Learn About Leading Note Chords And How They Are Applied

In today’s lesson, we’ll be learning about the application of leading note chords.

In harmony, leading note chords are used as passing chords (connecting two chords) most of the time and that’s why there are useful in chord progressions.

However, a vast majority of musicians are yet to tap into the application of leading note chords. If you’re one of such musicians, read on.

Attention: If you’ve not heard about the leading note chord, or you’ve heard about it and would want to know more, the next segment is for you.

Let’s get started!

“What Are Leading Note Chords?”

The term leading note is used by music scholars to describe a note that is a half-step below a given note.

In the major key, due to the fact that the seventh degree of the scale is a half-step below the first (or eighth) degree, the seventh degree is also known as the leading note.

A chord that is formed a half-step below the first tone of the scale (which is usually the seventh tone) is a leading note chord.

In the key of C major:

…the tonic triad is the C major triad:

…while the leading note triad is the B diminished triad:

A half-step below the tonic triad (the C major triad):

…is the leading note triad (the B diminished triad):

From the relationship between the leading note triad and the tonic triad, we can deduce that a leading note triad is a half-step below the tonic triad.

So, we can say that leading note chords are a half step below any given tonic chord.

A Short Note On The Quality Of Leading Note Chords

In the key of C major:

…where the leading note is B:

…B, D, and F:

…are the notes of the leading note chord, which is the B diminished triad.

So, the quality of leading note chords is diminished.

As opposed to the major and minor chords in other scale degrees, diminished chords are unstable chords, having the tendency to move to stable chords when played.

Did I mention that the leading note chord consists of the tritone (an augmented fourth or diminished fifth interval?

In the B diminished triad:

…which is the leading note triad in the key of C major:

…the interval between B and F:

…is a diminished fifth interval (aka – “tritone”.)

“In A Nutshell…”

Leading note chords are unstable and have the tendency to move to stable chords when they are played.

This explains why they are commonly used as passing chords.

“Here Are All The Leading Note Triads On The Keyboard…”

C diminished triad:

C# diminished triad:

D diminished triad:

D# diminished triad:

E diminished triad:

F diminished triad:

F# diminished triad:

G diminished triad:

G# diminished triad:

A diminished triad:

A# diminished triad:

B diminished triad:

The Application Of Leading Note Chords

Before we proceed, there is need for us to highlight the following scale degree chords:

The tonic triad

The leading note triad

The tonic chord is the chord of the first scale degree while the leading note chord is the chord of the seventh degree.

“Pay Attention To This…”

The leading note chord is ALWAYS a half-step below the tonic chord. For example, if the tonic chord is established on F:

…the leading note chord will invariably be established on E:

…a half-step below it

The Application Of Leading Note Chords As Passing Chords To Major Chords

Leading note chords can be used as passing chords to any major chord – be it a major triad, major seventh, major ninth chord, etc.

Although there are several leading note chords, the diminished triad and the half-diminished seventh chord are suitable passing chords that resolve to major chords.

“Here’s How It Works…”

Given the E major seventh chord:

…there are two chord types that can be formed on leading note (which is D#):

The chords are as follows:

The diminished triad

The half-diminished seventh chord

So, either the D diminished triad:

…or the D half-diminished seventh chord:

…can be applied as a leading note chord to the E major seventh chord:

Following the same procedures, the leading note chords for any major chord on the keyboard can be derived.

The Application Of Leading Note Chords As Passing Chords To Minor Chords

Leading note chords can be used as passing chords to various minor chords – like the minor triad, minor seventh, minor ninth chord, etc.

Although there are several leading note chords, the diminished triad and the diminished seventh chord are suitable passing chords that resolve to minor chords.

“Here’s How It Works…”

Given the E minor seventh chord:

…there are two chord types that can be formed on leading note (which is D#):

The chords are as follows:

The diminished triad

The diminished seventh chord

So, either the D diminished triad:

…or the D diminished seventh chord:

…can be applied as a leading note chord to the E minor seventh chord:

Following the same procedures, the leading note chords for any minor chord on the keyboard can be derived.

Final Words

You just learned about leading note chords and how they are applied as passing chords to major and minor chords.

I’ll see you in another lesson on passing chords!

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Chuku Onyemachi

Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. I started teaching musicians in my neighbourhood in April 2005. Today, I'm humbled to work as a music consultant with HearandPlay Music Group for musicians in Africa and beyond.

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