Volume 1, Number 1 (Spring 2008)

Descriptive Terminology and Musical Elephants: A Critical Analysis of the Labels Non-chord Tone, Non-harmonic Tone, Melodic Embellishment, Rhythmic Embellishment, Embellishing Tone and Tone of Figuration; and a Proposal for a Three-part Framework for Discussing Elephants

by David Nelson Tomasacci


[1] In the parable of the blind men and the elephant,1 six blind men come to radically different conclusions about the fundamental nature of an elephant. Each man, feeling a different part of the elephant, inaccurately defines the totality of the elephant based upon the characteristic of the portion of the elephant sampled. For example, one blind man, feeling only the elephant's trunk, believes the elephant to be fundamentally like a snake, while the blind man who feels the elephant's tail postulates that the elephant is more like a piece of rope. While, as John Godfrey Saxe states in his 19th-century poem based on this parable, "each was partly in the right," in that each blind man describes a salient feature of the elephant, "all were in the wrong," in that each glosses over every other feature of the elephant by describing it only in terms of the single feature experienced.

[2] This parable is directly relevant to the situation regarding the labeling of passing tones, neighbor tones, appoggiaturas, suspensions, etc. in theory textbooks today. To avoid the ambiguity of the labels under criticism in this article, elephant will be used as a global term to describe all non-chord tones, non-harmonic tones, melodic embellishments, rhythmic embellishments, embellishing tones and tones of figuration. Elephant type will refer to a specific type of elephant, such as a suspension or a cambiata.

[3] The labels used by textbook authors to describe elephants elevate a local description of a specific feature—rhythm, melody or harmony—to the status of a global descriptor in the same way that each blind man in the parable describes the whole elephant with an observation made upon a single body part. The labels non-chord tone and non-harmonic tone imply that elephants are harmonic events. Labels such as melodic embellishment or tone of figuration emphasize the melodic characteristics of elephants. The more obscure rhythmic embellishment elevates the rhythmic characteristics of an elephant. While these labels may function on a local level, their use as global labels for the totality of elephant behavior disregards two out of the following three musical frames: melody, harmony and rhythm. In this article I advance a methodology adapted from the approach to non-harmonic tones in Ottman's Elementary Harmony, in which elephants are discussed through a three-part framework of melody, harmony and rhythm. Specific names of elephant types are not addressed—except for the appoggiatura—in an attempt to clarify its status within the three-part model.

[4] In the first section of this article, A Brief Survey of Terms and Definitions, six textbooks will be surveyed for the terms, labels and definitions given to various elephants, and in some cases, specific elephant types. In Justifications and Rejections of Terms, each author's support, or lack thereof, for the various terms and labels will be presented. Cross-referencing Musical Frames discusses the disadvantages of labeling the totality of elephants by the local descriptions derived from melodic, harmonic and rhythmic characteristics. Steps toward a Three-part Framework for Elephants presents the ways in which each textbook addresses the type of discussion being advanced in this article. Finally, a model for analysis is described in The Three-part Framework for Elephants. Notation of the Three-part Framework demonstrates the model's use in describing a passing tone. Finally, the appoggiatura, whose definition varies the most from textbook to textbook, is addressed in Application: The Appoggiatura.

[5] The following is a composite list of all elephant types encountered throughout the six textbooks surveyed:

Passing tones, neighbor tones, double neighbor tones, incomplete neighbor tones, auxiliary tones, double auxiliary tones, suspensions, cambiata, changing tones, escape tones, appoggiaturas, retardations, anticipations, successive neighbors, pedal tones, suspension chains, ornamented suspensions, double suspensions, échappées, suspensions with change of bass, re-articulated/re-struck suspensions, arrpeggiation, chordal skips/leaps and neighbor groups.

Many of these elephant types may be modified with the distinctions accented or unaccented; upper or lower; and consonant, dissonant or chromatic.

