To learn more about music theory and dance see also http://www.lovemusiclovedance.com

Other Sponsored Music Education Resources

Secondary Dominants

 
Do you like the free music, dance and stock trading tutorials provided on this site? If so, please write a review for Alexa! Alexa is a unique tool for searching the Internet because it shows traffic ratings and reviews.

 Walking Basslines

Learn to compose and improvise walking basslines (see a free movie!)

 
Cool Chord Progressions

 
Money Chords
(chord progressions
for songwriters)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Jazz Theory Book
( highly recommended)

 

 

 

 

PowerTracks Pro Audio MIDI software -- Helps you learn chord letter names by automatically determining names of chords in MIDI files and recordings.

 

 

 

 

 

Chord Chemistry
(chords for guitar,
but useful for other
musicians as well)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music by composer
Walter Piston -- who created the concept of "secondary dominants."

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one in a series of free music lessons. Click here if you'd like to subscribe.

In this lesson you'll learn to introduce and manage some chords that do not belong to the key that you are playing or composing in. By introducing these chords you give your music more variety, more spice. These chords are called secondary dominants. Before I explain secondary dominant, I'd like to explain the terms dominant and tonic. If you already know these terms, you may want to skip ahead to "Secondary Dominants" below...

Dominant. The basic meaning of the word dominant is "commanding, controlling, or prevailing over all others." o clearly the dominant chord is a powerful chord. It seems to command what will happen next in the music. The dominant chord in music is the chord built on the fifth degree of the scale. Sometimes it is called the V chord. (Roman numeral V = 5). When the dominant chord sounds, it has a strong tendency to progress to the I chord, or the chord built on the first degree of the scale. The I chord is also called the tonic. This tonic chord is the same as chord that matches the name of the key. When the tonic sounds, it strengths the feeling of the key. (a tonic is something that strengthens.). The tonic is the foundation chord for a tune -- the chord that a tune usually starts and ends on. If a tune doesn't end on the tonic chord, it will leave the listener "hanging" -- expecting more., Sometimes that's done for a special effect, but usually a piece of music will end on the tonic.

Progress check. In the key of A, what would the tonic chord be? The dominant? (When I say key of A, assume I mean "A major."


The dominant would be E major and the tonic would be A major.

Each key has 7 main chords, one for each degree of the scale. These are sometimes called diatonic chords. Lets look at all of the three note diatonic chords in the key of A. A three-note chord is called a triad. Each diatonic triad has a number name (given in Roman numerals) a functional name, and a letter name. In the table below I'll give the Number name, functional name and letter name of each chord. Notice that the letter name tells whether the chord is major, minor or diminished. For now, I am just talking about triads (3-note chords)

Number Functional Name Letter Name
I
tonic A major
ii
supertonic B minor
iii
mediant C# minor
IV
subdominant D major
V
dominant E major
vii
submediant F# minor
viii
leading tone G# diminished

The V (dominant chord) has a strong tendency to move to the tonic. (But it also progresses nicely (up a second) to the vi chord and sometimes (down a third) to the iii chord. The V chord rarely progresses to the IV chord or the ii or vii chords.(Exception: the V chord progresses smoothly to the IV chord if the IV chord has its second chord tone in the bass, rather than its root in the bass.For example, G in the key of C, might progress to F/A. F/A means an F chord with A in the bass.)

Secondary Dominants.. The primary dominant chord in a key is always built on a tone a perfect fifth above the tonic chord (the I chord). A secondary dominant is a major chord a perfect fifth above a chord other than the I chord. So each chord in a key can have its own dominant. The dominant for the ii chord is called the V of ii. The dominant for the iii chord is called the V of iii and so on. For example, in the key of A major, the ii chord is B-minor. The secondary dominant for the ii chord is F# major. That is because a perfect above B is F#. The F# chord can be referred to as V of ii.

So in the key of A major, if the chord F# major is introduced, it will attract some attention because it is not one of the main chords in the key of A.When it is introduced, has a tendency to move next to B minor (down a perfect fith)

Progress Check: Play the chord progression I - Vof ii - ii, V - I in the key of A major. What chord probably has the most dramatic effect?


Answer: The chords would be: A major, F major, B minor, E major, A major. The F major chord would probably attract the most attention since it is not a diatonic chord in the key of A major. (There is no A# in the key of A and the A# is needed as the second tone of the F# major chord.)

Suppose your wanted a dramatic effect in a song you are writing. Which kind of chord would be more approriate, a diatonic chord or a secondary dominant?


You should now understand how to construct secondary dominants, which would be more appropriate for dramatic effects than diatonic chords. Just go up to a tone that is a perfect fifth above a chord in the key and build a major chord on that tone. (If you are having trouble understanding what a perfect 5th is, you may want to get my book on introduction to music theory, called What Makes Music Work. ).

