• What’s The Role Of The Leading Note In The Resolution Of The Dominant Seventh Chord?

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    Understanding  the resolution of the dominant seventh chord is of the greatest possible importance to every serious musician.

    This is because a vast majority of the passing chords used in both classical and popular music are dominant chords; the only difference is that bigger and sophisticated dominant chords like thirteenths and altered are used in certain styles while the regular dominant seventh chord is used in other styles.

    We’re not just looking at the resolution of the dominant seventh chord in this lesson, we’re also going to look at the role of the leading note in its resolution and a great way to start is by reviewing the leading note.

    Submission: The term leading note can also be called the leading tone. I just prefer calling it the leading note.

    A Short Note On The Leading Note

    There are seven scale tones in the major key and although they can be described using numbers (I suppose that you’re familiar with the number system), there are technical names for each of these scale tones.

    Let’s use the key of C major (as a reference):

    The first tone (which is C):

    …is known as the tonic.

    The second tone (which is D):

    …is known as the supertonic.

    The third tone (which is E):

    …is known as the mediant.

    The fourth tone (which is F):

    …is known as the subdominant.

    The fifth tone (which is G):

    …is known as the dominant.

    The sixth tone (which is A):

    …is known as the submediant.

    The seventh tone (which is B):

    …is known as the leading note.

    Now that you’ve seen the technical names and that the seventh tone of the scale is the leading note, let’s go ahead and talk about the concept of the leading note.

    The Concept Of The Leading Note

    The seventh tone of the scale is technically known as the leading note. However, it is important to let you know that the most appropriate name of the seventh tone is the subtonic.

    The half-step distance between the subtonic and the tonic, which is between B and C:

    …in the key of C major:

    …is what makes the subtonic (which is B):

    …a leading note.

    In the key of C minor:

    …where the seventh tone (which is Bb):

    …is a whole step below the tonic (which is C):

    Bb cannot be described as a leading note.

    “In A Nutshell…”

    All seventh tones are subtonic, but NOT all seventh tones are leading notes.

    The term leading note can only be used to describe the seventh tone of the scale if it is a half-step below the tonic.

    The Leading Note In The Resolution Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    The leading note, which is also the seventh tone of the scale in the major key, determines the resolution of the dominant seventh chord.

    “Can We Talk About The Term ‘Resolution’ Before We Proceed?”

    The dominant seventh chord is the chord of the fifth tone of the scale (aka – “the 5-chord”) in the major key and its movement to the chord of the first tone of the scale (aka – “the 1-chord”) is known as a resolution and this is because the 5-chord sounds tensed while the 1-chord sounds stable.

    And generally in music, the movement from a tensed chord to a stable chord is called resolution.

    A Short Note On The Resolution Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    The movement from the 5-chord (which is the G dominant seventh chord):

    …to the C major triad:

    …is described as the resolution of the dominant seventh chord.

    Apart from the fact that this resolution is found at the end of a vast majority of songs and in between the sections of a song, there are also other dominant seventh chords outside the key that are used as passing chords to spice boring chord progressions with.

    That’s why the resolution of the dominant seventh chord is important and having said that, let’s move on to the role of the leading note.

    I know you’re wondering the connection between the leading note and the dominant seventh chord.

    “Well, Here You Are…”

    The dominant seventh chord:

    …is the 5-chord in the major key:

    …and consists of the 5th, 7th, 2nd, and 4th tones of the major scale, which are G, B, D, and F.

    So, the dominant seventh chord has the leading note as one of its tones and NOT just one of its tones — but the third tone. By now, you should know that the third and seventh tones of a chord are the most important.

    The leading note is actually the most important note in the dominant seventh chord and that’s why it has its role in the resolution of the dominant seventh chord and that, you’ll be seeing very soon in this lesson.

    The Role Of The Leading Note

    The leading note has its characteristic resolution and it’s simple.

    The leading note resolves by moving up by a half-step to the tonic or first tone of the scale. In the key of C major:

    …the leading note (which is B):

    …MUST always be resolved by going up a half-step to C (which is the tonic):

    The movement of the leading note plays a vital role in the resolution of the dominant seventh chord and I’ll show you exactly how this works.

    Resolution Of The Root Position Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    In the resolution of the root position of the G dominant seventh chord:

    …the movement of the leading note (which is B):

    …to the tonic (which is C):

    …is what resolves the dominant seventh chord to the second inversion of the C major triad:

    There’s no other better way to resolve the root position of the G dominant seventh chord:

    …than resolving it to the second inversion of the C major triad:

    Attention: While resolving the G dominant seventh chord, keep an eye on the leading note and observe its movement to the tonic.

    Final Words

    So, irrespective of the inversion of the dominant seventh chord that you’re playing, the leading note must go up by a half-step to the tonic and that determines how a dominant seventh chords is resolved.

    Now that we’ve covered the very basic ideas, we’ll go a step further into learning chromatic dominant seventh chords and how they are resolved as well but that would be in a future lesson.

    Very special thanks to my mentor and teacher, Jermaine Griggs, for the opportunity to share these helpful insights with you. I’m looking out for your contributions, questions, and suggestions in the comment section.

    Thanks for reading and see you in the next lesson.

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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