A Brief Survey of Terms and Definitions

[6] In Walter Piston's Harmony elephants are first encountered in Chapter 8, "Nonharmonic Tones." According to Piston, non-harmonic tones are "melodic tones which are not members of the chord against which they are sounded." 2 Despite his decision to use this label, Piston undermines the legitimacy of non-harmonic tone by describing it as a terminological "anachronism"3 and describing non-harmonic tones as primarily melodic events. The reader may refer to Justifications and Rejections of Terms and Cross-referencing Musical Frames for further discussion of this issue.

[7] In chapter 11 of Kostka and Payne's Tonal Harmony, "Non-Chord Tones 1", a non-chord tone is defined as "a tone, either diatonic or chromatic, that is not a member of the chord."4 Inconspicuously throughout the description of the melodic behavior of non-chord tones, the word embellish appears: "the neighboring tone is used to embellish a single tone,"5 and "two common types of [non-chord tone] embellishments are the neighbor and the passing tone."6 However, no definition of embellishment is offered in Tonal Harmony—its definition is left to the inference of the reader.

[8] Clendinning and Marvin's The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis utilizes a wide range of terminology to describe elephants. In Chapter 8, "Intervals in Action (Two-Voice Counterpoint)," passing tones, neighbor tones and consonant skips are encountered for the first time and labeled as melodic embellishments.7 However, no definition of melodic embellishment is ever given. The clearest discussion of melodic embellishments is that "in the melodic elaborations we have considered thus far, we have added consonant or dissonant pitches to decorate a basic note-against-note soprano-bass framework."8

[9] Suspensions are introduced in Chapter 9 of The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis as a type of rhythmic embellishment, another term that is not defined. The authors do, however, assert that "rhythmic elaboration involves shifting consonant pitches of the basic framework forward or backward in time to create a dissonance."9 The implications of the separate category of rhythmic embellishments will be discussed in Steps toward a Three-part Framework.

[10] Finally, in Chapter 13, "Embellishing Tones," Clendinning and Marvin provide a third label for elephants: embellishing tones. Here, the authors seem to be reaching for a single, global description of the melodic and rhythmic embellishments discussed in chapters 8 and 9; that is, a term for elephants.

[11] In Perspectives in Music Theory, Paul Cooper identifies all elephants as non-chord tones, which are "notes … extraneous to the harmony."10 He later defines embellishing tones as "an entire category of non-chord tones [having] a musical function which is primarily that of decoration and embellishment."11 It is important to note that Cooper's embellishing tone is different from Clendinning and Marvin's embellishing tone, which is a global label for an embellishment of a structural framework, be it melodic, rhythmic or harmonic. Cooper's embellishing tones are exclusively melodic events. For example, the cambiata "is an ornamental figuration,"12; in changing tones, "the chord tone is embellished by the notes immediately above and below,"13 and for neighbor tones, the chord tone is once again "embellished—above or below."14

[12] Of all the textbooks surveyed, the use of the term non-chord tone is the most vague in Perspectives in Music Theory. Non-chord tone slowly morphs into non-harmonic tone,15 a term which is used but never defined. Cooper refers to the preparation of a suspension as a harmonic tone,16 a term which is also undefined. When defining neighbor tone, Cooper states that the "chord tone is embellished—above or below—by a single non-harmonic note [not tone!]."17 Finally, in the discussion of appoggiatura,18 Cooper uses the term non-harmonic tone.

[13] Chapters 11 and 12 of Robert Ottman's Elementary Harmony are entitled "Nonharmonic Tones I" and "Nonharmonic Tones II," respectively. Despite the harmonic implications of these titles, Ottman defines non-harmonic tones as "melodic elements in a harmonic context,"19 before providing the suggestion of "recognizing that a tone is not part of a chord [as] the first step in identifying a nonharmonic tone."20

[14] Steven Laitz's use of tone of figuration in The Complete Musician is unique among those texts surveyed. Laitz first defines non-chord tones as those tones which "are not members of the underlying … triad."21 However, he then provides a justification for the use of the term tone of figuration, which is loosely defined by the statement, "we refer to all melodic embellishments generally as tones of figuration."22 Despite its melodic orientation and derivation, tone of figuration is the global descriptor that Laitz adopts for all elephant types.

