The Function Of A Musical Note

What is the “Function” of a “musical note”?

As beginners, all band students want to do is play easy melodies like those found in the Yankee Collection. If they are diligent and faithfully practice every day for about two years, many find themselves becoming proficient at producing songs but experience a new and unexpected concept…… “listening”. Yes, they were already listening to the notes they had linearly played, but now they are starting to hear how their notes interact with other sounds around them……. Harmony notes, and vertical chords.

This brings us to the word “Function”. What is the function of the note “C”? Well, in the “C” chord, it’s function is the root. In the Ab chord it’s the 3rd and in the F chord the 5th. Depending on the chord accompanying the “C”, the function changes. It could be the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, #9th, 11th, or 13th. These are not all the possibilities but you get the idea.

Wow, you can play “one note” with a chord progression and it becomes really interesting. Not only will you hear the note evolve, but you will feel the function evolve.

Think of it, you could hold one note for eight measures in a solo and you or your listeners won’t get bored. This technique is frequently used at the end of many famous songs From “A Star Is Born” to The Phantom Of The Opera “Music Of The Night” to Shania Twain “From This Moment On”

Solos or riffs of course are usually made up of more than one note. Duke Ellington is famous for taking a short riff and repeating it against “Blues” changes. Check out “C Jam Blues” (two notes) and you will hear and feel the functions change.

Another example is or “Night Train.” If you play these short riffs over and over on your instrument without any chordal back-up, you will see how uninteresting they will sound.

Beethoven (and others) even built entire symphonies on short patterns using this concept, so this is nothing new.

Listen to some of the songs I have suggested and you might have a “WOW” moment.