Passing tones are an important concept in music theory that helps musicians enhance their compositions and improvisations. A passing tone is a non-chord tone that fills the gap between two chord tones, creating a smooth and melodic transition.

When a musician plays a melody, they can use passing tones to create a sense of motion and direction. Passing tones can be used to connect chord tones or to embellish melodic lines. They are often used in conjunction with other non-chord tones such as neighboring tones and suspensions.

Passing tones come in different types, including diatonic passing tones, chromatic passing tones, and auxiliary passing tones. Diatonic passing tones are notes that belong to the key of the song and are used to connect two chords within that key.

Chromatic passing tones are notes that do not belong to the key of the song but serve as an embellishment between two chords. Auxiliary passing tones are used to create a rhythmic interest by adding an extra note between two chord notes.

One way to identify a passing tone is by looking at its function in relation to the surrounding chords. Passing tones usually move stepwise from one chord tone to another and do not disrupt the harmonic progression of the song.

Here is an example of using a diatonic passing tone in a melody:

example of using diatonic passing tone

In this example, we have a simple melody consisting of three notes: C – E – G. By adding a diatonic passing tone (D) between C and E, we create a smoother transition between those two notes.

Passing tones can also be used in harmony, particularly in voice-leading techniques such as counterpoint. In counterpoint, composers use multiple voices (melodies) that move independently but harmonize with each other.

Here’s an example of using chromatic passing tone in harmony:

example of using chromatic passing tone in harmony

In this example, we have two voices moving independently. The top voice moves from C to E, while the bottom voice moves from A to G. By adding a chromatic passing tone (Bb) between A and G, we create a smoother transition between those two notes and add more interest to the harmonization.

In conclusion, passing tones are an essential tool for musicians in creating smooth and melodic transitions in melodies and harmonies. Understanding the different types of passing tones can help musicians compose better music and improvise more effectively.