~ Seven ~ leading tone ~ Locrian ~

~ major 7th ~ penultimate ~

~ diminished triad ~

~ vii-7b5 ~ half diminished 7th ~

~ bVII of tonic has a half dim chord from major 3 ~

~

 

'the pointing star within Americana harmony ...'

 

 

In a nutshell. The leading tone major Seven is the natural and diatonic leading tone in all things major; songs and melodies, arpeggios and chords. It is one half of the two pitch tritone energizer within V7. The leading tone is the 'official' penultimate pitch of tension before resolution by half step up to our tonic pitch.

diatonic
a two pitch tritone

So why Seven? Seven because in theory we can numerically view and measure the pitches based on the organization of the seven pitches of our diatonic major / relative minor scale. By doing so, we enter into a global community of similarly thinking musicians who dig this perspective of the music theory of our AmerEuro music; by the numbers. Example 1.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
major 7th
C
major 7th interval
B
.
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C

So Seven, the leading tone and the major 7th interval, all pretty much mean the same things in AK., N.Y., L.A., and Asian and Euro points beyond? Yep. Same way for all the theories and numberings? Yep. Anywhere it's not?

Theory names. Leading tone, Locrian mode, major 7th, Seven, half diminished 7th chord. The leading tone in American music, the 7th scale degree of our diatonic major scale, is most often the 'pointer' pitch for deciding melodic direction and a key player in creating the tension and release dynamic in our music.

We have a diatonic mode on Seven, the Locrian mode, and we build our diatonic diminished triad with its dia-tonic flatted 5th upon this scale degree. All of this located a half step below our tonic pitch. Examine the major 7th interval, the diatonic diminished triad and the Locrian mode. Example 1a.

Are you catching the sense of unresolved melodic line? That there is a sense of forward motion to the direction of the line / triad that might be seeking a resolution? This organic tension within our 7th degree interval, its mode and chord combine to create the essential sense of 'leading tone.' Of course being just a half step away from its target pitch probably helps a bit in creating its sense of impending resolution. Location location location :)

Locrian mode. This sense of a non-resolving quality to this group of pitches in one sense discounts the Locrian group from working as a tonal center. As its fifth is a diminished 5th, we lose that sense of having a dominant pitch in the group to direct events. This b5 also enables a diminished triad to be built on its root pitch, furthering its challenges as a tonal center as our system is based on the major and minor triads. Locrian works fine as a parent scale for half diminished 7th chords, as all the pitches line up in diatonic perfection. Totally inside? Yep, totally inside.

Interval of a major 7th. In finding the interval of the major 7th above a root pitch we can simply count our pitches diatonically to Seven. Examine the pitches in C major. Example 2.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
major 7th
C
major 7th interval
B
.
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C

So why so important? Well as its name implies, the leading tone directs our melodies towards a definite destination and by doing so, gain another artistic tool for telling our stories. For regardless of which musical styles we examine, stories are usually being told. And within the crafting of these stories we may want the ability to create suspense, a mystery of the ultimate outcome of our tale, or not, as the case might be.

As musicians we combine emotional character of the words of the story sounded out with pitches and rhythms of our melodies. Our leading tone can be a pivotal asset in creating this sense of destination and arrival. And whether we arrive there or not is all about the composers crafting of their story. In the following idea, the vanilla, undisguised destination of our melodic line is quite unquestionably the pitch C. At least in theory. Ex. 2a.

Master of the obvious? Pretty clear that our melody is heading to our tonic pitch C yes? Well, in our American vocal styles, the storytelling is just that, storytelling. We want listeners to enjoy the tale the first time they hear the song, maybe even sing along a bit if there's an easy hook that catches their ear. Well crafted tunes will do this; tell a good story, often have a catchy hook, gets our toes tapping and is memorable because it captures a special something about life that all peoples can share.

An American classic. People love to sing. There's just something in it that lights folks up. The tail end of the following melody gives us a clear example of the leading tone resolving to its tonic pitch. Everyone probably knows this song from way back, we learned it as kids. 'Cause it's one ... two ... three ... Example 3b.

