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Trying to find out about so-called 'avoid notes'.

They seem to be notes that are a semitone above notes from a chord, thus produce dissonance. Not even sure what constitutes dissonance!

But quite often I use 'avoid notes' because that extra out-of-tuneness adds to the tension at some point in a piece. Which then makes the resolution so much more satisfying. For example G7 > C, where I suppose the 'avoid note', of A♭ is just that semitone above the root G. So, instead of avoiding it, for me it's a go-to note!

The term itself could be a misnomer, so an extra question would be - who coined it, and why?

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  • @JohnBelzaguy - I meant play an Ab note over a G7 chord. Didn't phrase it well. Does that make more sense? Do I need to edit?
    – Tim
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 8:51
  • The way I see it is if it’s part of the chord it’s not an avoid note. On a regular G7 some may view an Ab as an avoid note. Like you I do not since some dissonance is acceptable in a dominant chord. I think the general concept of avoid notes is limited to the notes of the scale associated with the particular chord in question. I also see it as more of a concept for musicians who are learning to improvise or compose and learning to make sound note choices. A seasoned musician will use his own judgement to decide what notes to avoid based on his experience and taste. Commented May 29, 2023 at 9:44
  • @JohnBelzaguy - could you flesh that out, with examples, for an answer?
    – Tim
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 10:45
  • Where did you encounter the term "avoid notes"?
    – phoog
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 14:13
  • @phoog - all over the place! Google has a plethora of references.
    – Tim
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 15:10

1 Answer 1

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Avoid notes are not notes that produce dissonance. This is a concept of Jazz theory where you tend to play melodies and extended chords over some chord scheme. Now, if you remain within the notes of a certain scale (e.g. playing C-major notes over a C major chord) there are notes which are are considered to work well within that chord, and there are notes which might work less well within such chords. In a major scales this would usually be considered the 4th, which is then often replaced by a sharp 4th. This is in fact logical, as all notes from a major scale stem from harmony of fifths except for the 4th.

But keep in mind that as with all theory this is an attempt to describe why and how music works, not a strict rule. You can very well use such avoid notes in Jazz, but theory will tell you why they might sound out of place in certain styles.

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  • “all notes from a major scale stem from harmony of fifths except for the 4th” — Could you explain that a bit? (You have to go further round the circle of fifths for the fourth than for other major-scale intervals, but you do get there. Or you can go one step backwards round it, of course.)
    – gidds
    Commented May 29, 2023 at 21:24
  • @gidds Imagine the standard major pentatonic scale. This is a scale not only made up from 5 notes, but from 5 notes of adjacent fifths: C - G - D - A - E. Now, if you were to continue this into a full 7 note scale, adding B and F#, resulting essentially in something like the modern interpretation of Lydian mode. If you were to continue this for 5 more steps you’d arrive at E#, which can be interpreted as F. On the other hand you only need a single fourth from C to get to F (which you can also develop into a full scale C-Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb).
    – Lazy
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 6:45
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    I don't understand the relevance of that, though. You need only a single fifth to get from C to F, if you go downward — so you could argue that F is as closely related to C as G is, and more closely than every other note in the C major scale… So why is it considered more dissonant in jazz? (If there's some sort of rule that you can only go one way around the circle of fifths, I'd be interested to hear why.)
    – gidds
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 16:00
  • @gidds But that is the point. Going fifths up is harmony of fifths, going fifths down is harmony of fourths. If you add to C-G-D-A-E-B the F below it becomes the new root, making this whole thing not C, but F.
    – Lazy
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 18:00

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