Double passing notes

For those wishing to continue to develop their ‘straight’ technique, there follows a more detailed look at this topic. On paper, it probably seems as dry as a bone but you’ll be surprised how much fun it can be!

If the upper root and third of a ‘common’ chord comprising l,lll,l,lll move down a step, they provide the 7th and 9th respectively (of the same chord). The starting chord has a doubled third and doubled root to provide support at the moment the suspensions occur. The two notes continue their step-wise downward movement to become the root and 3rd, the 3rd and 5th or the 5th and 7th of the next chord in the three chord system (it’s ideal for three in a bar time signatures). Each ‘destination’ will result in a chord on a different root (work these out and make a note for future reference).

This system can connect with another using any root progression between the last chord of one ‘system’ and the first chord of the next. Depending on the distribution of the chordal notes (open or close position), the passing tones will move in 3rds or 6ths (inverted 3rds) or their compounds (3rd plus an octave, 6th plus an octave). They can occur between any two voices, including the bass and one of the other voices. A starting chord comprising I, III, I,III, offers four different pairs of voices from which to choose (see below). Since the parts are in motion, the less desirable placement of harmonic functions can be briefly tolerated and gives rise to interesting textures.

If we move the 3rd and 5th or the 5th and 7th of a chord (instead of the root and 3rd), the 7th and 9th (of the same chord) obviously do not occur, so that an immediate change of root is required at the second chord in order to furnish them (the starting chord therefore does not necessarily require a doubled 3rd). Strictly speaking, this is not an example of ‘passing notes’ at all, but a complete chord transformation (these are just labels, after all). The effect, nevertheless, is similar and the two techniques described here can be intermingled to give variety. Again, the two notes can continue down stepwise in 3rds or 6ths, requiring a different root progression according to their ‘destination’ (1/3, 3/5, 5/7).

It’s possible to provide a continuous, scalewise progression of passing notes, although the range of the orchestration will become very wide within a short temporal span.

The first (strong) beat of the bar features a sonorous chord distribution and the triadic form at this point will also provide relief where a composer wishes to avoid the saturated effect of too many 7th and secondary 7th chords.

‘Exact’ or ‘tonal’ inversions give intriguing derivatives of a kind that a composer relying on conventional wisdom might not normally conceive (see The Convertibility of Music in the book). Passing notes now ascend instead of descending.

Try writing a complete continuity of passing 7ths and 9ths in four part harmony. Obtain an acceptable melody in the top voice so that the result is musical and not merely a drill. Compose a contrasting second ‘movement’ by using exact or tonal inversions. Watch out for undesirable exposed intervals between the outer voices and for undesirable parallels. These are easily avoided. An amazing variety can be achieved in a pure diatonic setting, giving the effect of a much broader choice of structures. The cyclical nature of the style tolerates many transgressions (see Harmonic and Melodic Sequences in the book).

You may also like to try transposing your efforts into different modes, choosing from any one of the 36 seven unit scales available. It’s less confusing to transpose the original into a different mode and then try out inverted versions of that.

Please forward a copy of this blog to a friend or associate.


One thought on “Double passing notes

  1. Pingback: Musical Taboos | the composer/arranger

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