American melodies. In the melodies of many folk, bluegrass, country, blues and rock tunes, we don't really hear the leading tone pitch stand out as in this last idea. Melodically, these styles are created mainly with the pentatonic group with blue note highlights and climaxes that are oftentimes rhythmically driven. Of the 30 melodies included in this work, 11 feature the leading tone as the penultimate pitch.

So if neither the pentatonic or blues scale contains the leading tone, where and how does this pitch play its 'leading' role in all of these styles?

In the harmony? Exactly. You probably could hear in the first example above how close the diminished triad built on Seven sounds to our V7 chord. Building chords with the pitches of C major, compare the vii diminished triad with a couple of vanilla G7 (V7) voicings. Ex. 4.

Why diminished? Its perfect 5th is lowered by half step.

Simply a different root pitch? Pretty much. Sense how the B diminished color 'stabilizes' with the addition of the G root note? In each of the four measures above, the pitches of the B diminished triad become the 3rd, 5th and b7 pitches of the G7 chord. Examine the pitches by letter name in table format. Example 4a.

arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
.
B diminished
B
D
F
.
arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
G 7
G
B
D
F

Locate the pitches of the B diminished in the G7 chord in the above table? So while in any of our blues' hues influenced styles, the leading tone is often absent in the melody, it's almost always somewhere in the harmony that supports these melodies. As we can hear in the last musical example, the B natural is readily absorbed in the G7, as it is the 3rd of the G major triad.

Any problems with slight disparities between our melody notes and chord notes? Nope. That's just part of our beloved American blues rub, a sound that has changed the world's musics at least a couple of times over the last century or so.

Common resolutions. These next few ideas find ways to resolve the leading tone pitch as we find it within common guitar chord shapes. Thinking C major, our leading tone is B, the following possibilities emerge. Example 4b.

All of G chords in the last example have a B natural leading tone pitch. The first two bars are triads with doubled pitches. The third adds in the blue hue and with the last we add some colortones to our Five to One cadential motion.

~ super theory game changer ~

Seven ~ vii7b5 ~ adding the 7th. Anytime we start to think of evolving the chords by adding in a 7th above the triad, it's a game changer in the Essentials theory / styles whole tamale dynamic. For we nudge up against our core philosophy of this work; the correlation between number of pitches and the chords they generally create within a musical style. For chords, it's often simply about extending the arpeggios; 7, 9. 11, 13. For our rhythms; subdivision of the beat. Melodies; number of pitches.

That we evolve our music theory simply by adding in new pitches to our vocabularies, up to the 12 of the chromatic scale, tracking how each new additional pitch adds new stylistic possibilities. We also can further our evolution beyond these 12 through the blues and its various pitch rubs and bends and build bigger arpeggios, often the basis of new jazz directions. In a nutshell, just trying to glue up bone dry theory numbers into groupings of musical pitches with the musical styles in mind.

Seven / diatonic seventh chord / vii -7 b5. Diatonically advancing by adding the seventh, we create a half diminished chord built on Seven. Examine the pitches in C major. Common chord symbols include the 'circle / line 7' for jazz and '-7b5' everywhere else. Also Roman numerals 'vii' for theory analysis. Thinking here in C major and finding diatonic Seven and resolving to One. Example 5.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C major arpeggio
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
C
chord tones
.
.
.
root
-3
dim 5
-7
.
Seven / B-7b5
.
.
.
B
D
F
A
.

Seven is Two in the relative minor / ii -7 b5. Songs written in a minor key will also include the half diminished color as it is the diatonic Two chord when created from our natural minor group of pitches. Thinking now in A minor, the relative minor to C major. Example 5a.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
A minor arpeggio
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
chord tones
.
.
.
.
root
-3
dim 5
-7
Two / B-7b5
.
.
.
.
B
D
F
A

Gets rather dark towards the close of the last idea yes? Well, that's where the half diminished lives on our palettes of aural musical color.