[15] The Complete Musician suffers from the same inconsistency in terminology as Perspectives in Music Theory, though not to the same extent. In introducing tones of figuration, Laitz states that "we have encountered both consonant embellishments … and dissonant embellishments."23 As in many of the other texts surveyed, embellishment is never defined. In justifying the use of tone of figuration, Laitz also relates that the text "will not use the term nonharmonic tone,"24 a term never before or after mentioned in the text. Non-harmonic tones are never differentiated from the previously defined non-chord tone or the chosen global label, tone of figuration.

Justifications and Rejections of Terms

[16] Piston's discussion of non-harmonic tones reveals a bias against his chosen term. He attempts to show that non-harmonic tone is a misnomer: "literally, there is no such thing as a non-harmonic tone, since tones sounding together create harmony."25 This explanation suffers from Piston's lack of distinction between harmony and chord. It is unclear, given his preference toward melodic descriptions of elephants, why Piston decides to use non-harmonic tones at all.

[17] Kostka and Payne offer no justification for the use of non-chord tones, nor do they negate the usefulness of any other term. In a footnote to the section on the classification of non-chord tones, however, the authors suggest that "[non-chord tone] terminology is not standardized. However, the definitions given here are widely used."26 This statement merely refers to names for specific elephant types, not global terms. The discrepancy between surface-level names for elephant types is not the focus of this article. However, the appoggiatura will be discussed in terms of the proposed Three-part Framework for elephants in Application: The Appoggiatura.

[18] In rejecting the use of non-chord and non-harmonic tones, Clendinning and Marvin assert that "because the pitches that embellish a musical line are usually not members of the underlying harmony, some textbooks call them 'nonharmonic' or 'nonchord tones.' The term 'embellishing tone,' on the other hand, focuses on musical function."27 This is not to suggest that the authors wish to avoid a primarily harmonic discussion of elephants. Rather, they wish to focus on the status of non-harmonic tones as non-structural elements of the harmony, and therefore as embellishments of a structural harmonic progression.

[19] Cooper does not provide justification for the terminology chosen in Perspectives in Music Theory. He does, however, recognize the ambiguities that abound, stating that there are "several categories of non-chord tones—each with varied, and on occasion confusing, nomenclature."28 He also discusses specific labeling inconsistencies when it comes to the difference (or lack thereof) between the accented passing tone and the appoggiatura.29 Similarly, Ottman chooses to explain the difficulty of fully describing elephants rather than defending or rejecting any specific terminology. In Elementary Harmony, he argues that it is "virtually impossible to catalogue them"30 and "impractical to describe the many individual ways they can be used."31

[20] Steven Laitz gives the following as a justification for his use of the label tones of figuration in The Complete Musician:

Because we have encountered both consonant embellishments (including the chordal leap and arppeggiation) and dissonant embellishments (the dissonant passing tone and neighbor tone) we will not use the term nonharmonic tone, given that the consonant embellishments are members of the underlying harmony and therefore are chord tones. Rather, we refer to all melodic embellishments generically as tones of figuration and you may add the prefix consonant or dissonant, depending on their function within the specific musical context.32

Laitz is conceiving of tones of figuration and all elephant types as primarily melodic events, with the clarifying harmonic labels consonant or dissonant.

Cross-referencing Musical Frames

[21] The terms used to describe elephants in the aforementioned texts generally carry specific implications of either melodic, harmonic or rhythmic priority. The elevation of any local label to the status of a global descriptor is similar to each blind man's error in assuming that an elephant is purely describable by that single feature of the elephant with which he has come into contact. Each author, however, discusses at least one other musical frame besides that which the chosen labels emphasizes.

