The Leading Tone and the Gravity of Chords

Last week I talked about Diminished Chords. I called them the rebels of the major scale. In a sense, it’s true. They don’t appear to follow the same rules as major and minor chords. This causes music teachers, myself included, to put them in a corner while teaching how major and minor chords work. But, on a less obvious level, all chords are pulled by the same musical gravity. 

Diminished chords tend to move “up” one fret to a major or minor chord above them. Any guitarist who’s fooled around with bar chords a little bit knows that sliding a chord up one sounds pretty fantastic. One fret movement is one of the secrets of music. And while it may not be obvious, it’s the thing that Guides Chord Flow. Let me show you.  

The Leading Tone

Here’s Bdim7 moving to a C chord: 

And here’s a G major chord moving to C: 

In each chord, the B note moves ‘up’ one fret to the C note. In the key of C, the B note is what’s known as the leading tone. Every major key has a leading tone, and it’s always the note that lives one fret below the key’s center. When it’s played in a chord (or a melody), the leading tone creates tension or pull to return ‘home’ to the note that names the key. 

You could also think of this principle as gravity. In the key of C, all the notes are affected by the pull of the C note’s gravity, in the same way planets orbit a star at the center of a galaxy. Meanwhile, B, the leading tone of the key of C, is the closest ‘planet’ to that star. The key center is so close to the leading tone that its gravity basically overpowers the leading tone and pulls you toward the center. For the rest of this blog the leading tone will be represented by an arrow on the chord diagrams: 

The pull of the leading tone toward the key center is one of the most important principles of music. It’s what makes Chord Flow work. You could follow the pull of the key center when you’re putting a song together. You could also ignore that pull and let it hang in the song unresolved. It could begin to sound like a rule; the leading tone must move to the key center, but it’s really something to play with.  

The Leading Tone in the key of F

E is the leading tone in the Key of F; the note one fret below the F note.

In the key of F, Edim7 wants to move to the F chord.

The same principle makes the E in the C major chord want to move to an F major chord.

The rest of the blog is examples of where you’ll find The Leading Tone in some more common guitar keys. You don’t have to remember anything about The Leading Tone for the principles presented in Chord Flow to work, but sometimes it’s fun to pull back the curtain and see what keeps the gears of music spinning.   


Key of E

(I chose B7 here to keep the chords in 1st position, it doesn’t change the leading tone principle).

Key of A

Key of D

The Key of G

New to Chord Flow? 

Here’s an intro: Chord Flow, Playing with the Basics
Here’s how it works in the Key of C: Chord Flow in the Key of C
Chord substitution with Chord Flow: ACEing Chord Flow Substitution

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5 thoughts on “The Leading Tone and the Gravity of Chords

  1. Pingback: My Aim is True

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