• A Study On The Leading Note Chord

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    In today’s post our focus is on the leading note chord.

    We’re learning the ins and outs of the leading note chord – its formation, structure, function, and resolution. To get started, let’s quickly do a review on the degrees of the major and minor scales.

    A Review On The Degrees Of The Scale

    Traditional scales have eight degrees.

    Although traditional scales have seven notes and are said to be heptatonic, an eighth tone is usually added, which is a duplicate of the first tone.

    In the case of the C major scale:

    …an eighth tone (C):

    …is added to the seven tones:

    …which is a duplicate of the first tone (C):

    There are scholarly terms [aka – “technical names“] that the degrees of the scale are described with.

    The first degree is the tonic

    The second degree is the supertonic

    The third degree is the mediant

    The fourth degree is the subdominant

    The fifth degree is the dominant

    The sixth degree is the submediant

    The seventh degree is the subtonic

    The eight degree is the octave

    The Subtonic vs The Leading Note

    There is so much emphasis on the relationship between the seventh (aka – “subtonic”) and the eight degree (aka – “tonic”) of the scale in terms of the distance between them.

    When the relationship between the distance of the subtonic and the tonic is a half step, it creates a stronger pull between the subtonic and the tonic that is known as the leading note feeling.

    Consequently, the subtonic is also known as the leading note if it is a half-step below the tonic.

    If you play the first seven notes of the major scale:

    …when you get to seventh tone (B):

    …there’s a strong tendency for the seventh tone to resolve to the tonic. Due to the distance between the subtonic (B):

    …and the tonic (C):

    …the seventh degree of the major scale is called the leading note.

    In the minor key, there’s no leading note feeling because between the subtonic and tonic is a whole step. In the key of A minor:

    …the distance between the subtonic (G):

    …and tonic (A):

    …is a whole step.

    This is one shortcoming of the natural minor scale that lead to the evolution of the harmonic minor scale, formed by raising the seventh degree of the natural minor scale.

    For the rest of this study, we’ll use the harmonic minor scale instead of the natural minor scale for leading note purposes.

    The Leading Note Chord

    The leading note chord is the chord of the seventh degree of the major or minor key.

    In this segment, we’ll be doing a contrast between the leading note chords in the major key and the leading note chords in the minor key.

    The Leading Note Chords In The Major Key

    Let’s use the key of C major:

    …as a reference to form the leading note triad and seventh chord.

    The leading note in the key of C Major is B:

    The leading note chord can be formed in interval of thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“) following traditional principles.

    Using the C major scale:

    …as an underlying scale, a third from B:

    …is D:

    …and a third from B-D:

    …is F:

    Looking at the intervallic components of this leading note triad:

    B-D:

    …is a minor third.

    B-F:

    …is a diminished fifth.

    The only triad that has the minor third and the diminished fifth as its intervallic constituents is the diminished triad.

    Considering that the leading note chord in the key of C major (B, D, and F) is the B diminished triad:

    …the same thing is obtainable for other major keys. The leading note triad in the major key is the diminished triad.

    Let’s proceed by exploring the leading note seventh chord.

    Adding another third to the leading note triad produces the leading note seventh chord.

    Adding a third above B-D-F:

    …which is A:

    …produces the leading note seventh chord. Here are the intervallic constituents of the leading note seventh chord…

    B-D:

    …a minor third.

    B-F:

    …a diminished fifth.

    B-A:

    …a minor seventh:

    The only seventh chord that has the minor third, the diminished fifth, and the minor seventh intervals as its intervallic constituents is the half-diminished seventh chord.

    Let’s look at the leading note chords in the minor key.

    The Leading Note Chords In The Minor Key

    We’ll be using the A harmonic minor:

    …as a reference to evaluate the leading note triad and seventh chord in the minor key.

    The leading note in the key of A minor is G#:

    The leading note chord can be formed in interval of thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“) following traditional principles.

