Leading note (Fr. [note] sensible; Ger. Leitton; It. [nota] sensibile; Lat. subsemitonium)
(Fr. [note] sensible; Ger. Leitton; It. [nota] sensibile; Lat. subsemitonium)
The seventh Degree of the major, harmonic minor, or ascending melodic minor scale, so called because it lies a semitone below the tonic and therefore has a strong tendency to lead up to it. In medieval monophony leading-note resolutions were infrequent, being confined to pieces in the Lydian and Hypolydian modes. With the development of polyphony in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, however, the note immediately below the final tended to be sharpened in practice (see Musica ficta), and leading-note motion became an identifying feature of the Cadence. In the major–minor tonal system this resolution could itself imply a harmonic progression V–I; for this reason the leading note may be thought of as the most characteristic melodic scale degree.
Some writers use the term ‘upper leading note’ for the flattened supertonic, or the natural second degree when it lies a semitone above the tonic or final (e.g. in the Phrygian mode). One also encounters ‘leading harmony’, a term conceived by analogy with ‘leading note’ to mean any harmony that behaves like a ...