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C7b. Melodic Decoration and Pedals

Grade Six Music Theory, Lesson C7b. Melodic Decoration & Pedals

Apart from ornaments, melodies can also be “decorated” in other ways. Basically this means using notes which don’t exist as part of the supporting chord at that moment in time.

If the harmony has a chord of G major, for example, and the melody has an A, the A is a “non-chord” tone and is there for decorative purposes.

Think of it like this: if the A wasn’t there, the underlying harmony would be unchanged. If composers didn’t decorate their melodies with non-chord tones, music would be rather boring.

Melodic decoration is covered in depth in the Harmony section of this course. Here is a list of the types of melodic decoration that you might have to spot in a score:

  • Passing note – accented or unaccented, sometimes chromatic. A diatonic (non-chromatic) passing note is a note between two chord notes which are a 3rd apart (e.g. the D in c-D-e). A chromatic passing note is altered with an accidental, and it is between two notes a tone (whole step) apart (e.g. the C# in c-C#-d).
  • Auxiliary note – lower or upper, sometimes chromatic .(Also called "neighbour note"). An auxiliary note is a note between two identical notes, which is one scale step away (e.g. the D in c-D-c).
  • Changing note (cambiata/échappée). A changing note is a note between two chord notes, which is a step away from one, and a leap away from the other in the opposite direction (e.g. the D in c-D-b)
  • Anticipation. An anticipation is a chord note sounded earlier than the rest of the chord. It is dissonant with the chord it occurs in. (E.g. the note C played against a chord of G major, which is then followed by a C major chord).
  • Suspension. A suspension is a note held over from a previous chord and dissonant in the chord it sounds with. It resolves downwards.
  • Retardation. A retardation is a note held over from a previous chord and dissonant in the chord it sounds with. It resolves upwards.7
  • Appoggiatura. The appoggiatura note creates a dissonance with at least one other note being played at the same time, and it resolves by step either upwards or downwards. The note it resolves onto is consonant (i.e. not dissonant) with the other note being played.
    Here is an example: 

    The D (circled) is an appoggiatura, because it is dissonant with the C and E played at the same time. It resolves downwards by step to C, which is a note consonant with the rest of the chord.
    Sometimes an appoggiatura is identical to an accented passing note, such as here:
    appoggiatura passing note

    Now the D is between the notes E and C, so it can be classed as an accented passing note as well. However, when the appoggiatura is written with an ornament symbol (see C7a Ornaments) it is always called an appoggiatura, rather than a passing note.



A pedal is a note which is repeated or held for some time, while the chord above changes. For example, a tonic pedal might be found in the bass, while the chords in the higher parts change from tonic to supertonic to dominant: 

The C in the bass clef is the pedal:


  • Pedals are also often found on the dominant.
  • Pedals can be inverted. Usually a pedal is found in the bass, but sometimes it can be found in a higher part, in which case it is an “inverted pedal”. 
  • Pedals can be sustained. A sustained pedal is a long held note. An unsustained pedal is a repeated note. In the example above, the pedal is not sustained. If we replaced the four crotchets (quarter notes) with a semibreve (whole note), it would be sustained.



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