Where in the music. The half diminished 7th chord is hen's teeth rare in children's songs. In folk music and its brethren styles; bluegrass, newgrass, jamband, country and into folk rock and beyond, its just not a common element. In well crafted pop tunes it is often found as the 'portal' between our twin tonalities; relative major and minor. Dig this diatonic motion between One and Six with Seven in between. Example 5b.

In the blues, while the root motion ot Seven is not all that common, the half diminished chord color is quite common but its theory is a wee bit different. Turns out that in the upper part of our V9 chord resides a half diminished chord. So we can easily substitute one chord for another. Examine the letter name pitches and then some common chord voicings of the theory. Ex. 5c.

arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
9
G 9
G
B
D
F
A
arpeggio degrees
.
root / 1
3
5
7
B -7b5
.
B
D
F
A

Cool? And always good for chord voicings to give the bass its space. These last ideas use inversions to get us off the root pitch of the chords and add some colors.

Half diminished setting up the final hold. A rather fun and quite common ending in mostly a jazz tradition is to use the tonic pitch of a song 'in the lead' and voice various chords underneath it, as we descend by half step to the final hold. In G major. Example 5e.

This kind of idea creates a cool spot for featuring the drummer. Take any quartet that swings, add this coda onto the arrangement and viola ... instant bigger band. For a few bars anyway :) Another nice thing about big band swing is their rhythms actually swing. So super easy to find a few arrangements you dig and sing along with the recording and internalize the time and magic of swing. The stack of big band vinyl records has gotta be 100 feet tall these days. Highlight and click, all these cats are on Wiki.

Gene Krupa
Chick Webb
Shelly Manne
Sonny Payne
Sonny Greer
Pauline Braddy
Louis Bellson
Philly Joe Jones
Grady Tate
Buddy Rich
Max Weinberg

Paired with b9 ~ backpedaling with half diminished. In this next idea we use what becomes a common enough feature in jazz standards pairs up the half diminished color with V7b9. This becomes a 'Two / Five' cell and often gets backed towards our tonic pitch. Example 5d.

Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" thought by some to be the granddaddy of em' all, rolls along the lines of these backpedaling organized changes.

~ super theory game changer ~

Seven ~ fully diminished 7th relative. While there's not a lot of room to mod up a diminished triad, by adding the 7th we get new options. Add a pitch gain new options, imagine that. We in theory have three different 7ths to explore; the diatonic minor 7th, lowered by half step to become a diminished 7th and raised by half step to a leading tone 7th. Examine the pitches. Example 6.

arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
.
.
.
.
B-7b5
B
D
F
A
diatonic half diminished
B diminished 7th
B
D
F
Ab
fully diminished / 3 minor 3rds
Bb major / B
B
D
F
A#(Bb)
leading tone 7th of B / polytonal

Thus there are three types of seventh as measured from the root pitch and placed atop a diminished triad; we've explored the half diminished which is diatonic, we now add fully diminished, which comes from a different parent scale and the leading tone 7th, which retains the tritone within but in turn also creates a major triad above root pitch.

That the major triad is among the strongest of our components to create a diatonic center will for the most part negate any sense of a diminished quality. Yet adding the leading tone 7th above a diminished triad does create a polytonal chord and its potentials. Examine the three chords. Example 6a.

So two options for now, half or fully diminished. As their sound is nearly identical, no wonder they oftentimes create a bit of theory confusion. And while the difference is slight, the theoretical ramifications can be giant. Sound out these additional closely related voicings of the half and fully diminished colors. Ex. 6b.

Compare the juice. Tough to hear the slight shift as the pitches go up yes? So as Seven is the diatonic leading tone chord resolving to One, we can hot rod the thing and get a bit more wallop by changing one pitch, making it a fully diminished 7th chord. Compare the following resolutions. Example 6c.

 

Well ... ? Too close to call? That happens sometimes with digital mp3's and such. Try the guitar version, same changes etc. Which one sounds better for ya? Remember the fully diminished resolution here is a jazz style motion. Just might be the cooler symmetrical chord shape with its extra bit of pop, the full diminished is my choice hands down. And this is the pitches and chord shape that is part of the V7b9? yes indeed.

