Avoid Notes ① / Music Theory Lesson

Author: sleepfreaks

Keeping “Avoid Notes” in mind when Making Melodies

This time we will be taking a look at Avoid notes which are useful to know about when adding chords to a melody or when trying out different chord progressions.

First give this sample a listen.

It feels like the chords and melody just don’t fit together correctly.
This phenomenon is often referred to as “notes clashing”.

Though “avoid notes” are often taught in correlation with “natural tensions”, “available note scales”, “parent scales”, and etc,
for the purpose of effectiveness we will first look at the concept this concept to avoid the clashing of notes.

Lets take a look on notation and the piano roll.
We are in the key of C major.

  • Melody



The melody is made with notes from the C major scale.

  • Chords



The chords are all diatonic chords from C major as well.

However, the fact that the notes still don’t fit well together
means that the melody and chords aren’t compatible in certain areas.

How to Determine Avoid Notes

First lets take the diatonic chords from the key of C major and sequence them with 1 bar in between.
We are using 7th chords (4 note) for this example, but triads will yield the same results so you can try this out either way.


On the right of each chord, we will line up the notes of the major scale starting with the root of each chord.


We will look at both and check to find scale notes that are a “half-step above” the chord tones.
For example, for Cmaj7 (do mi so ti), the note is F (fa).
✳︎There are exceptions to be considered for the IIm7 which we will look at in detail in our next article.


The notes displayed in blue above are the avoid notes for the chords to the left of them.
If we let each chord play and play their avoid notes, we can hear the clash in notes.

In a stricter sense, avoid notes “create unpleasing sound with a chord” or
“are capable of taking away the function of the chord”.

Lets listen to a number of examples.

  • Cmaj7 and F
  • Am7 and F
  • Em and C and F

As expected, it doesn’t blend together nicely.

✳︎Bringing the avoid note to be the lowest note of the chord (bass note) turns the chord into a different chord.
When trying out avoid notes, play them within or above the chord.
(we will take a look at this concept in a future article)

The relationship between chords and their avoid notes remains the same regardless of key.
For example, move the avoid notes the same amount as the diatonic chords to see the avoid notes for the diatonic chords in the key of D.



  • Dmaj7 and G

Try this out on different chords in different keys to get a firm grasp on the concept of avoid notes.

When making a song, if you feel the chords and melody aren’t fitting well together, be sure to check whether or not you are using avoid notes.

In addition, there is no rule stating that “you are note allowed to use” avoid notes.
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to not extend them or use them as featured notes.

In particular, it isn’t unnatural if a short instance is played in a melody,
and the effects of avoid notes aren’t felt as much on the back beats.
It all depends on how you use them, so just keep their existence in mind when making music.

Next time, we will be looking a little more at the case of the IIm7 and how to look at avoid notes in relation to it.

Article Writer: Kazuma Itoh

講師 伊藤
After moving to the USA at 18 years of age with a scholarship from Berklee, he completed a 4 year study focused on song writing and arranging there.
Using this knowledge, he works across a variety of fields from pop music, film music, and more.