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While I was reading up on passing tones, I encountered this example:

Grand stave with a bar of two crotchets beats.  The upper staff has a triple of quavers G, A, B followed by a C crotchet.  The lower staff has an E followed by a C (both crotchets).

Example 15–7 presents an expansion of a C-major chord over two beats: the lower voice leaps down from the third of the chord to the root while the upper voice leaps from the fifth up to the root. The leap of a fourth in the upper voice can be filled in with two passing tones, A and B. (Although the B is consonant with the bass, it is still considered a nonharmonic passing tone since it does not belong to the prevailing C-major harmony.)

The writer says that of two consecutive passing tones A and B, B is actually a chord tone but still considered as non-chord tone since it does not belong to the prevailing C-major harmony.

Does "prevailing C-major harmony" refer to the following C-C chord?

3 Answers 3

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The author does not say that B is a chord tone. He says that B is "consonant with the bass", meaning the E, as the interval of a fifth (E-B) is considered consonant.

By "prevailing harmony", the author means that overall, the passage is just an extended C major chord, which is not changed by the presence of the two passing tones.

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We are starting from the premise that the whole thing is "an expansion of a C-major chord over two beats". That's another way of saying 'the prevailing harmony is C major'.

It would be possible to disagree and analyze it as one beat of E minor, one of C major. In that case B would be a chord tone. But if the whole thing is to be considered a C major chord - which is almost certainly the most useful analysis - it isn't.

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The A and the B could both be considered consonant, as they are p4 and P5 against the bass note, E. However, the B could also be considered dissonant, as it is the leading note in key C, also the prevailing harmony in that bar, being resolved by playing the C at the end.

Consonance and dissonance have changed, theory-wise over the different centuries and styles of music. To me, it's a subjective subject.

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  • can you tell me why C is prevailing harmony over E?
    – Sean
    Commented May 25 at 9:54
  • 1
    That bar contains E, G and 2 Cs. The A and B are passing, so the majority of the bar is made up of a C major triad. It is the chord which fits best over the whole bar.
    – Tim
    Commented May 25 at 9:57

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