Measure For Measure: Lean On Me

IMG_3146 Want a three-step formula for power-tone effects. Stand by for more. Meanwhile, if you’ve noticed a bit of Hollywood in the term “power tone,” you’re right: it was coined to tout a valuable musical resource while sweetening the theory part with humor. One reader, however, was not amused and wrote in to set me straight, saying that what I call “power tones” are actually “tensions,” a jazz theory term taught at Berklee, where he studied. He also remarked that “Once a note is used against a chord that is not part of the chord, it becomes part of the harmony ... If you have a Cmajor7 chord, the B [the 7th] is not a non-chord tone.” Unfortunately, this is the kind of fender bender that occurs when theories collide. While “tensions” are a useful concept in jazz improvisation, they belong to a world in which the line between harmony and melody is somewhat blurred. The second remark reflects this mindset. “Power tones” stem from traditional harmony, in which the melody maintains horizontal independence. To explain: Melodies are mostly made up of chord tones, with non-chord tones as connective tissue. In a typical harmony class, all the non-chord tones are lumped together, which is misleading, since they are not equals in terms of expressiveness. “Power tones” simply highlights a magical subgroup: accented non-chord tones. Examples include the accented neighbor tones in “Strawberry Fields” (“Let me take you down…”) and “Ticket To Ride” (“I think I’m gon-na be sad…”), and the accented passing tones in “Please Please Me” (“Last night I said…”) and “Nowhere Man” (“…making all his no-where plans…”)—poignant melodic moments, all of them. Non-chord tones are sometimes called... Sign In to Keep Reading

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