Suomeksi | In English

Non-harmonic notes

Notes that do not form part of the chord or harmony against which they are sounded are non-harmonic. They usually resolve into harmonic notes by degrees.  Non-harmonic notes often work to build and embellish the melody, and they are more important to the music than the word itself would imply.

1. Interchordal (unaccented), non-harmonic notes

Most non-harmonic notes connect successive chords and are therefore unaccented in terms of harmonic rhythm. In the example below (non-harmonic notes 1), the time signature could be, for example, 2/2 with unaccented second and fourth beats. In a typical harmony, chords change on a crotchet, leaving quavers and shorter note values unaccented.

In tonal music, non-harmonic notes are part of voice leading. A harmonic note, leading the melody to or from a non-harmonic note, is usually known as the main note.


Passing note

  • a non-harmonic note between two chords in a rising or falling melody (bar 1)
  • a passing note can comply with the key, or it can be chromatic, or there can be several simultaneous passing notes (bar 2)
  • a passing note (in American English, passing tone) is usually symbolized by P
  • the terms above can also be used to indicate (accented) passing notes in a melody progressing stepwise (see appoggiatura)

Neighbouring note

  • different from a passing note, in that the melody does not progress stepwise; in other words, the neighbouring note returns to the original note (bar 3)
  • neighbouring notes can be chromatic, and there can be several of them simultaneously (bar 4)
  • also called an auxiliary note
  • a distinction is often made between an upper (UN) and a lower (LN) neighbouring note
  • a neighbouring note can also be a leading note when it is a semitone apart from the main note.

Incomplete neighbouring note/Free passing note

  • a melody progresses from (bar 5) or to (bar 6) a harmonic note stepwise
  • an incomplete neighbouring note is often abbreviated IN


  • a non-harmonic note anticipating a chord
  • the rarest of all non-harmonic notes; typical only in cadences, often after a dotted rhythm

Non-harmonic notes 1

Non-harmonic notes

2. Accented non-harmonic notes

An accented, non-harmonic note is in dissonance with the simultaneous chord and requires resolution.  


There are three phases to a suspension (see the following example Non-harmonic notes 2):

  1. preparation; one (or more) tones from the preceding chord are held over
  2. suspension
  3. stepwise resolution, usually downwards, except for an upwards suspension (7-8), also called retardation

A suspension is often on the 1st or 5th. In a tonic chord, suspension happens on the active tones of the key (2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th). A suspension is often accentuated; even though there is a tie between a preparing and a suspended note, the suspended note is more accentuated than the resolution. It is clearest to mark suspension and resolution with numbers (see the example).

Appoggiatura (1): an unprepared suspension

The word appoggiatura has two related meanings. In connection with non-harmonic notes, appoggiatura (app.) means the absence of the first phase (preparation) of suspension (bar 7). The term accented passing note can also be used if the appoggiatura is part of a stepwise progression.

Non-harmonic notes 2

Appoggiatura (2): an accentuated grace note

Since the Baroque period, certain types of ornaments, the appoggiatura being perhaps the most common, have been marked with grace notes. A grace note is smaller than a regular note, often with the duration of an eighth note or a half of the duration of its main note (see the example on Mozart below). The appoggiatura is more accentuated than the main note (appoggiare = to lean).

The following details are worth noting in connection with the appoggiatura:

  • it is always tied to the main note (even when the tie is not marked)
  • the duration of an appoggiatura is usually half of the main note; in other words, the main note is shortened in proportion
  • in triplet metres, the appoggiatura can last longer than the main note
  • it is accented; thus, the main note is shifted forward in time

The figure at the beginning of the example is played legato in 16th notes. The G is, however, slightly accented. Notice the appoggiaturas beginning a bar.

Mozart KV 315 I

It is unclear why appoggiaturas were often written in smaller notes in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to Leopold Mozart, it was a way of avoiding unnecessary rambling in a musical figure.

The term acciaccatura refers to playing a chord as a quick arpeggio including non-harmonic tones. An acciaccatura is marked with a grace note with a slash through the note stem.