common tones

Common tones between what? Common tones between chord changes? But of course. Like guide tones? Yep, to a certain degree. Players of all of the American styles use this basic technique in their work. For, not only can a common tone pitch help glue together a more complex cycling of chords, even basic diatonic triadic motions seem more solid. When we sustain one pitch within the music, in any of the musical styles, it takes on a new emotional character and becomes the focal point, it's repetition helping to keep things together while the tonal gravity and sense of climax can increase dramatically. The pedal tones are good at creating this wonderful dynamic in the music. The sense of being locked in yet spinning nearly out of control? Yep, that's what I am trying to get at.

Anyway, creating chord progressions with chord progressions is pretty easy in theory and sometimes a bit tricky in practice. The tricky part is coming up with nice sonorities and chord voicings to support the common tone. Probably more of a task on guitar than piano, our two primary chordal instruments for American music, as the common tone pitch is generally in the lead of a voicing, or the highest pitch in the chord. In this first idea, we use folk harmony and make the tonic pitch of the key our common tone. Example 1.

    C maj   F   G sus 4   C

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These last chord voicings are guitar chord shapes. What players will oftentimes do is to rhythmically alter or accent the common tone pitch so as to bring it out a bit more from the fabric of the music. Of course, we could have another instrument play it also if that option was available etc. Note clef change in this next idea as we set the tonic common tone apart. Example 2.

    C maj   F   G sus 4   C

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Cool how the triplet turns the heat up a notch or two eh? This last idea sounds a bit like the last few bars of an arrangement, coming to a stong and confident finish built around the tonic common tone. Can we use other pitches than the tonic for our common tone? Of course. The blue notes are popular choices as is the dominant or 5th scale degree of the key.

Do blues and rock players enjoy the benefits of the common tone? Totally, here is a blues idea using these basic principles. Example 3.

   C 7#9   F 9   G 7#9#5   C 7#9

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So, is this more of a "common tone melody line" than a common tone within the chords? Yes pretty much. The blue notes always present some interesting challenges when combined with equal temper chords.

What about the jazz artist? They must use this common tone thing right? Why, they use every other nook and cranny of all of our musical resources, why would they forget this cool and essential common tone lick? Well as you may surmise, they don't. Jazz players tend to do it all musically in regards to the American styles and yes, the common tone ideas are often included in their arrangements, improvisations and compositions. Here is a cool and common intro / outro using the tonic common tone. Example 4.

  F# -7b5    F - 7  E -7  Eb 13 D -7  Db maj 7   C maj

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Cool how the melody pitch becomes different color tones as the progression unfolds. Can anything come from anywhere? Dig the little blip in the melody? Jazz players just often can't leave well enough alone, they "turn the beauty of the melody, until it sounds just like a symphony", or so the song goes...

Where to next?
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Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved. Willian Jennings Bryan