Before the concept of "secondary dominants" was introduced into music theory by Walter Piston, chord progressions involving secondary dominants were thought of as modulations. (By the way, Walter Piston wrote several music theory books and they are sometimes used as textbooks in college music programs. I find Piston's books useful, but be forewarned they required a lot of dedicated study and hard work, especially without an instructor. Click here if you'd like to explorer Walter Piston's music theory books.)

The problem with the modulation analysis used before the concept of secondary dominants, is that the key center sometimes does not really change. When a secondary dominant is used, it is like a head fake modulation. The harmony seems to modulate to another key, but then immediately returns to the primary key. By using the idea of secondary dominants you can keep thinking in the same key rather than introducing a new key center and still add color to the original key..

So you know how to construct a secondary dominant, but you may be wondering how you introduce a secondary dominant. Here are some guidelines you may find helpful.

  • Insert a secondary dominant into a progression you already know.
  • Use smooth voice leading.
  • When a diatonic chord progresses down a fith, try changing the diatonic chord to a secondary dominant.

Inserting a Secondary Dominant. Suppose you are improvizing or composing a song with a chord progression that goes: I - vi - IV ii V I. Instead of going directly to the vi chord from I, you might go to the V of vi chord first and then to the vi chord. What chords would that be in the key of C? (Give the letter names.)


C - E - Ami - Dmi - G - C (These chords are major unless designated minor with "mi") The E major chord, here, would be the secondary dominant. Notice that an E major chord has a G#, which does not exist in the key of C.

Using Smooth voice leading. This means don't make the various musical parts jump around when changing chords. It often helps to have the bass part move by a step, even a half-step. A useful technique, here, is to introduce a secondary dominant in first inversion. That is, put the second chord tone of the secondary dominant in the bass part. Another way to say this is to put the "third" of the secondary dominant in the bass. (If you are new to music theory this is probably confusing. But just know that the second tone of a chord is called the third, because it is at the interval of a third above the root.)

When introducing a secondary dominant in first inversion, approach the third of the secondary dominant from a half-step below. The half-step movement in the bass to a non-diatonic tone has a suprising but "smooth" effect.

Progress Check. Try this using the progression: I - vi - IV - VofV - I. Let's use the key of G this time. Indicate the chords and the tones in the bass part.The table below gives the functional names of the chords. Your job is to fill in the letter name of each chord and the tone used in the bass part.

Key of G:
Functional Name of Chord I vi IV VofV I
Letter name of Chord          
Bass Part          

 


 

Functional Name of Chord I vi IV VofV V
Letter of name Chord G Emi C A D
Bass Part G E C C# D

In sheet music the convention has developed of indicating the tone used in the bass part by putting a forward slash and then the tone. For example, an A major chord with C# in the bass would be indicated like this:

A/C#

The chord progression might then be written:

G - Emi - C - A/C# - D

 

Change Diatonic Chord. Another way to introduce a secondary dominant is to look for a diatonic chord that progresses down a fifth. Then change the diatonic chord to a secondary dominant. For example, suppose the chord progression goes:


IV - vii - iii - vi - ii - V - I

In the key of C, iii would be Emi. You might change that to E major. The vi chord would be _________. You might change that to _________.

 

(Fill in the blanks)


In the key of C, iii would be Emi. You might change that to E major. The vi chord would be E mi. You might change that to E (E major).

Deceptive Cadence

A secondary dominant usually progresses down a fifth, but it need not. Any progression is possible if it sounds good. A nice affect can often be produced by having a secondary dominant progress up a second. This is sometimes called a deceptive cadence. A progression I especially like is one that has V of vi progress to IV. That's because the bass can move up a half-step.

Using the key of D, see if you can specify the chords using letter names for this progression:



I - vi - V of iii - V of vi - IV - V - I

 


D - Bmi - C# - F# - G - A - D

 

 



This concludes this introduction to secondary dominants. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Please send me any questions or comments you may have. Let me know how you liked this lesson. 

You can email me at ProfessionalsGuild -at- gmail.com
(Change the -at- to @ and do not use any spaces in the email)

free music theoryy lessons, chords, secondary dominants, guitar, piano, keyboardIn any case, please be sure to drop me a line and let me know you are alive and well. How are your musical studies coming? Did you practice today?

If you'd like to have a video that explains secondary dominants and goes on to teach other kinds of chromatic chords, you may want to order my instructional video called Chromatic Chords.

You may also find these resources useful:

Ear Trainer - an inexpensive program you can use to tune your musical ear.

What Makes Music Work

PowerTracks Pro Audio MIDI software -- Helps you learn chord letter names by automatically determining name of chords in MIDI files and recordings. .

Money Chords -- chord progressions for songwriters.

The Jazz Theory Book -- highly recommended

Chord Chemistry -- focuses on chords for guitar, but useful for other musicians as well.

100 Books on Music Theory

100 Books on Jazz

Do you like the free music, dance and stock trading tutorials provided on this site? If so, please write a review for Alexa! Alexa is a unique tool for searching the Internet because it shows website traffic ratings, reviews.and related pages.

  Copyright 2003-2011, Phil Seyer