Leading Tones

Question by Tony Blaszak
(Milwaukie Oregon)

Hello Mark,

In your first lesson you explained that with II-VI-I’s you can take the 7th and 3rd of each chord and the 3rd will resolve to the 7th of the next chord.

How do you deal with chord progressions that are not II VI I such as the chords to ” How Insensitive” Dm7, C#o7, Cm7, G7/B etc. etc.

Thank you

M-A’s Answer:

Hello Tony,

This is a great (and very relevant) question Tony, because a lot of good tunes don’t use strictly II V’s. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, here’s the lesson Tony is talking about…(In brief, in II-V-I progressions, thirds resolve to sevenths and vice versa)

Before we start:

I recently received constructive criticism regarding my “Questions/Answers” pages: some may think there’s too much “blabbering” around the heart of the matter (and not enough “notes” and music). I think the message to me is “Keep it simple!”

(That’s it, my mouth is shut now!!!)

An Example to Demonstrate

To answer your question briefly, I will simply outline the obvious and let you have your way with what is implied. Please feel free to comment or send me an email if you need further explanations. There’s no typical, standardized way of dealing with “non II-V’s” progressions. You have to look at each situation/tune and study the harmony carefully. Usually, there are plenty of obvious resolutions if the harmony is “good” and strong.

From your study you can derive leading tones/guide tones and start creating lines/compings from them. Look for half-step motion , that’s the key to sounding good.

“How Insensitive” for example :
(Note : I will use Dm6 and Cm6 since they have a better “tonic minor” type of sound.)


D –> C#
F –> E
A –> G
B –> Bb

(C#o7 can be seen/heard as A7(b9) with C# in the bass (first inversion). It creates a “I – V” movement with Dm to A7.)


C#–> C
E –> Eb
G –> G
Bb–> A

(C#o7 can now be seen/heard as a dominant leading to Cm in a “bII – I” kind of way)


C –> B
Eb–> D
G –> F
A –> A (or even Ab)

(Here again, we have a “I – V” movement with Cm to G7)

In this example, out of four chords (thus three “changes” of harmony), most of the voice leading can be achieved by half-steps. It is the case most of the time, with most of the tunes ever written (…if not ALL the tunes!)

Always remember that there’s no right or wrong answer, just different perceptions.

I hope this helps,
Practice Well,

Marc-Andre Seguin

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