches (arranged into groups by triad):

Things to notice ...

  • The root/fifth (bottom/top) of each triad are very similar in color,
    while the third (middle) is different (because the root/fifth are adjacent
    on the circle of fifths).
  • For triads that can be either major or minor (G, D, A, E), the major third
    is redder, and the minor third is greener.
  • Notes that function as "leading tones" (E, B, F#, C#, G#) are violet/reddish
    compared to the notes they resolve to (F, C, G, D, A), which are green/bluish.
  • Here's what this looks like in Giovanni Gabrieli's motet Beata es Virgo Maria
    (as performed by The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble):

    (click to play)

    Here's a complete list of examples to date: