[Smt-talk] The Concept of Appoggiatura

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Tue Oct 23 12:51:47 PDT 2012

I think there were useful points in all recent comments provided by Victor, Stephen, David and Karen. To stay true to the historical approach to appoggiatura (or leaning tone, or accented dissonance), we may have to recognize that the first acceptable accented dissonance in counterpoint, along with the repeated tone (the suspension), was the accented passing tone. Then it cloned into neighboring and leaping versions, but in all of these transformations its character is not defined by the way it is approached but by the acoustic/harmonic effect it creates, especially in the realm of homophony.

Introduce the tone D over the C major triad on a downbeat and resolve it down a step. Does it matter how it is approached? If you do not know this, you would probably determine it as a 9-8 suspension/appoggiatura. After you do that, approach it in four possible ways from the previous measure: 1) as a repeated tone; 2) as a passing tone; 3) as a neighboring tone; and 4) as a leaping tone. Do all these procedures change the harmonic conflict with the chord? Not in the least. As a listener, once you hear the clang, do you remember how the tone has been approached? 

The biggest confusion arises from the indiscriminate classification of all non-chord tones by melodic contour only. By mixing up strong and weak tones, some authors may have taught they were doing a great favor to the students and to themselves - everything is on the shelf and it has a tag. The effect is exactly the opposite; a mish-mash system with no roots in history and practice that ignores the relationship between intuitive perception and logic. I think that labeling a clear apporggiatura (an accented dissonance) just as a passing or neighboring tone is one of the biggest flaws in some of today's theory books. 

The worst of all comes when students are tested on non-chord tones. "Identify and label the non-chord tones," reads the direction, and the poor students embark on phishing for melodic contours all over the place, mixing up strong and weak tones until the last non-chord tone has been caught in the net. If a bold student takes the liberty to think creatively and to label as "appoggiatura" a tone that creates a clang but has a passing or neighboring profile, he or she will be immediately penalized by a teacher who has diligently digested a nonsensical theory, and for whom the melodic profile is the ultimate analytical criterion [because many current books say so].

Best regards,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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