Should nonchord tones be avoided since they are "dissonant"?

  • 3
    If you sing the tone loud and clear, then it sort of becomes a chord tone of a new chord. And even a written chord itself can be dissonant. And dissonance is not necessarily bad in any way. Jun 20, 2021 at 17:35
  • 1
    If you want a window into how dissonance is good for a melody, one place to look is Rick Beato’s YouTube video “What Makes This Song Great: Pink Floyd” - youtu.be/5-gF-tmblA8 Jun 20, 2021 at 17:39
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    You don't give a context for your question. If the context is "In a music theory homework assignment on species counterpoint," then there certainly might be some restrictions. Jun 21, 2021 at 15:54
  • Take this song: youtube.com/watch?v=Gus4dnQuiGk Fantaisie Impromptu by Chopin. The first four notes of the melody by the right hand total to be 3 consecutive half steps, while the left hand is a C# minor chord.
    – KingLogic
    Jun 22, 2021 at 0:35

4 Answers 4


The WHOLE point in melodies is to produce tension and release. How do you expect to produce any tension when the notes are all consonant - as in they all fit nicely? By using notes that ARE dissonant, the tension is made. The listener squirms a little, until the dissonance is resolved with consonance.

Making everything consonant, where's the tension? 'Nuff said.

  • But if using chord tones while playing the V there is tension without the use of nonchord tones (dissonance). Jun 20, 2021 at 18:52
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    Even better: using only chord tones at vii°7 chords still sounds dissonant (at least IMO).
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 20, 2021 at 19:40
  • For an example of producing tension with only consonant (chord) tones: the start of Haydn's ‘Surprise’ Symphony!  (But yes, that's very much the exception.)
    – gidds
    Jun 21, 2021 at 20:33

No. Dissonance is good. It allows us to resolve to consonance. Or not. An unresolved dissonance can sound interesting.

'Theory' describes what you've done. It doesn't tell you WHAT to do. (Well, it can make some pretty strong suggestions! But you carry on writing what you think sounds good. Theory will be able to cope with it.)


Any tone (chromatic, also) can be used in a melody. Dissonant notes do have a different effect if accented than if unaccented. For example, against a C chord, a melody proceeding C-D-E with the C and D accented makes for a smooth melodic movement from E to C. If one played C-D-E with the D accented makes for a more angular sound. Neither of these is wrong; you choose which sounds better. An accented dissonance calls attention to itself; one often uses these at cadence points (or any other point that needs the listener to pay a bit more attention to.)


The proposition in your question title rules out the majority music that has harmonic accompaniment. If a melody cannot have non-chord notes, it is restricted to arpeggios of the chord. If you sing "mary had a little lamb" in C while playing that chord, that has D in it which is not in the chord: EDCDEEE.

In the Blues, you often hear combinations like a solo in a minor pentatonic scale, with a tritone, and micro-tonal note bends, over a V7 chord at the same root. Half the notes are not in the chord. The root, fifth and minor seventh degrees of the scale are in the chord, but the minor third and fourth are not, and neither is the tritone nor any additional microtonal pitches.

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