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Title: Leading-tone  
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Subject: Diminished triad, Dominant seventh chord, Dominant (music), Subtonic, Borrowed chord
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Seventh scale degree, or leading-tone, leading to the first scale degree, or tonic, in C major About this sound    About this sound   .
Tonic and leading tone chords in C About this sound   . C major and B diminished (b°) chords. About this sound   
Dominant seventh and incomplete dominant seventh in C major: G7 and b° chords About this sound   .
Tritone resolution inward and outwards     About this sound   . Both notes resolve by half step.
Tritone substitution, ii-subV-I on C, creates an upper leading-note (D, which leads down to C)    
Leading tone repeats four times over dominant (V) chord which then moves to the tonic (I) as the leading tone resolves upwards to the tonic

Problems playing this file? See .
Cadence featuring an upper leading tone from a well known 16th-century lamentation, the debate over which was documented in Rome c.1540 (Berger 1987, 148). About this sound    About this sound   
Seventh chord resolution from Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" (Benward & Saker 2003, 203) About this sound   . Note that the seventh resolves down by half step.

In music theory, a leading-note (also subsemitone, and called the leading-tone in the US) is a note or pitch which resolves or "leads" to a note one semitone higher or lower, being a lower and upper leading-tone, respectively.

More narrowly, the leading tone is the seventh scale degree of the diatonic scale, with a strong affinity for and leading melodically to the tonic (Benward and Saker 2003, 203). It is sung as ti in movable-do solfège. For example, in the C major scale (white keys on a piano, starting on C), the leading note is the note B; and the leading note chord uses the notes B, D, and F: a diminished triad. In music theory, the leading note triad is symbolized by the Roman numeral vii°. By contrast, an upper leading-tone ( ; ), which leads down, may be found as the seventh of the dominant seventh chord, which leads to the third of the tonic chord (in C: F of a G7 chord leads to E of a CM chord). The upper leading-tone may also be found above the tonic, on D or C in C.


  • Tonality 1
  • Chord 2
    • Voice-leading 2.1
    • Uses 2.2
  • See also 3
  • Sources 4


According to Ernst Kurth (1913, 119–736) the major and minor thirds contain "latent" tendencies towards the perfect fourth and whole-tone, respectively, and thus establish tonality. However, Carl Dahlhaus (1990) shows that this drive is in fact created through or with harmonic function, a root progression in another voice by a whole-tone or fifth, or melodically (monophonically) by the context of the scale. For example, the leading note of alternating C chord and F minor chords is either the note E leading to F, if F is tonic, or A leading to G, if C is tonic. In works from the 14th- and 15th-century Western tradition, the leading-note is created by the progression from imperfect to perfect dissonances, such as a major third to a perfect fifth or minor third to a unison. The same pitch outside of the imperfect consonance is not a leading note.

The leading-tone seventh chords are viiø7 in major and viio7 in minor (Benward and Saker 2003, 219).

As a diatonic function the leading-note is the seventh scale degree of any diatonic scale when the distance between it and the tonic is a single semitone. In diatonic scales where there is a whole tone between the seventh scale degree and the tonic, such as the Mixolydian mode, the seventh degree is called, instead, the subtonic.


Leading-tone seventh chord in C major: viiø7 About this sound   .
Leading-tone seventh chord in C minor: viio7 About this sound   .
Leading-tone chord in C major About this sound   .

In music theory, a leading-tone chord is a triad built on the seventh scale-degree in major and the raised seventh-scale-degree in minor (the leading-tone). The quality of the leading-tone triad is diminished in both major and minor keys.


Since the leading-tone triad is diminished, it is rarely found in root position. Instead, it is commonly found in first inversion. In a four-part chorale texture, the third of the leading-tone triad is doubled in order to avoid adding emphasis to the tritone created by the root and the fifth. Unlike a dominant where the leading-tone can be frustrated and not resolve to the tonic if it is in an inner voice, the leading-tone in a leading-tone triad must resolve to the tonic. Commonly the fifth of the triad resolves down since it is phenomenologically similar to the seventh in a dominant seventh chord.

On the other hand, the leading-tone seventh chord does appear in root position. For this reason, outside of the two uses listed below, a leading-tone triad is less common than a leading-tone seventh chord.


The leading-tone triad is used in several functions. Commonly, it is used as a passing chord between a root position tonic triad and a first inversion tonic triad (Aldwell, Schachter, and Cadwallader 2010, 138). The leading-tone triad prolongs tonic through neighbor and passing motion in this instance.

The leading-tone triad is also used as a dominant substitute (Goetschius 1917, 62). Since it contains three common tones with a dominant seventh chord, it easily can replace and function as a dominant. When used at a cadence point, it creates an imperfect authentic cadence since there is no root motion from scale-degree 5 to scale-degree 1 in the bass. This type of cadence was used commonly in the Renaissance era but increasingly grew out of fashion as the common practice period progressed.

See also


  • Aldwell, Edward, Carl Schachter, and Allen Cadwallader (2010). Harmony and Voice-Leading, fourth edition. New York: Schirmer/Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495189756
  • Benward, Bruce, and Marilyn Nadine Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, seventh edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
  • Berger, Karol (1987). Musica Ficta: Theories of Accidental Inflections in Vocal Polyphony from Marchetto da Padova to Gioseffo Zarlino. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32871-3 (cloth); ISBN 0-521-54338-X (pbk).
  • Coker, Jerry (1991). Elements of the Jazz Language for the Developing Improvisor. Miami, Fla.: CCP/Belwin, Inc. ISBN 1-57623-875-X.
  • Dahlhaus, Carl (1990). Studies in the Origin of Harmonic Tonality, trans. Robert O. Gjerdingen. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09135-8.
  • Goetschius, Percy (1917). The Theory and Practice of Tone-Relations: An Elementary Course of Harmony, 21st edition. New York: G. Schirmer.
  • Kurth, Ernst (1913). Die Voraussetzungen der theoretischen Harmonik und der tonalen Darstellungssysteme. Bern: Akademische Buchhandlung M. Drechsel. Unaltered reprint edition, with an afterword by Carl DahlhausMunich: E. Katzbichler, 1973. ISBN 3-87397-014-7.
  • Stainer, John, and William Alexander Barrett (eds.) (1876). A Dictionary of Musical Terms. London: Novello, Ewer and Co. New and revised edition, London: Novello & Co, 1898.
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