Harmonic Extensions in the Melody

Sometimes a melody note is not found in the underlying chords and it isn't a passing tone. If this is the case, it's probably a harmonic extension. Don't be fooled; these pitches are still part of the harmony even though they are not played by the harmony instrument(s). For example, a C7 chord (C, E, G, B in the melody becomes a slightly different chord. Specifically, it becomes a C7 flat-9 chord. The chord or accompaniment instrument(s) needn't play the extension, but if it appears in the melody it must be considered part of the harmonic content. Moreover, harmonic extensions may occur on strong or weak beats.

Can a harmonic extension also be a chord tone?Absolutely. If the accompanying instrument(s) doubles the extension being played or sung in the melody, it may be called a chord tone. If the note merely floats above the chordal accompaniment it is not a chord tone, simply an extension.

The bottom line: Tonal composers use harmonic extensions regularly. In other words, professional music is not limited, by any means, to chordal triads and passing tones. Sometimes, the extended note appears only in the melody line. If this is the case, it cannot technically be called a chord tone. Figure 8-5 shows a myriad of harmonic extensions written in the melody line but not in the accompaniment.

FIGURE 8-5: Examples of harmonic extensions in the melody line

Alone, the harmonic extensions seen in Figure 8-5 don't tell the full story. In order to understand their purpose, study a musical example that features an actual chord progression. This is illustrated in Figure 8-6.

In Figure 8-6, the melody line uses chord tones, passing tones, and extensions. Analyze each measure and determine where each of these three elements appears. After this, create your own melody that incorporates chord tones, passing tones, and extensions.

Remember, without harmonic extensions, your work may sound plain, so get used to using them in both the melody and harmony parts.

FIGURE 8-6: Progression using harmonic extensions, chord tones, and passing tones

If you don't know how to pair up extensions with specific chords types, see Chapter 6. Overall, extensions add depth and color to your work often by invoking the concept of tension and release. As you will learn in Chapter 10, tension and release is a critical component in the telling of a musical story. Once you've analyzed Figure 8-6 see Figure 8-7 to check your work.

FIGURE 8-7: Analysis of Figure 8-6

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