I was wondering if it is acceptable, from a theoretical standpoint, to have a melody that doesn't contain any tones from the chord that is played with it? Are there any examples of songs that have done this?

  • Yes. For example, any guitar solo by Primus. – luser droog Aug 7 '15 at 17:09

It is more dependent on how one perceives a chord. Assuming a chord = a triad, then, yes, it's quite possible to use melody notes that don't actually include those of that chord. The reason some extra notes will work is because they imply a subtly different chord. One which actually could/should be the one played under the melody. 'Laura' is an example. The first chord is Am ( or Am7, can't remember), under a B note for the melody. Whilst the B is not contained in the actual chord, adding it will produce an Am9, which actually COULD be played instead. Another - 'Moon River'. On a bar of F, the note B (again!) works well, though it's not included in FAC.

If you're asking about completely 'foreign' notes to fit over a given chord, it will really depend whether those notes can complement the given chord. In which cases, the written chord could be altered to fit the tune - so at that point, the chord actually contains the melody notes...

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  • To be honest, I think this is the most fitting answer to the question – Shevliaskovic Aug 7 '15 at 9:25
  • This is the answer I was looking for, an example of a melody containing none of the tones in the underlying chord, and why it works. Thanks! – Bill Aug 7 '15 at 9:55

Yes, of course you can use notes that don't belong to the chord! Νot only nonchordal, but there many many kinds of them you can use. If the melody was limited to those 3-4 notes, it would be pretty boring. There are are many kinds of non chordal notes:

  • Anticipation
  • Neighbor tone
  • Incomplete neighbor tone
  • Escape tone
  • Passing tone
  • Accented Passing tone
  • Suspension
  • Accented Neighbor tone
  • Appoggiatura
  • Portamento
  • Nonharmonic bass
  • Pedal point
  • Chromatic nonharmonic tone

I won't go into much detail for each one, but you can see them on wiki.

Here are a few examples:

  • Escape Tone: enter image description here

  • Changing tones enter image description here

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  • Tricky second example. It could be argued that a G chord should be played on the last beat of the penultimate bar. – Tim Aug 7 '15 at 9:11

Part of the problem touched on in this question is the notion of what a "chord" is. In most western musics the thing we call a "chord" is more aptly understood to be the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th/9th/11th tension of a "chord scale." What defines the chord scale? It's defined by the conventions of use of a particular scale's harmonic role within a key, what notes are congruent to that scale's function, and what notes aren't.

When you view the question from this perspective, you begin to understand that a chord is basically an abbreviation of a much more comprehensive tonal role-player within the harmony, and is much richer than it appears at first glance.

So the answer is, yes, certainly, you can have notes for days that don't sit on the chord tones. However, Just not ANY notes. (assuming you are staying consistent to a particular style or genre!)

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Melodies are build on chords. You jump to and from chordal notes. The choosing of good chords following basic chord progression builds the basis for a melody to be created.

Also a issue may arise from how you are going to end phrases when you are set on using none of the notes from the four basic cadences?

Melodies are not just a collection of random notes. There is ways to give structure to them from which you can build. The choosing of chords is the most basic way to do this.

The use of non chordal notes in a conservative, tasteful manner is the hallmark of a good composer. I'm sure you could actually write decent melodies from using only Chordal notes.

When I say build on chords I will give an example to show what I exactly mean.

I don't mean your melody should have a C chord like this.


But rather it should be build on a C chord like this.


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  • Thank you for the information. If you don't mind me asking you a follow up question, why then does something like an F major chord sound good with the notes D, E, G, E? Is it because the E in the melody implies that the F is a Fmaj7 with the 7th omitted? – Bill Aug 7 '15 at 8:25
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    Melodies are build on chords. but are not limited to those notes – Shevliaskovic Aug 7 '15 at 9:06
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    I really do not think this answer deserves down votes. I only base this answer on how the University of South Africa, Trinity Guildhall and ABRSM mark melody question in there exams. – Neil Meyer Aug 7 '15 at 9:26
  • @NeilMeyer Perhaps clarifying what is and what is not 'acceptable' in your answer would eliminate the need for down-voting for those who did. The rest of your answer reads more like a theoretical statement while the last part could use some love. – Mast Aug 7 '15 at 12:32

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