Passing Tones In Music & Piano Playing – How To Use Them
Listen to my podcast on passing tones by clicking the button below:
Here is a transcript of the podcast:
Hello again. This is Duane and this is more good stuff you really ought to know.
One thing you really ought to know is how to use passing tones. Passing tones are tones that are not part of the chord, they pass through the chord. You live in a house and the family members of that house belong in that house but there’s other people that just pass through that house, maybe the refrigerator repairman, he passes through the house, or the mailman passes through the house or the guy that works on the stove. They’re passing through.
That’s the way these tones are. They’re passing through but what they do is they beautify the chord. I don’t think that can always be said of plumbers and mailmen that go through the house but it certainly be said of these non-chordal tones.
Let’s play the C-chord [Duane playing piano]. Anything that I pass through that C-chord would be called a passing tone. In other words, if I played a melody that went like this: [Duane playing piano], we would have to say that D and F are passing tones. C, E, and G, that I played, they’re chord tones; they’re not passing tones but D is a passing tone, F is a passing tone. D and F are passing tones. If I play: [Duane playing piano] a chromatic scale then all those half-steps are passing tones, as well.
Not every passing tone sounds good with chords. I want to point out the most usable passing tones. The most usable passing tones are the ninth also known as the second. Sometimes in pop music you’ll see that, the ninth notated as the second. In the key of C, that would be D. Whether you call it the second or the ninth, we’re talking about the same note and it’s a D.
[Duane Playing piano] If you did something like that, that would be a passing tone, the ninth passing to the root. You’ve heard that kind of thing. Listen. [Duane playing piano]. Remember several Olympics ago, if you’re old enough to remember that. There was an athlete, Olympic athlete from Russia known as Nadia Comaneci, I believe, and this song, which she had play during her performance came to be known as Nadia’s Theme.
Anyway, what’s going on is we’re having a passing ninth to the root. Remember the Carpenters? Karen Carpenter and her brother? They used a lot of that kind of thing. [Duane playing piano] You’ve heard that kind of thing. That’s simply the ninth passing to the root.
Now, there’s other kinds of passing tones that will work also. That probably the next most used or the next best would be the seventh, the major seventh, [Duane playing piano] passing to the sixth or the sixth to the fifth. On C that would be the C chord with B passing to A or A passing to G or any combination thereof. In other words, you could have B to A to G.
Quite often, this will be on the bottom of the chord. For example, if I played the C-chord and I had B on the bottom and then A and then G, it adds a lot of … a lot of interest to it because it’s changing the chord all the time. You see, the chord, the C-chord remains standard, doesn’t it? It remains steady [Duane playing piano] but those inside passing tones make a lot of interest. You can just experiment and do them at random. You don’t have to go down incidentally the way I did, you could come up. You could go: G … A … B … C or G … A … B … A … G … A … B … A or D … C … B … A … D … C … B … A or A … B … C … D … D … C … B … A …. You see that?
Can you move more than one note at a time? Sure. If you had the C-chord: [Duane playing piano] I’m playing E on top, C in the middle and G on the bottom. Now, instead of C in the middle, put in D and B. That’s the ninth and the seventh, isn’t it? Now, move D and B down to C and A [Duane playing piano]. See that? That makes it interesting. Could you move it down chromatically? Sure. Move from D and B down to D-flat and B-flat and C and A. [Duane playing piano and humming].
On this song I could do that. With G on top, I’d have E under it. The C-chord but also D and B [Duane playing piano], the color tones, and then passing down to D-flat and B-flat, then C and A. Listen: [Duane playing piano and humming] that’s a passing ninth right there. I have the A-minor chord but I have B passing to A, that ninth passing to A. There I had the C-chord with the D passing to C.
Also, you can pass it gently or you can do it like that: [Duane playing piano]. If you pass it kind of like so, that’s called a grace note or a twang. It can provide a little bit of a twang. Twangs are used in Western music but they’re also used in New Age music [Duane playing piano] and certain kinds of jazz and fusion, as well. It comes from getting off that passing tone quickly and then resolving it. For example, I’m playing D, E and G together but I’m letting D up and then playing C. See that? [Duane playing piano] Those are all passing tones that you are hearing, passing sixth, passing seventh and passing ninth.
There’s some ideas about passing tones. How do you proceed from here? You use the scientific method. It’s called trial and error. Any song you’re playing, you plug in a ninth and pass it to the root or you plug in a major seventh and pass it to the sixth or you plug in a sixth and you pass it to the fifth or you combine them like I did on some of that, that I just played for you. Experiment around and you’ll discover some neat things. In general terms, the more emotion you can get under the melody, the better because the melody can kind of be static, can’t it? Because quite often, it’s held for long periods of time.
For example, if you were playing this song: one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four. You see, I’m playing A-flat for four beats and then D-flat for four beats. What can I do to make that more interesting? I can use passing tones [Duane playing piano]. Pretend you didn’t hear that error. Remember how the song goes. Ninth, seventh, sixth, fifth. Major seventh to the sixth; ninth, root, seventh, fifth. You see that? You just make it so much more interesting. Instead of sitting one, two, three, four, in a set of that, but you create some motion.
That motion can be in quarter notes like that: [Duane playing piano] one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four or it can be in eight notes: one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four; one, and two, and three, and four; and one, and two, and three, and four; and one, and two, and three, and four; and one, and two, and three, and four; and one, and two, and three, and four; and one, and two, and three. You see that? I was using eighth note, which eighth notes on the passing tones, under the melody, which made it a lot fuller and a lot flowing.
There’s some more good stuff you really ought to know. Combine that with the other things I’ve been sharing with you over the last few months and anything else you can do to make your playing more interesting.
We’ll see you again next month. Bye-bye for now.
For a complete course in creating passing tones in your piano playing, click on the link below: