2.13 Tonic, dominant tone and leading tone


Category: Harmony | Tags: Scales


In this chapter you will learn about three important tones of a scale. You will learn that these tones have their own names. In the video, I show the character of these tones.

1. The three most important tones of a scale

Scales have three tones that are more important than the other four. These are the first, fifth and seventh tones.

The first tone of a scale is called the tonic. The tonic is the most important one and gives the scale its name. It is also the tone on which a piece of music (almost always) ends. The tonic has a stable or consonant character.

The fifth tone of a scale is called the dominant. The dominant tone has an unstable character and is often followed by the tonic. The character of the dominant tone is especially important in the use of chords. I discuss this in more detail in Chapter 2.14 Degrees I, IV and V: tonic, subdominant and dominant and Chapter 2.15 The dominant seventh chord.

The seventh tone of a scale is called the leading tone. The importance of the seventh tone can be heard especially when you play the scale and stop on it. Can you hear that the scale doesn't sound ‘complete’ and has a strong sounding affinity to ‘lead' to the eighth tone, the tonic? We also say that the seventh tone wants to resolve to the tonic. This is because the seventh tone is a half step below the tonic. This is an very important phenomenon and very common in music. When you recognize this sound phenomenon, you’ll suddenly hear it everywhere.
The leading tone leads, or resolves, to the tonic. The leading tone has an unstable or dissonant character.



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Which tones are the tonic, the dominant and the leading tone?

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