I'm reading the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Theory, and in the book is a cool table with chord leading patterns.

The explanation in the book is this: So if you have a scale with the chords I ii iii IV V vi vii°, it tells you a way to arrange the chords, in this fashion: I (tonic) -> go to any chord. If i choose IV, then I can go to I, iii, V, vii°, so I choose V, and go back to the tonic. So you get the popular chord progression I IV V.

The whole table is this:

  • I -> any
  • ii -> IV, V, vii°
  • iii -> ii, IV, vi
  • IV -> I, iii, V, vii°
  • V -> I
  • vi -> ii, IV, V, I
  • vii° -> I, iii

I like to think of this as a tip, that is similar to playing notes in the scale (you can choose any chord in any order, but if you respect this pattern, it will sound good, like how you can play notes outside the scale, but if you play only notes in the scale, it will sound good).

Does the same pattern apply for other scales, that aren't the same structure (major, minor, minor, etc.)? For example, B lydian, which is I II iii iv° V vi vii (major, major, minor, etc.):

  • I -> any
  • II -> iv°, V, vii
  • iii -> II, iv°, vi
  • iv° -> I, iii, V, vii
  • V -> I
  • vi -> II, iv°, V, I
  • vii -> I, iii

Is this way of chord leading based on the order and type of chord (tonic, supertonic, etc.) like I did in the list above, or is there something more to it?

  • 1
    Not an answer, but the top list is merely a tip. There are many many songs that are testament to it. there are also many many songs that use other diatonic chords to follow that are not listed - in face, any diatonic chord can and will follow any other. I wouldn't recommend using this as anything else but a rough guide. Some of the better, well known and loved songs do not follow its guidances! Incidentally, that same pattern (MmmMMmo) follows all modes, it just starts at different points in its cycle.
    – Tim
    Dec 31, 2018 at 11:21
  • Thank you, yes, I am aware that it is just a guideline, but I want to really understand this guide (and this special case of it, that is the basis for my question), for me to actually break it.
    – Shikkou
    Dec 31, 2018 at 11:25
  • 1
    I have other music theory/harmony texts that suggest more that the list. So I'd agree that this is a suggestion that keeps the reader from meandering about aimlessly.
    – user50691
    Dec 31, 2018 at 15:03

2 Answers 2


No, the same pattern would not necessarily apply for other scales. Take the relatively bog-standard Aeolian scale, for example:

v -> ???

At least for its manifestation in classical music, the v chord is often so bum that older composers often used V instead for chords that lead to i. When I've heard v used in classical music, it typically leads to a chord other than i.

The impression I've got from listening to pieces that use the Phrygian scale is that this is acceptable (if possibly incomplete):

(♭)II -> i, (♭)III, (♭)VI, (♭)vii

I would easily believe that this way of chord leading is based on the order and type of chord, though. It's just that the corresponding chords' types differ from the major/Ionian version.


Your list of chords to go to isn't a 'rule' to be broken, it's just a list of possibilities, restricted to the diatonic ones.

After I, IV you can go to ii, to II, to iv, to bVII, to III... Some of these aren't diatonic.

So what?

When listing chords it can be convenient to ring-fence the diatonic ones (else you'd have to list a whole LOT of chords). But don't get the impression that these are preferred, or even the most commonly used. Outside nursery songs (and 'theory' books) it just ain't so. We use those naughty chromatic chords ALL THE TIME.

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