Compose Yourself: Prelude To Power Tones

beatles Ever listen to a melody where one note pulls on your heart strings with such intensity that it hurts, but at the same time feels so good that you just have to envy any songwriter who could perform such a magic feat.

These emotion-laden notes often come from the family of “non-chord tones,” which is to say, “tones that do not belong to the chord of the moment.” At least that’s what they’re called in music theory class. But this term always seemed unsatisfactory to me because it downplays and distracts from what’s most significant about them, so I’ve decided to rewrite the book on non-chord tones, starting with the July/August 2014 column.

The first step is to give them a new name. “Power tones” will do until something better comes along, because it puts the focus on the emotional punch they wield. Now I could talk until I was blue in the face about non-chord tones, but unless you hear them, particularly as they live and breathe in hit songs, you will not appreciate how different they are from the other tones in a melody. Recognizing this difference is the first step in learning to employ them in your own songwriting, even if you already know the dictionary definition of a “non-chord tone.”

So, with that in mind, I’m working on one or more videos to introduce power tones in sound as well as spirit. Links to the videos will appear here. They will also be posted on the SongwritingABCs channel on YouTube along with instructional videos for the excerpts from my book, Compose Yourself, which is being serialized here at americansongwriter.com (just email [email protected] and type “Request ‘Compose Yourself’ Excerpts’ in the Subject line... Sign In to Keep Reading

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