For the 2,000th theory question! The leading note is often called the leading tone, albeit being one semitone below the root note. Why has it been called thus? It can't be right!

  • I'm not sure what the question is. You're asking whether note and tone are sometimes synonyms? Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 15:27
  • @ToddWilcox - simply it's a semitone leading to the root, not a tone.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 15:29
  • 1
    leadingsemitone just doesn't have the same ring to it.
    – b3ko
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 15:36
  • @b3ko - suppose it depends what key you're in...
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 15:38
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    @tim i agree "leading note" seems more precise and less confusing especially for those that use the terms semitone and tone to mean step and half step.
    – b3ko
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 16:01

2 Answers 2


To summarize what I got out of comments above:

Tone and Note are sometimes used interchangeably, even though they probably shouldn't be.

In some parts people tend to say Tone and SemiTone (British English) where in other parts they will say Whole Step or Half Step (US English).

The phrase "leading tone" is probably not phrased in the best way since it is a half step (or semi tone) below the tonic.

To be 100% clear one can use the phrase "Leading Note". Or just realize that language is full of inconsistencies and just remember that the leading tone is just a name and may not fit the technical definition of Tone in all contexts.

  • 1
    So, why does the term leading Tone keep getting used, when it's patently obviously misleading?
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 19:19
  • 2
    @tim google brings back the first definition for "tone" as "a musical or vocal sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength". So it's a tone or pitch that leads to the tonic. Maybe you're overthinking this? Just call it the subtonic. ??
    – b3ko
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 19:31
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    But the subtonic is usually the flattened seventh scale degree, isn't it?
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 23:59
  • @dekkadeci google says "the note below the tonic, the seventh note of the diatonic scale of any key."
    – b3ko
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 1:20
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    @b3ko, the only place I remember reading the word "subtonic" is in a minor-key context. There, it meant the flattened seventh scale degree, not the leading tone.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 5:42

OP is correct; the "leading tone" is a semitone below the tonic. In this case, "tone" referst to a note in meaning. Since the distance of a half-step is one-half of a tone, it is called a semitone. The two meanings of tone as either a note or as a specific interval are not the same, and in this case "leading tone" is referring to a note.

"Leading tone" would be a synonym of "leading note" if theorists were actually smart, but they like to make people's lives hard sometimes, so they gave the same word two meanings.

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