Full diminshed ~ a perfect symmetry. As the fully diminished color is created exclusively with the interval of a minor third, its perfect symmetry opens up doors not fully available to its diatonic half diminished cousin. Advancing modernes moving in an improv and jazz direction, can use this bold color today just as so many have in the past; as a catalyst to create pathways for new challenges and explorations in their musics.

A one pitch change and voila. This next idea baselines a lot of the fully diminished 7th chords theory. Dig its evolutions as we alter the 7th. Example 6d.

arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
 
B -7b5
B
D
F
A
7th raised by 1/2 step
B diminished 7th
B
D
F
Ab
 
G 7
B
D
F
G
7th lowered by 1/2 step

Even inverted, a pretty clear sounding G7 chord completes the transformation of the pitches into sound. Here's a fuller version of the above theory idea.

Diminished evolutions. Thanks to the closeness of these two diminished colors, we can evolve any of our fully diminished chord's four pitches into four half diminished chords simply by raising any one pitch of the arpeggio by half step. Note enharmonic spellings. Example 6e.

diminished 7th arpeggio
B
D
F
Ab
D -7b5
C
D
F
Ab
F -7b5
B (Cb)
Eb
F
Ab
Ab / G# -7b5
B (Cb)
D (Ebb)
F# (Gb)
Ab
B -7b5
B
D
F
A

Another evolution from the fully diminished 7th is by lowering any one of its pitches by half step to create V7. Examine these evolutions with letter name pitches. Example 6f.

diminished arpeggio
B
D
F
Ab
G7
B
D
F
G
Bb 7
Bb
D
F
Ab
Db7
B(Cb)
Db
F
Ab
E7
B
D
E
Ab(G#)

Just more theory magic. From the above charts did you notice that each of the four half diminished chords which evolved from the fully diminished neatly pair up with one of the four V7 chords into a the cool and common Two / Five cadential cell? And that the tritone sub / V7 chord for each -7b5 is available also? Here are the pairings. Example 6g.

ii-7b5
V7
D -7b5
G7
F -7b5
Bb 7
Ab / G# -7b5
Db7
B -7b5
E7

The diminished catalyst. The diminished colors end up having multiple resolving properties / leading tones found in our fully diminished seventh chords and related diminished scales, we use the theory to generate new ideas for chord progressions and melodic support.

In energizing this process, we examine what the diminished color is capable of doing and find new pathways to follow, then disguise its distinctive color by filtering it through various more diatonic sounding softening techniques, and yet still follow the pathways its theories has shown us. 'Sheets of sound'? Maybe.

~ super theory game changer ~

Seven ~ minor keys. Just above we discussed the idea of 'almost always' is the leading tone pitch present somewhere in our music. And any song written in a major key with major chords will probably have this pitch. But what about the minor tonality? Diatonically the 7th degree is a minor 7th. Are there other options to this? Examine the pitches and possible 7th's. Example 7.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A natural minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
A harmonic minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G#
A
A melodic minor
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G#
A

Natural minor. This group of pitches is of course also our relative minor scale to our diatonic major. We can see the flat Seven as a whole step below our tonic pitch.

Harmonic minor. In creating the harmonic minor grouping, we essentially pick up the leading tone 7th, a half step below our tonic pitch. Is this the same leading tone as with the major scale? Yep sure is. So we gain this strength of melodic motion which morphs our diatonic Five chord from a minor triad to major. Compare the pitches. Example 7a.

Theory / practice. In theory of course we gain the leading tone and again the idea that in most of the American music in the minor keys, we do not hear the leading tone in the melody but love the pitch in our chords. A common example of this is the V7#9 chord. This chord is often called the "Jimi" chord and from the tonic contains both flat seven and leading tone 7th in one chord. Examine the pitches and sound of this essential blues / rock chord. Example 7b.

wiki ~ Jimi Hendrix
scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A natural minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G / G#
A
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
7
11
13
15
A minor arpeggio
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
arpeggio degrees
.
.
1
3
5
7
9
.
E 7 #9
.
.
E
G#
B
D
G
.

