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Melodic Embellishment and Ornamentation in Jazz

Jazzed Magazine • Guest EditorialMarch 2010 • March 24, 2010

In the last issue of JAZZed, I discussed techniques of melodic development in jazz improvisation for the benefit of the aspiring jazz musician. These included repetition and sequence, plus repetition and sequence in altered forms such as rhythmic diminution, intervallic diminution, rhythmic augmentation, intervallic augmentation, fragmentation, complete melodic alteration, rhythmic shift, retrograde, melodic inversion, retrograde inversion, chromatic alteration, and octave displacement (octave shift). I then demonstrated various ways in which these compositional techniques might be used in combination in order to achieve unity in improvisation.

Related to the above is melodic embellishment and ornamentation in jazz, the focus of the current JAZZed article, the material of which will be divided into four categories:

A. Weak beat ornaments.
B. Strong or weak beat ornament.
C. Other ornamental devices.
D. Combinations of devices from the above three categories, by way of the enrichment and development of a single melodic motive.


Passing tone a chromatic tone between two adjacent scale tones (Abbreviation: P.T.) (Note that in traditional usage, half or whole-step scale notes which, in a melody, pass between the tones of a triad or chord are sometimes referred to as passing tones. For the purpose of this article, however, these will be called scale tones. Only half-step tones occurring between adjacent scale notes will be called passing tones in this article.)


Passing Tone

Anticipation tone an anticipation tone between two adjacent scale tones. (Abbrev: A.T.)


Anticipation Tone

Échappe;e a tone occurring between two adjacent scale tones, the motion to the ornamenting tone being contrary to the motion between the scale tones. (Abbrev: E.)



Cambiata a tone occurring between two adjacent scale tones, the motion to the ornamenting tone being the same as the motion between the scale tones. (Abbrev: C.)



Neighbor tone (upper or lower) a half or whole-step tone occurring between two of the same tones. (Abbrev: N.T.)


Neighbor Tone

B. Strong or Weak Beat Ornament

Jazz appoggiatura a leaping tone (an interval larger than a 3rd) which then moves a major or minor 2nd in the opposite direction. (Note that a jazz appoggiatura is a melodic embellishment that does not take into consideration the harmonic or rhythmic implications of the traditional appoggiatura. (Abbrev: J.A.)


Jazz Appoggiatura

C. Other Ornamental Devices

Grace note an ornamental tone whose time value is not counted in the rhythm (Abbrev: G.N.)


Grace Note

Repeated tone (Abbrev: R.T.)


Repeated Tone

Tremolo the rapid alternation of two tones. (Abbrev: trem.)



Scale tones tones found in any scale other than the chromatic scale. (Chromatic scale tones would be heard as passing tones.) (Abbrev. S.T.)


Scale Tones

Chord tones tones outlining any chord, including altered chords. (Abbrev: C.T.)


Chord Tones

Free tone an ornamental tone having no relationship to any chord being sounded. (Abbrev: F.T.)


Free Tone

D. Combinations of the Above Ornamental Devices

The following are examples of several different ways in which a given motive may be embellished, employing in combination the ornamental devices described in this article.

Combinations of the Above Ornamental Devices

Lee Evans is Professor of Music at NYC’s Pace University. He is the author/composer/arranger of 95 books and numerous articles. The material of this article is derived from Dr. Evans’s book Improvise By Learning How To Compose (Hal Leonard). His most recent solo-piano publications (for The FJH Music Company) are the late-beginner level Color Me Jazz, Book One, and the intermediate/upper intermediate level Ole;! Original Latin American Dance Music.

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