[22] After a brief description of the harmonic characteristics of non-harmonic tones, Piston emphasizes their status as melodic events, stating that "their true nature is inherently melodic and can be discovered by study of the melodic line alone."33 Therefore, according to Piston, a non-harmonic tone may be identified and discussed without any reference to the underlying harmony of a passage.

[23] Kostka and Payne's discussion of elephants is admirable in that they attempt to cross-reference musical frames as discussed in Steps toward a Three-part Framework for Elephants. They do, however, exhibit a bias toward the harmonic description of elephants: "obviously, you have to analyze the chords before you can begin labeling [non-chord tones]."34 While Piston states that non-harmonic tones are recognizable from melodic shape alone, Kostka and Payne identify non-chord tones by considering harmonic context/chord membership.

[24] In The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis, the label melodic embellishment presents melodic characteristics as the primary means of elephant identification. Harmonic considerations are secondary to the discussion of melodic embellishments, which may be formed by "[adding] consonant or dissonant pitches to decorate…."35 While some elephant types do include a description of harmonic characteristics (for example, "passing tones … are melodic embellishments that fill in between chord members [emphasis added] by stepwise motion"36), the melodic-centered discussion reveals a clear bias toward the melodic features of elephants.

[25] Clendinning and Marvin's explanation of rhythmic elaboration involves a cross-referencing of harmonic and rhythmic frameworks: "rhythmic elaboration involves shifting consonant pitches of the basic framework forward or backward in time to create a dissonance."37 A rhythmic embellishment, therefore, cannot be understood without a reference to its harmonic characteristics. However, this is undesirable in its use of a local descriptor as a label for the entire elephant.

[26] Although Cooper introduces the term embellishing tone, he labels all elephants as non-chord tones. According to the author, the passing tone functions as "a melodic connection between two different chords" and is able to "achieve a conjunct melodic motion between the essential chord tones of the basic sonorities."38 Even though the passing-tone discussion references melodic and harmonic functions, Cooper labels the passing tone exclusively as a non-chord tone. The suspension, like the passing tone, is identified only as a non-chord tone despite the usual references to melody, rhythm and harmony. However, when suspension is first defined, Cooper provides the following boldface heading beside his text: "Suspensions (delayed non-chord tones)."39 The mention of delay cross-references harmony and rhythm. Cooper also mentions "the total suspension,"40 which references a melodic identification.

[27] In The Complete Musician, the primarily melodic label tone of figuration is elevated to a description of elephants on a global level, and in Elementary Harmony, the harmonically biased label of non-harmonic tone is elevated to the same effect. In all cases, except for Clendinning and Marvin's embellishing tone that operates within all three frames (melody, rhythm and harmony), these authors make the same mistake as the blind men in the parable: they identify and label an elephant by a specific feature of the elephant.

Steps toward a Three-part Framework for Elephants

[28] Piston recognizes the need to view elephants through three separate frames in his justification of the "purely melodic quality"41 of non-harmonic tones:

It is important to understand that the nonharmonic tones do not derive their melodic and rhythmic characteristics from the fact that they are foreign to the harmony.42

Despite his use of the term non-harmonic tones to describe the totality of these musical events, Piston recognizes that the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic qualities of his non-harmonic tones are separate and independent entities. However, he employs a harmonic label—non-harmonic tone—as a global term for elephants, and describes all elephants as primarily melodic events.

[29] After introducing non-chord tones and their harmonic implications, Kostka and Payne proceed to discuss classifications of non-chord tones as melodic: "one way of classifying [non-chord tones] is according to the way in which they are approached and left,"43 and rhythmic: "[non-chord tones] can be further classified as to their duration and relative degree of accent."44 The authors present this general classification of non-chord tones according to melodic and rhythmic features before entering into a detailed examination of any single elephant type.

