Prolongation is a term used in music theory to describe the extension or elongation of a musical idea beyond its expected duration. It is one of the most important concepts in tonal music, and it plays a significant role in creating harmonic tension and release.

What Is Prolongation?

In simple terms, prolongation refers to the continuation of a musical idea beyond its expected duration. It’s like stretching a rubber band beyond its normal limit without breaking it. In music, we can stretch or extend a chord or a melody beyond its expected length using various techniques.

Types of Prolongation

There are various types of prolongation in music theory, but the most common ones are:

Harmonic prolongation occurs when a chord is prolonged or sustained beyond its normal harmonic function. This technique creates harmonic tension and release, which is an essential element in tonal music.

Melodic prolongation, on the other hand, involves extending or repeating a melody beyond its expected length. This technique can create anticipation and expectation for the listener.

Rhythmic prolongation involves stretching or pausing rhythmic patterns to create tension and release. This technique can be used to emphasize certain beats or notes in a musical phrase.

How Does Prolongation Work?

Prolongation works by creating tension and release within a piece of music. When we extend or elongate a musical idea, it creates an expectation for resolution. The longer we extend the idea, the greater the tension becomes until it’s finally resolved.

For example, let’s say we have a simple chord progression: C – G – Am – F. If we prolong the G chord, it creates tension because the listener expects the chord to resolve to Am. The longer we hold the G chord, the greater the tension becomes until it finally resolves to Am.

Examples of Prolongation

One classic example of harmonic prolongation is the use of a dominant seventh chord in a dominant function. In a typical V7 – I cadence, the dominant seventh chord prolongs its dominant function by creating tension that resolves when it resolves to I.

Another example of harmonic prolongation is the use of a pedal tone. A pedal tone is a sustained or repeated note that creates harmonic tension and release. It can be used to prolong a chord or create dissonance by clashing with other harmonies.

Melodic and rhythmic prolongation can also be heard in many musical genres. For example, in pop music, choruses often feature prolonged melodic phrases that repeat several times before resolving back to the verse.


In conclusion, prolongation is an essential concept in music theory that creates tension and release within a piece of music. It can be achieved through various techniques like harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic prolongation.

By using these techniques effectively, composers and songwriters can create engaging and memorable musical ideas that keep listeners hooked from start to finish.