Learn to play beautifully

... even if you're a complete beginner

Conservatory-quality online piano lessons from the City of Music, Vienna, Austria

Start Your NEW Piano Journey
Back to Blog

Melody Writing

theory

Question: What is the definition of the following?

  1. Tendency tone
  2. Stable tone
  3. Active tone

– Timothy (Ibadan, Oyo, Nigeria)

Albert’s reply: These are harmonic terms having specifically to do with melody writing and voice leading. Let’s take stable tones first. These are the tones of the tonic triad, scale degrees 1, 3 and 5.

For example, in C major:

… the notes C, E and G (scale degrees 1, 3 and 5) are stable tones. They don’t “need” to move anywhere.

The tonic – the first note of the scale – is the most stable tone, followed by scale degrees 3 and 5.

Tendency tones and active tones are synonymous. These are the other scale degrees: 2, 4, 6 and 7.

Scale degrees 2, 4 and 6 resolve downward: Scale degree 2 “wants” to resolve to 1; 4 wants to resolve to 3, and 6 to 5.

Scale degree 7 – called the leading tone when it is a half-step below the tonic – is the exception in that it resolves upward to the tonic.

You can visualize (and play) the tendency (active) tones and their resolutions to stable tones using this illustration:

Remember that these are mere guidelines that are useful for analyzing music, melody writing and improvising. No musical rule is absolute!

Start Your NEW Piano Journey

Sign up below and each week for the next year, I'll send you a professional 3- to 5-minute lesson sharing exclusive playing and practice techniques used by concert artists worldwide.

Each lesson has been carefully crafted to meet the needs of players ranging from beginners to the late intermediate level.

We will never sell your information, for any reason.