[30] Kostka and Payne further distinguish between melodic and harmonic characteristics of non-chord tones in their discussion of the undefined embellishment. While they list passing and neighbor tones as non-chord tone embellishments, they list arpeggiation as "another type of embellishment, although it is not a non-chord tone."45 This draws a line between the status of elephants as harmonic non-chord tones and melodic embellishments. A distinction is made between harmonic and melodic behavior.

[31] Clendinning and Marvin introduce suspensions as a form of rhythmic embellishment, "a second general category of embellishment."46 A clear distinction is made between melodic and rhythmic embellishments. While priority is given to the rhythmic aspect of suspensions, the authors offer a more in-depth discussion of the harmonic and melodic characteristics than in the discussion of other elephant types. Clendinning and Marvin's approach is unique in classifying an entire category of embellishments as being separate from strictly melodic embellishment.

[32] In Perspectives in Music Theory, all elephants are designated as non-chord tones, and embellishing tones as "an entire category of non-chord tones."47 Hence, elephants not only have a harmonic quality (as non-chord tones) but also a characteristic described as embellishing. Cooper succeeds at a two-part framework (harmony-melody) to describe the cambiata, changing tones, neighbor tones and escape tones. Neither passing tones nor suspensions work in this framework.

[33] Ottman's discussion of non-harmonic tones in Elementary Harmony moves closest toward a three-part framework for elephants. Before providing a full definition, Ottman refers to non-harmonic tones as "melodic elements in a harmonic context."48 When discussing rhythmic features, he mentions that non-harmonic tones "may be found unaccented or accented."49 There is, however, no mention of non-harmonic tones categorized by rhythmic distinctions.

[34] Elementary Harmony includes a methodology for discussing non-harmonic tones:

The several varieties of non-harmonic tones are differentiated by a three-note melodic pattern
  1. the harmonic tone preceding, called the note of approach
  2. the dissonance
  3. the harmonic tone following, called the note of resolution.50

Throughout the text, "each variety of nonharmonic tone is defined by the melodic relationship of these notes to each other."51 The approach to and departure from non-harmonic tones is discussed within this three-note melodic pattern for each elephant type. In The Three-part Framework for Elephants the Ottman model will be adapted by including a harmonic and two-level rhythmic frame.

[35] Laitz similarly begins to incorporate a three-part framework for elephants. By presenting unaccented and accented tones of figuration, Laitz reinforces the importance of rhythmic behavior as an additional and distinct criterion for discriminating elephant types. "We group tones of figuration into two categories, based on their rhythmic placement."52 Laitz posits the classification of elephants also according to their harmonic behavior: "we further classified the unaccented tones of figuration into those that are consonant … and those that are dissonant."53 Laitz's concept tone of figuration is a melodic description used as a global term for all elephants, which gets modified by the labels consonant and dissonant or accented and unaccented.

[36] Laitz's discussion of the unaccented passing tone is pristine in terms of a three-part framework. It is cited as an example of the only dissonance allowed in second species counterpoint, placing it in a harmonic context.54 It is also presented within the larger context of a weak-beat dissonance, revealing its rhythmic quality; and it is discussed melodically as "[filling] the space within the interval of a third."55 Free of the constraints of a global label derived from a specific feature of elephant behavior, Laitz is able to discuss the passing tone with equal attention paid to all three fundamental musical frameworks: harmony, melody and rhythm.

The Three-Part Framework for Elephants

[37] I propose a method in which elephants are discussed with respect to melody, harmony and rhythm. This model clarifies the terminological malformation discussed throughout this article by restricting the use of terms derived from local descriptions of elephants to discussions regarding elephants at local levels. For example, when an elephant is being discussed through the frame of harmony, the elephant may be labeled as a (non-)harmonic tone or (non-)chord tone. When the melodic construction of the elephant is being discussed, the elephant may be referred to as a melodic embellishment, ornamentation or tone of figuration. And when the elephant's rhythm is under scrutiny, it can be labeled as a type of rhythmic embellishment—accented or unaccented; metrical, submetrical or supermetrical.

