Currently I am doing some ear training, using a program that first plays a cadence, and then you have to identify a tone up to octave equivalence. Most often when I hear the leading-tone, I anticipate not the tonic but the fourth, for example in C-major when b is played I hear an f as a resolution (I sing that automatically, that is what I mean "by hearing an f").

Is there any reason for that, i.e. in this case not the c but the f is more present for me? (other than me having some weird associations in my mind...)

  • Do you by any chance play a fifth-transposing instrument like the horn?
    – Richard
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 10:26
  • No, just guitar.
    – StefanH
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 10:34
  • What kind of music do you listen to the most often? If it's classical music, then I'm stumped for an explanation (unless you particularly like one piece that emphasizes B-to-F), but B-to-F is more common in heavy metal because it emphasizes the tritone.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 11:12
  • Sorry, I'm not following at all: "when I hear the leading tone, I hear not the tonic...", why would you expect to hear the tonic? "in C-major is played I hear an f as a resolution": I don't know what you mean by "as a resolution". What exactly is the exercise? Could you step us through it in a little more detail? Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 16:51
  • One guess is that this is "Functional Ear Trainer", and you're confusing your B's and E's because each resolve up a half step (to C and F, respectively). Which strikes me as a pretty normal mistake, my only advice would be to keep at it a few minutes a day and don't get too frustrated. But, I don't know, I can't tell from the description if that's actually the situation. Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 22:37

3 Answers 3


For a while I was practicing the 'rule of the octave' at the piano and singing the ascending and descending scale at the same time. (I sang the solfege names.) After a few months I felt my ear really improved. I could pick out chords and melodies more easily. I think the harmonic context of singing to the rule of the octave is what made the difference. The ear training programs I have tried just didn't give enough context.

I also have tried things like playing the leading tone on the keyboard and singing it at the same time, and then without hitting the tonic on the keyboard sang the resolving tonic. After holding the tonic note with my voice for a moment I would then play the tonic on the keyboard and continue holding the note in my voice to see if I was singing the right pitch.

You can also do a similar thing but focus on the movement from FA down to MI which is the other half-step resolution in the major scale.

Maybe trying these things can help you get the feel for resolving the leading tone with your voice. If any of this sounds difficult, I add this: I think I have a poor sense of pitch, but these little exercises helped me improve.


You have a very unusual ear if in C major, you hit a B, and your natural instinct is to go to F from there. That's a tritone away, for most people a very awkward interval. In fact, most theoreticians would tell you that an F doesn't "resolve" a B in ANY key, unless you're studying in a Germanic language, where the note B is what the rest of us call Bb. (While what we call B is in Germanic languages called H.) But I doubt that's what you mean, since the note Bb is not part of C major.

I'm at a loss to explain why your ear would like that interval, unless you instinctively want to avoid cadences that sound somewhat 'final,' preferring to extend a piece rather indefinitely.

  • A V->IV isn't as strong as a V-I but it's still pretty common. It's possible that in context he could be hearing the leading tone as implying the dominant chord, and then singing the root of the subdominant chord (i.e. hearing b as implying a G chord, and then singing to imply an F chord)
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 9:45
  • @Some_Guy- Yes, that sort of thing is what I was getting at, or trying to, in my last paragraph.
    – L3B
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 14:27
  • So you were. Well, I suppose it doesn't do any harm to spell it out explicitly :)
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 15:34
  • No harm at all. Quite the contrary, it helps.
    – L3B
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 19:02

It seems to me that you're either

  1. just singing something you recognize, not knowing 100% exactly what it is,

  2. not actively thinking about or understanding what you're hearing and what you want to sing in response,

  3. or just plain tone deaf.

It's not 3. So let's look at 1 and 2.

  1. I've known composers that have difficulties singing perfect fifths because they're so used to hearing tritones in 20th- and 21st-century music. Perhaps in your own musical memory you have grown accustomed to hearing scale-degree 7 (B in C major) jump down the tritone to scale-degree 4 (F in C major). It's unorthodox, and I don't know any examples that do this consistently enough for you to latch on to it, but perhaps.

  2. What I ultimately think it is is that you're just not actively conceptualizing what you're trying to do. Try this exercise:

When you hear the B in the context of C major, you should actively recognize it as the "leading tone," the seventh scale degree which strives to resolve up a half step to tonic (scale-degree 1, in this case C). Sing this B out loud, then slide up a half step to C.

I expect you'll have no problems doing this task. If, however, you try to sing up a half step and accidentally end up singing down a tritone, I'm not sure an Internet forum is the best place to look for advice :-) ...find a local musician and work with them!

As the above exercise becomes second nature, I recommend singing these two pitches with syllables; perhaps singing the scale-degrees "sev" and "one," or even solfege of "ti" (or "si") up to "do." This way you won't be thinking about singing particular intervals ('up a half step'), but instead you'll be thinking of the functions of these scale degrees ('I'm singing 'sev,' I've got to resolve it to 'one!' ').

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