When writing for SATB, which is the best voice in which you can use passing notes & auxiliary notes? Also, in a music exam where the Soprano part is given to you (and you have to harmonise the given music), can you insert passing notes in the given Soprano part?

Is it alright to use passing notes in the Bass part?

The above questions are in context to a music theory exam.

  • Your textbooks, teachers, and classmates are the best resources for preparing for exams. We don’t know what content is covered in what ways in the exams you’re going to take. May 14, 2019 at 4:33
  • It's certainly a good skill to have, to be able to insert passing notes like that, but to add to the idea of asking the direct sources, I'd advise you not to do it unless you're confident it's okay.
    – user45266
    May 14, 2019 at 4:34
  • Alright. If it weren't for an exam, then you have the freedom to do whatever you want to?
    – Grace
    May 14, 2019 at 5:21
  • 2
    My gut feeling is that you should never add notes to any given part/line in an exam. Add notes to other parts or lines. If you add notes to the exam-given line in order to avoid parallel fifths or octaves, I don't think they'll take it well.
    – Dekkadeci
    May 14, 2019 at 6:06
  • That's good advice @Dekkadeci, I felt the same too.
    – Grace
    May 14, 2019 at 6:30

2 Answers 2


At least in the two methods I have done (ABRSM & UNISA) you NEVER and I do mean NEVER get to change the given. As for where you can use the chromatic notes, really wherever they fit. Usually you tell the newbies to stick it in the outer voices. Usually is such hard work teaching the basics of voice leading that you just want them to learn to walk before you teach them tactics for olympic marathon running.

Just as a general guide to harmony just stick to one piece of chromaticism per harmony. This means dont go overboard with too many non-harmony notes as this can easily confuse the harmony.


Imagine SATB as a string quartet. You can there use passing notes in each voice as well.

The human ear/brain recognizes the highest and the lowest pitch the most. So if you change either of those, it will be probably the most recognizable, but that doesn't mean, that you can't do it in the other voices as well. In string quartets, the Violin II and Viola can also have passing notes and when used correctly, it sounds just as good as with the highest/lowest voice.

  • But it wouldn't be advisable to use passing notes for a voice given in a music theory exam question, isn't it?
    – Grace
    May 14, 2019 at 12:11
  • 1
    It always depends on the context, the exam and the teacher I would say... If it's me, I would just ask the teacher before the exam. Ask him if it's welcome or allowed to use passing notes, or if this isn't the focus of that exam. If he tells you that you shouldn't use them, because the main focus of the exam is just how you voice the different parts for example, then of course don't do it ;)
    – Andy
    May 14, 2019 at 12:47

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