[38] The three frames in which all elephants exist and operate are separate and must be discussed independently. Elephants are not all primarily melodic, harmonic or rhythmic events, but rather exist in all three of these frames. This does not preclude the possibility of specific elephant types as being governed by one frame more than others. Rather, this model is meant to negate the a priori assumptions imposed by the use of local labels at the global level.

Notation of the Three-part Framework

Figure 1. A graphic system for the Three-part Framework.

Figure 1

(Click to enlarge.)

[39] Figure 1 presents a notational system to aid in the application of the Three-part Framework, applying melody, harmony and rhythm to Ottman's pattern of approach, dissonance and resolution. Ottman's dissonance is replaced with the melodically oriented labels melodic embellishment or tone of figuration. In the Three-part Framework, the middle position of the melodic frame will be filled with the name of the specific elephant type.

[40] In this particular notational system, melodic motion is labeled with the following three symbols above the diagram: an upwards-pointing chevron for step; a horizontal bracket for leap; and a slur for common tone/no melodic movement. These symbols can be further clarified by qualifiers such as ascending, descending, same direction or opposite direction. Within the harmonic frame each pitch of the melodic frame is classified according to its harmonic status. These labels indicate whether the pitch is a member of the harmony or chord. The rhythmic frame presents rhythmic status (accented or unaccented) and placement according to a strong or weak beat.

[41] In the Three-part Framework it is unimportant to notate the total metrical duration of elephants. For instance, in Example 1 and Example 2, both passing tones have the same supermetrical status. In fact, if the rhythmic discussion involved only a distinction between accented/unaccented and beat placement, the two examples would be identical. This is revealed in the Three-part Frame for Example 1 in Figure 2 and the Three-part Frame for Example 2 in Figure 3. However, this analysis overlooks the different harmonic rhythms of the two examples. Therefore, harmonic rhythm is a second level of the rhythmic frame, which must be discussed and accounted for in order to achieve a full understanding of the elephant type under discussion. In this notational system, harmonic rhythm is indicated by vertical brackets.

Figure 2. Three-part Frame for Example 1

Figure 2

Figure 3. Three-part Frame for Example 2

Figure 3

Application: The Appoggiatura

[42] The Three-part Framework for elephants may clarify some of the inconsistencies between various extant definitions of appoggiatura. The disagreement exists between those classifying the appoggiatura as a primarily rhythmic event—dissonance on a strong, accented beat—and those classifying the appoggiatura according to a specific melodic behavior—approach by leap and departure by step (normatively in the opposite direction).

[43] According to Piston, "all nonharmonic tones are rhythmically weak, with the single exception of the appoggiatura."56 Hence, all rhythmically strong non-harmonic tones should be considered appoggiaturas. "The rhythm of the appoggiatura followed by its note of resolution is invariably strong-to-weak."57 The only melodic characteristics Piston offers for the appoggiatura is that "it finally resolves, by half or whole step."58 He does not prescribe the melodic approach or departure. The appoggiaturas given as examples in Harmony would be categorized as different types of elephants by the various theory textbooks surveyed in this article. For example, Piston states that "the 'accented passing tone' is really an appoggiatura"59 and that in a suspension, if the "[preparation] were not tied over, the effect would be of an appoggiatura."60 Thus, in Piston's view, the appoggiatura is any rhythmically accented non-harmonic tone, regardless of the specific melodic approach and departure.

[44] Kostka and Payne present the appoggiatura in primarily melodic terms, defined as "a nonchord tone that is approached by leap and resolved by step."61 This leap-step model is the one normatively presented in discussions of the appoggiatura. "All appoggiaturas are approached by leap and left by step,"62 and "in most cases" are "approached by ascending leap, and resolved by descending step."63 While the authors state that "as a very general rule, appoggiaturas are accented,"64 the appoggiatura is more important as a non-chord tone approached by leap and resolved by step (a melodic event), than it is as an accented non-chord tone (a rhythmic event).

