What Is a Common Tone in Music Theory?


Vincent White

In music theory, a common tone refers to a note that is present in both chords of a harmonic progression. This means that the note remains the same while the chords change. It is an essential concept in understanding chord progressions and how they function in music.

How Does a Common Tone Work?

When two chords share a common tone, it creates a sense of stability and continuity in the music. This is because the listener can hear a connection between the two chords, even though they may sound different.

For example, let’s take the C major chord (C, E, G) and G major chord (G, B, D). If we play these two chords consecutively with no common tone, it may sound disjointed or abrupt. However, if we add a common tone (G), such as holding onto the G note while moving from C major to G major chord or vice versa, it creates a smoother transition between the two chords.

Types of Common Tones

There are three types of common tones:

  • Pitch Common Tone – This occurs when there is one note that is present in both chords.
  • Chordal Common Tone – This occurs when there is one note that belongs to both chords but may be voiced differently.
  • Common Tone by Inversion – This occurs when there are two notes that are both held over from one chord to another but switch positions or inversions within each respective chord.

Uses of Common Tones

The use of common tones has been used for centuries in various styles of music and can be heard in many popular songs today. One way composers use common tones is to create smooth transitions between chords. By using a common tone between two chords instead of moving all notes to new pitches, it creates a harmonic connection that makes the music sound more fluid.

Another way common tones are used is to create a sense of tension and release. When a common tone is held over from one chord to another, it creates a dissonance that can be resolved by moving the note to a different pitch in the next chord. This resolution creates a sense of release or resolution that can be heard in many musical compositions.


In conclusion, understanding common tones is an essential concept in music theory when studying chord progressions. It allows for smoother transitions between chords and can create tension and release in music. By incorporating common tones into your compositions, you can create a sense of coherence that will enhance your musical creations.