    Using the A harmonic minor scale:

    …as an underlying scale, a third from G#:

    …is B:

    …and a third from G#-B:

    …is D:

    Looking at the intervallic components of this leading note triad:

    G#-B:

    …is a minor third.

    G#-D:

    …is a diminished fifth.

    The only triad that has the minor third and the diminished fifth as its intervallic constituents is the diminished triad.

    Considering that the leading note chord in the key of A minor (G#, B, and D) is the G# diminished triad:

    …the same thing is obtainable for other minor keys. The leading note triad in the minor key is the diminished triad.

    Let’s check out the leading note seventh chord.

    Adding another third to the leading note triad produces the leading note seventh chord.

    Adding a third above G#-B-D:

    …which is F:

    …produces the leading note seventh chord. Here are the intervallic constituents of the leading note seventh chord…

    G#-B:

    …a minor third.

    G#-D:

    …a diminished fifth.

    G#-F:

    …a diminished seventh.

    The only seventh chord that has the minor third, the diminished fifth, and the diminished seventh intervals as its intervallic constituents is the diminished seventh chord.

    You need to check out this post on the relationship between the diminished seventh chord and the half diminished seventh chord.

    The Tritonic Property Of The Leading Note Chord

    The leading note chord are said to be tritonic chords. Tritonic chords are chords that contain the tritone. The tritone is a distance of three adjacent whole steps hence the term tritone literally meaning three [whole] tones.

    In between the first and the fifth tones of the leading note chord which in the key of C is B and F:

    …is a diminished fifth interval. The diminished fifth interval is synonymous with the term tritone [because they encompass the same distance. However, the tritone is a melodic progression while the diminished fifth is an interval.]

    The tritone formed between the root (B):

    …and the fifth (F):

    …of the leading note chord makes it unstable, dissonant and harsh to use.

    “What Are Leading Note Chords Used For?”

    The leading note chord has a strong attraction to the tonic chord.

    The tones of the leading note chords (the diminished triad, half-diminished seventh and diminished seventh chords) are the active tones of the major and minor scale respectively.

    Active tones are tones that have the tendency to move to stable tones. In other words, they are also called tendency tones.

    In the key of C major, when an F note:

    …is played over the C major triad:

    …it has a tendency to resolve to E:

    …which is a more stable tone. The E note:

    …is considered as a stable tone because it a chord tone of the tonic triad.

    Suggested reading: Active tones vs Stable Tones Of The Major Scale.

    The leading note chord because of its affinity to the tonic chord, can be used to as a passing chord to the tonic chord.

    Let me show you how this works by using the leading note chord as a passing chord to the tonic chord of the major and minor key.

    “…As Passing Chord To The Tonic Triad In The Major Key”

    In the key of G major:

    …the F# half-diminished seventh chord:

    …which is the leading note chord, can be used to resolve to the G major seventh chord:

    …which is the tonic chord in the key of G major.

    “…As Passing Chord To The Tonic Triad In The Minor Key”

    In the key of B minor:

    …the A# diminished seventh chord:

    …which is the leading note chord, can be used to resolve to the B minor seventh chord:

    …which is the tonic chord in the key of B minor.

    Final Words

    Chords of the seventh degree are rarely used in traditional harmony. Instead, they are substituted with the chord of the fifth degree.

    In the key of C major:

    …it’s common to substitute the B diminished triad:

    …with the G dominant seventh chord:

    The B half-diminished seventh chord:

    …can also be substituted with the G dominant ninth chord:

    These substitutions are possible because the G dominant seventh chord:

    …has all the notes in the B diminished triad:

    …and the G dominant ninth chord:

    …has all the notes in the B half-diminished seventh chord:

    That’s the much we can cover today. See you in another post.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Bernd Willimek

    Here is another definition of the leading-tone effect:

    https://www.academia.edu/36495364/What_is_a_Leading_Tone

    Bernd Willimek

    Reply

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