[45] In The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis, the appoggiatura is defined as a type of incomplete neighbor: "accented incomplete neighbors…, which form dissonance and resolve down by step, are sometimes known as 'appoggiaturas'."65 This definition is clarified in the Appendix 2 glossary: "a dissonance that occurs on a strong beat and usually resolves down by step."66 The authors recognize the inconsistency in defining appoggiatura by stating that "some theorists restrict this term to an accented dissonance approached by skip or leap; others consider appoggiaturas accented incomplete neighbors (or complete if approached by step)."67 In both definitions provided by the authors, the appoggiatura is presented as a dissonance that is accented (rhythmic frame) and resolves by step (melodic frame). Clendinning and Marvin pay equal attention to the harmonic and melodic behavior of the appoggiatura.

[46] Paul Cooper describes the appoggiatura as a "somewhat controversial embellishing tone."68 His solution to this controversy is to present both common definitions:

Two principal interpretations of the term are listed below:
  1. A non-harmonic tone on the rhythmically strong part of the beat which resolves step-wise to a chord tone on the weak part of the beat
  2. A non-harmonic tone approached by leap and resolving, typically, step-wise down.69

Although he presents both definitions, Cooper may have a slight bias toward the primarily rhythmic description of appoggiaturas: "one of the few areas of agreement among writers concerning the appoggiatura is that it is rhythmically strong; i.e., the dissonance is on the strong part of the beat."70

[47] In Elementary Harmony, "the appoggiatura is approached by leap and resolved by step. The resolution is usually opposite to that of the leap."71 As in Perspectives in Music Theory, Ottman provides the reader with dissenting definitions:

The term appoggiatura also has other meanings:
  1. Many theorists apply the term to any nonharmonic tone in a strong rhythmic position, regardless of the note of approach. The suspension tied to its resolution is an exception.
  2. The term is also given to a small note appearing before a principal note in a melody. This appoggiatura receives half the value of the following undotted note, or two thirds the value of the following dotted note value. This practice is found in music of the Baroque and Classical eras.72

[48] Finally, in The Complete Musician, Laitz offers a balanced definition of the appoggiatura: "Appoggiaturas enter by leap and are dissonant and accented. They are related to other tones of figuration only that they resolve by step to a chord tone (and usually in the opposite direction of their leap…). Thus, the appoggiatura behaves very much like the accented incomplete neighbor … we will tend to refer to accented incomplete neighbors as appoggiaturas."73 The appoggiatura is here presented in both melodic and rhythmic frames.

[49] By analyzing the appoggiatura with the Three-part Framework, the appogiatura is operates equally in the frames of melody and rhythm. Appoggiatura can now be described as follows:

As a melodic embellishment (in the melodic frame), the appoggiatura is normatively approached by leap and resolved by step in the opposite direction.74 As a rhythmic embellishment (in the rhythmic frame), the appoggiatura is accented, occurring on a strong beat or strong beat division.

Through the Three-part Framework, the different features of the appoggiatura do not conflict; they operate in the two entirely different frames of melody and rhythm.

[50] Example 3, Example 4, and the Three-part Frames for these examples (Figure 4 and Figure 5) present a notated analysis of two appoggiaturas. The first example (Example 3) conforms to the primarily rhythmic definition though it also behaves as a melodic appoggiatura. The second example (Example 4) behaves exclusively as a melodic appoggiatura.

Figure 4. Three-Part Frame for Example 3

Figure 4

Figure 5. Three-Part Frame for Example 4

Figure 5

(Click to enlarge.)

[51] Certain patterns within each frame are soon revealed to be paradigmatic for many elephants within said frame. For example, if an elephant is dissonant the harmonic pattern is HT–NHT–HT. If an elephant is unaccented, the pattern is accented–unaccented–accented. However, is it acceptable to assert a priority of one frame over another when talking about the appoggiatura, or any elephant type in general?