Where in the music? This #9 chord is a key player in lots of blues and rock tunes over the decades. Jimi Hendrix has it right out front in a couple of his big hits. As we can hear in this last example it strongly sets up and firmly directs the resolution to the minor key.

This V7#9 chord contains essential pitches we use to create a blues rub. Where melody pitches and its supporting harmony feature pitches a half step apart from one another to create the blue dissonance. Let's extract the 'rub' to hear it more clearly. Example 7c.

Neat huh? This simple clash of the pitches is a big part of what makes American music American music. This pairing of dissonant pitches we simply call the blues and along with the core 2 and 4 pocket / backbeat of the American groove, combine to create overall magic found in no other indigenous musical styles globally. Uniquely American? In its origins? Absolutely.

~ super theory game changer ~

Anything else? Yes. The harmonic minor group is our diatonic source for the fully diminished 7th arpeggio and its chord. Really? Yep. Any other sources for this symmetrical minor third interval build? No, nothing really strong enough as a loop of pitches to create a sense of functioning key center.

We can find our diminished arpeggio diatonically from the pitches of the diminished scale too. This source runs into concerns over its admin abilities to function as a key center. Examine the pitches as we locate the fully diminished 7th arpeggio from harmonic minor group of pitches. Any guesses as to which scale degree we'll find it on? Examine the pitches. Example 7d.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
harmonic minor from A
A
B
C
D
E
F
G#
A
arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
G# diminished
A
C
E
G#(Ab)
B
D
F
A

As the harmonic minor group creates a solid diatonic core of a root to perfect fifth interval we have a true dominant pitch and and solid One / Four and Five triads, thus stands up well as a key center on its own merits.

Melodic minor. This next grouping of the minor pitches we call the melodic minor group simply raises the 6th scale degree while keeping the leading tone 7th. Like the 6th and 7th in a major scale? Yep. Compare their pitches and sounds. Example 7e.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A natural minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
A harmonic minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G#
A
A melodic minor
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G#
A

Hear the evolution as the pitches morph our minor colors. Melodic minor can be just that, consonantly more melodic in its approach to the tonic pitch as the wider, minor 3rd gap of Six to Seven of the harmonic minor is reduced to a whole step.

While there is a case for using an ascending melodic minor and descending natural minor pairing, and this we draw from European music theory, we American composers can choose to concern ourselves or not with this possibility, all depending on what we hear and the pitches we need.

Improvisation. For the evolving jazz improvising artist, the melodic minor grouping creates some fascinating possibilities in regards to scale / chord substitution possibilities. Within Essentials these opportunities are organically theorized two ways.

One perspective is a softening of the diminished color and its multiple leading tone resolving properties. We'll simply soften the diminished sounds to melodic minor and filter things much the same way.

A second way is to view the melodic minor grouping as a mode of the popular Lydian flat Seven or vice versa. Explore the improv links if curious to these possibilities. Examine and compare the pitches of melodic minor group and Lydian flat 7. Example 7f.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A natural minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
A melodic minor
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G#
A
D Lydian b7
D
E
F#
G#
A
B
C
D

Cool huh? The last voicing is a tricky fingering shape for sure. So depending, maybe consider leaving off the root as the upper four pitches are a fairly common augmented chord shape.

augmented chords

Review and forward. As its theory name implies, the leading tone is our directional pitch. With the numerical majority of our songs written in the major key, the diatonic leading tone becomes an essential arbiter of the tension / release dynamic within the music. And while our American melodies are so often blues influenced and thus shy away from the leading tone in the line, in all things major key we can be sure to find the leading tone in the harmony. Most often directing things from within the dominant chord, the 'traffic cop' of American music. The one Frosty ran into ... could very well be :)

"That's one of the wonderful things about science; not a one of us has to believe it yet it can still be 100% correct."

paraphrased from a local Alaskan bumper sticker
1
#1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
b5
5
#5
b6
6
b7
7
8
b9
9
#9
-10
10
11
#11
12
b13
13
b14
14
15
#15
Footnotes:
(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.