Embellishing tones are non-chord tones (notes that aren't in the
chord that's playing at that moment) which are inserted between the anchor
notes in a melody. They give melodies much more variety than they would
have if they could only use chord tones.
Embellishing tones usually follow several "rules" which help them not
to get too much attention and sound dissonant against the chord
They're usually short notes (eighth or sixteenth notes).
They're preceded or followed (usually both) by anchor
They usually leave and approach their surrounding anchor notes by
step, not by leap.
They usually fall on weak rhythm points—the "off-beat"
fractions of a beat—compared to their surrounding anchor notes.
To learn how embellishing tones are used in real songs, we analyze melodies
harmonically. This just means we label each note, as a chord tone
(CT) or a particular type of embellishing tone. Embellishing tones
are classified into several types. In this lesson we'll just introduce
two of the most common types:
Neighbor tones (NT)
Passing tones (PT)
Neighbor Tones (NT)
A neighbor tone (NT) is an embellishing tone whose surrounding anchor
notes are both the same pitch; this means that the neighbor tone is
either a step above both anchor notes (an upper neighbor tone)
or a step below (a lower neighbor tone).
Here's an example from Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone (see end
of lesson for link), Verse 1 (00:16 in the recording). This also shows how we
label the notes:
Neighbor tone two steps away?
You may have noticed a problem in the above example: Neighbor tones are
"supposed to" be only one step away from their "anchor notes", so they
don't attract too much attention and sound dissonant. But, the
above neighbor tones appear to be two steps away (C-B-A) from
their anchor notes.
Ah, but this is why we introduced the major pentatonic scale
(Lesson 43: Pentatonic Scales) before
this lesson. Remember, the C major pentatonic scale is just the
C D E G A (C again)
If we think the melody "feels pentatonic" here (which I do), then the
A's are actually only one "pentatonic step" away from the C
Passing Tones (PT)
A passing tone (PT) is an embellishing tone which "bridges the
gap" between anchor notes which are two steps apart. Here's a
Analyze melodies: Label the chord tones (CT), neighbor
tones (NT), and passing tones (PT). Get a feel for how often
these different types of melody tones are used, and the musical
effects they create.
Practice something different: Look at your own melodies. Are there
patterns of CT, NT, and PT in other people's melodies which you haven't
tried in your own melodies? Practice writing melodies using these "new" (for
you) CT/NT/PT patterns.
For Like A Rolling Stone, I used the recording from The
Essential Bob Dylan ($1.29 at
as of this writing).