[52] The careful partitioning of terminology according to the Three-part Framework does not preclude one frame from occupying a higher status over the others within a specific elephant type. This involves the subtle, yet tremendous distinction between the following statements: "a suspension is a rhythmic embellishment" and "a suspension is primarily a rhythmic embellishment." Most definitions in the textbooks surveyed could be improved by inserting primarily in front of their global label of choice. Compared with the normative rhythmic frame for most elephants, the rhythmically-oriented definition of the appoggiatura is unusual in that it presents the non-harmonic tone on a strong beat. Compared with other elephants, this rhythmic distinction is a striking feature.

The Elephant in the Room

[53] What term, then, should theorists use as a global label for elephants? The choice is arbitrary as long as the chosen label does not elevate a term derived from local behavior to a global level. Clendinning and Marvin's embellishing tone, for example, may function as a usable term. As long as the criteria presented in the Three-part Framework is addressed, the method of presentation is up to the discrimination of the individual.


Clendinning, Jane Piper and Elizabeth West Marvin. The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Cooper, Paul. Perspectives in Music Theory: An Historical-Analytical Approach. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974.

Kostka, Stefan and Dorothy Payne. Tonal Harmony: With an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music. 4th Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2000.

Laitz, Steven C. 2nd Edition. The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Tonal Theory, Analysis, and Listening. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Piston, Walter. Harmony. 3rd Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1962.

Ottman, Robert W. Elementary Harmony: Theory and Practice. 5th Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1998.


1 This parable claims its roots in many traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Jain.

2 Walter Piston, Harmony, 3rd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1962), 80.

3 Ibid., 81.

4 Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne, Tonal Harmony: With an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music, 4th ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2000), 177.

5 Ibid., 181.

6 Ibid., 188.

7 Jane Piper Clendinning and Elizabeth West Marvin, The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 146–151.

8 Ibid., 165.

9 Ibid.

10 Paul Cooper, Perspectives in Music Theory: An Historical-Analytical Approach (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974), 102.

11 Ibid., 115.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., 116.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 117.

16 Ibid., 102.

17 Ibid., 116.

18 Ibid., 117.

19 Robert W. Ottman, Elementary Harmony: Theory and Practice, 5th ed. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1998), 236.

20 Ibid.

21 Stephen C. Laitz, The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Tonal Theory, Analysis, and Listening, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 164.

22 Ibid., 165.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Piston, 80.

26 Kostka and Payne, 178.

27 Clendinning and Marvin, 221.

28 Cooper, 102.

29 Ibid.

30 Ottman, 270.

31 Ibid., 277.

32 Laitz, 165.

33 Piston, 80.

34 Kostka and Payne, 177.

35 Clendinning and Marvin, 165.

36 Ibid., 147.

37 Ibid., 165.

38 Cooper, 102.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Piston, 80.

42 Ibid.

43 Kostka and Payne, 178.

44 Ibid.

45 Ibid, 188.

46 Clendinning and Marvin, 165.

47 Cooper, 115.

48 Ottman, 236.

49 Ibid, 248.

50 Ibid, 236.

51 Ibid, 276.

52 Laitz, 303.

53 Ibid.

54 Laitz also discusses the consonant passing tone, which is still in agreement with the Three-part Framework.

55 Laitz, 107.

56 Piston, 160.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid., 81.

60 Ibid., 86.

61 Kostka and Payne, 201.

62 Ibid., 194.

63 Ibid., 201.

64 Ibid., 193.

65 Clendinninng and Marvin, 156.

66 Ibid., A56.

67 Ibid.

68 Cooper, 117.

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid.

71 Ottman, 263.

72 Ibid., 265.

73 Laitz, 309.

74 Optionally, no directional restraints may be provided.