Another Look at Melodic Construction in Improvisation
What do we play? Where does it come from? How do we make our own melody?
- The melody of the song or tune
- The rhythmic structure
- An alternative positive melodic statement derived from the harmonic or rhythmic environment, or a melody from another song that fits the “changes”
- The development, embellishment, and ornamentation of the above ideas through the use of non-harmonic – , or non-chord -, tones.
For the sake of this presentation, we will focus on the last category, particularly the role of non-harmonic tones.
A frequently used technique in melodic construction is the use of non-harmonic tones, followed by their resolution. Through the use of these tones, tension and release can be employed within the melody itself, giving the melodic line a life and power independent of its underlying harmony. The introduction of non-harmonic tones means that any note of the chromatic scale can be played on any chord, provided that it resolves to a chord tone.
Types of non-harmonic tones
I. Passing tone: A non-chord tone added between two different chord tones, either a step or half-step away, usually from the chordal scale -
II. Neighbor tone: A non-chord tone added between two chord tones of the same pitch, either a step or half-step away -
III. Appoggiatura: A non-chord tone preceded by a leap from a chord tone and resolved by a step or half-step to a chord tone, usually in the opposite direction from the leap -
IV. Escape tone: Non-chord tone a step or half-step away from its preceding chord tone, resolved by a leap to a different chord tone -
V. Changing tones: 2 or more notes, beginning a step or half-step either above or below a chord tone, which then skips to another tone, usually a major or minor third away, on the other side of the chord tone, then resolves to the originating chord tone by either a step or half step -
Additional notes can be inserted chromatically either before or after the skip in a changing tone series:
Or, the originating tone can be left out:
A. A delay in the resolution of a non-chord tone that may have existed in the previous chord -
B. A deliberate displacement of a chord tone for an alternate harmonic effect -
C. A neighbor tone not preceeded by a chord tone resolved to a chord tone, where the target tone may exist in the underlying harmony, creating a dissonance -
VII. Anticipation: Early arrival on a chord tone from the next chord -
VIII. Approaches: A series, pattern, or sequence of notes aiming toward a chord tone, but extending further back in time than the traditional ornamentation types -
A. Stepwise, either whole, half, or some combination thereof:
B. Via sequence:
1. Stepwise -
2. Diatonic pattern -
3. Intervalic pattern -