Like instead of the ordinary passing chords a little info one why they work would be nice too liek how each note in the chord acts as a passing, are there any other non-harmonic tone techniques that consist of multiple notes?

  • Imho, noise and discord.
    – Kirk A
    Oct 23, 2016 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


EDIT TO ADD: Before discussing the examples, I should point out that "compound non-harmonic tones" isn't the normal term for these things, although I know what you mean when you use it. When a chord functions like a concatenation of non-harmonic tones, it's usually called an "embellishing chord." When a melodic structure contains multiple embellishing tones, it's called an "embellishing figure" or something to that effect.

Well, the standard passing chords are 6/4 chords, and 6/4 chords can have other embellishing functions. They can be pedal 6/4s, like when I is embellished with IV6/4, or neighbor 4/3 chords like when V is embellished by ii4/3. But the most important embellishing chord is the cadential 6/4 chord, which looks like a second inversion I chord but is actually an embellishment of a V. Depending on what chord precedes it, the Cad6/4 functions like a collection of neighbor notes and/or suspensions (and possibly appogiaturas in less-smooth voice leading situations). The Cad 6/4 is always built on scale degree 5 in the bass, and the 4th above the bass always resolves down by step to the 3rd above the bass (very often as a suspension). The 6th also often resolves down by step, but occasionally moves up instead (often forming a suspension, neighbor or passing tone). Some theorists also would refer to a V6 in between a I and a vi as a passing chord—primarily because the leading tone doesn't resolve in the way that it would when part of a true V chord.

There are also compound melodic non-harmonic tones. The double passing tone is two embellishing tones in a row, generally connecting chord tones a fourth apart, like, in a C major chord having the phrase C–B–A–G. The double neighbor is more interesting—it's an embellishing figure that visits both the upper and lower neighbors before returning to the starting chord tone. For example, during a C major harmony, the melody might move C–D–B–C. There's also a figure called the nota cambiata. It's more common in pre-Baroque music, but can be quite lovely. During a C major harmony changing to a G major harmony on the last note, it would be C–B–G–A–B. It kind of functions like two imbricated passing figures: C–B–()–A–() and ()–()–G–A–B. In a way, it's a compound of a compound non-harmonic tone!

  • I would probably call it "voice-leading", or "counterpoint". The fact that often you can't make a note-by-note analysis of the result in harmonic terms doesn't matter. In fact one of the pitfalls of doing this in excess is that you accidentally create combinations of notes that "sound like chords", but don't form part of a meaningful chord progression - and therefore confuse the listener.
    – user19146
    Oct 23, 2016 at 15:47
  • @alephzero Yes, another term for embellishing chords is voice-leading chords. If you're suggesting an error on my part, I'm not sure I understand. The concept of embellishing chords is an absolutely foundational and well-established aspect of common-practice theory. Oct 23, 2016 at 18:19

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