Fun With Secondary Dominants

The Theory of Secondary Dominants

The 5th chord in a scale, always wants to resolve to the first chord in a scale.

For example:

||: C | Am | Dm | G7 :|| C ||

7th chords (as in: “G7) are also called “dominant chords”.
V7 in the scale is called “the dominant chord) because it is the chord with most tension in a scale.
This chord wants to resolve back, down a 5th to its I chord.

In this case: G7 wants to resolve to C
This is called the “primary dominant”.

However: you can also precede the other chords (than the I chord) in the scale by a dominant chord up a 5th.
These are called “secondary dominants”.
Secondary dominants are dominants that resolve to any other chord than the I chord of the key.

They are labeled as V7/target chord, as in for example: V7/II.
This means a dominant chord up a 5th from the 2nd chord (II) in the scale.

In the key of C, this would be an A7 chord, which is indeed up a 5th from Dm, the 2nd chord in the key of C.

The secondary dominant is alway followed by its resolution chord.

Memorize The Secondary Dominants

    V7/II

    Cmaj7 | A7 | Dm | G7

    V7/III

    Cmaj7 | B7 | Em | G7

    V7/IV

    Cmaj7 | C7 | Fmaj7 | G7 ||

    V7/V

    Cmaj7 | Am | D7 | G7

    V7/VI

    Cmaj7 | E7 | Am | Dm G7 ||

    V7/VII

    I added this here on the list for the sake of thoroughness.
    However: the use of V7/VII is extremely rare.
    The F#7 also doesn’t really sound like a secondary dominant in the below example.

    Cmaj7 | Fmaj7 | F#7 | Bm7b5

    The Bm7b5 (BDFA) usually serves as a substitution for G7 (GBDF).
    This makes the F#7 sound more like a passing chord from Fmaj7 to G7/Bm7b5 than as a secondary dominant.

    In addition: by nature that chord VII in a major key is a m7b5 chord, a highly unstable chord that lacks direction, this chord is less commonly used. This all explains why it’s very unlikely you will ever use or encounter V7/VII as an option.

Conclusion

The whole reason why you would use secondary dominants in songwriting, is to create stronger momentum and forward motion in your song.
The tension in a secondary dominants leads it to want to resolve forward to its target chord.

Secondary dominants create greater forward flow in the story telling of a song.

Implement them in your songs and see how you like it.
Experiment and have fun with this new found knowledge.
Be on the look out for more blogs about everything guitar, music, songwriting and music education.

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  1. whitesun689 Says:

    amazing.

    November 25th, 2014 at 3:03 pm
  2. ZOTZin Music Says:

    Glad you like it. You can hit me up anytime if you have any questions or if you have certain guitar, music theory or songwriting topics you would like to find out more about and that you would like me to cover in a blog.

    November 25th, 2014 at 3:13 pm