Elements of Figuration
The term “figuration” refers to a melodic progression that animates a linear harmonic substructure by means of quicker motion or rhythmic displacement.
Harmonic tones are the chord tones: root, third, or fifth. Nonharmonic tones (nonchord tones) are pitches that sound along with a chord but are not chord pitches. Most nonharmonic tones are dissonant and create intervals of a second, fourth, or seventh. Diminished or augmented intervals are also considered dissonant. The dissonance created by nonharmonic tones is calculated against the lowest-sounding tone of a chord, no matter how many other voices are present. An exception occurs when the nonharmonic tone is positioned in the lowest-sounding voice itself (usually bass). Nonharmonic tones generally occur in a pattern of three pitches:
- Preceding tone tone (chord tone)
- Nonharmonic (not a chord tone)
- Following tone (chord tone)
The various nonharmonic tones are named by the intervals between the preceding tone, the nonharmonic tone, and the following tone.
A melodic auxiliary is any note that lies either side of the harmony note—in other words, a single step above or below the harmony note in the scale. For this reason an auxiliary is also sometimes referred to as a neighbor note (returning tone figure). There are two general types of melodic auxiliaries. There are diatonic auxiliaries (At times the word diatonic is used to indicate a tone that is part of a particular scale pattern—as distinguished from a nondiatonic tone that does not belong to the scale pattern. The major scale is one kind of diatonic scale. All diatonic scales contain five whole steps and two half steps within the octave, but each of the different types of diatonic scale has the half steps in different places), in which the note is a part of the major or minor scale of the key being used.
And then there are chromatic auxiliaries, in which the note is not a part of the scale being used—in other words, it is taken from outside of it from the other notes of the chromatic scale.
Variations of the Auxiliary
There are numerous variations of the melodic auxiliary, all of which can be used to good effect to bring more interest to harmony parts. One such variation is where an auxiliary skips a third in the opposite direction before returning to the harmony note. This is called a changing note figure. There are two ways in which a changing note figure can occur:
Another variation is where the auxiliary skips down by a third to the harmony note of another chord. Sometimes called an echappée, this is a great way to introduce an element of tension into the harmony:
When instead of returning to a harmony note, an auxiliary moves to another harmony note in the same direction, the decorative note is said to be a passing note as seen above.