In this lesson, we’ll be learning about three classes of dominant chords.
Dominant chords are the second most important chords in music, and that’s why piano players of all styles and levels must be acquainted with them.
There are three levels that every musician can belong to – the beginners level, the intermediate level, and the advanced level. Irrespective of your level, there’s a class of dominant chord that is meant for you.
If you give me your undivided attention, we’ll be exploring dominant chords for beginners, intermediate, and advanced players in 15 minutes or so. But before then, let’s do a review on dominant chords.
“What Is A Dominant Chord?”
Let’s invest a few minutes into the dissection of the terms dominant and chord. I guarantee that it would enhance your understand of what a dominant chord is.
A Short Note On The Term Dominant
The term dominant is a technical name used by music scholars to describe the fifth degree in a key – whether major or minor. For example, in the key of C major:
…the fifth degree (which is G):
…is the dominant.
The dominant is the second tone in a key in terms of importance and that’s why we’re dealing with dominant chords in this lesson.
“What Is A Chord?”
A chord is a collection of three or more related notes (agreeable or not), that are played (or heard) together.
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Although it takes at least three notes to form a chord, before any collection of three notes can be considered as a chord, there MUST be a relationship between them. For example, G, B, and D:
…can be considered as a chord because of the scale and intervallic relationship between the notes – G, B, and D.
The notes G, B, and D:
…are the first, third, and fifth tones of the G myxolydian scale:
…and that’s the scale relationship between them. Also, there is an intervallic relationship between the G, B, and D. The interval between G and B:
…is a third interval, and so is the interval between B and D:
Consequently, the intervallic relationship between G, B, and D is in third intervals.
The Term Dominant Chord – Explained
From what we’ve covered so far, a dominant chord is a collection of three or more related notes (chord), founded on the fifth degree in any given key.
For example, in the key of C major:
…any chord that is founded on the fifth degree (which is G):
…is a dominant chord.
The same thing is applicable to any other key whether major or minor.
In the key of A minor:
…any chord that is founded on the fifth degree (which is E):
…is a dominant chord.
The Classification Of Dominant Chords According To Width
The width (aka – “height”) of an interval or a chord refers to the number of notes it encompasses. For example, the C major triad:
…encompasses five degrees of the C natural major scale:
…from C to G:
Consequently, the width of the C major triad is quantified as a fifth.
In this lesson, we’re classifying dominant chords according to width – which is simply according to the number of notes they encompass.
Class #1 – The Dominant Triad
A triad is basically a collection of three related notes that are played or heard together, while a dominant triad is simply a triad that is founded on the fifth degree in any key type – whether major or minor.
In the key of C major:
…where the fifth degree is G:
…the dominant triad can be formed using the pick-skip technique.
Using the C natural major scale:
…as a guide, and starting from the dominant (which is G):
…we’ll pick G:
…skip A and pick B:
…skip C and pick D:
…and altogether, that’s the G dominant triad:
The dominant triad basically consist of a root, third, and fifth tones. Therefore, a typical dominant triad has three chord tones and encompasses a fifth interval when played in root position.
Submission: The dominant triad is for all intents and purposes a major triad. However, it is called a dominant triad because it is founded on the fifth degree of the scale.
Class #2 – The Dominant Seventh Chord
The next class of dominant chords is the dominant seventh chord. Seventh chords have a bigger width that encompasses a seventh intervals and that’s one of the ways they differ from triads.
The dominant seventh chord can be defined as a collection of related notes, founded on the fifth degree of the scale, that encompasses seven degrees of the scale.
In the key of D major:
…the dominant seventh chord can be founded on the fifth degree (which is A):
…using the pick-skip technique, the rest of the chord tones can be derived.
“Check It Out…”
Using the D major scale:
…as a reference, we’ll pick A:
…skip B and pick C#:
…skip D and pick E:
…skip F# and pick G:
Altogether, that’s the A dominant seventh chord:
…which is the chord of the fifth degree in the key of D major:
Two characteristic features of the A dominant seventh chord:
…that you must take note of are that:
#1. It is founded on the fifth degree in the key of D
#2. It encompasses seven tones of the D natural major scale – from A to G
The dominant seventh chord consists of the first, third, fifth, and seventh tones of the mixolydian scale. Consequently, using the mixolydian scale, the dominant seventh chord can be formed on any note on the piano.
For example, using the Eb mixolydian scale:
…the Eb dominant seventh chord can be formed by outlining the first, third, fifth, and seventh tones (which are Eb, G, Bb, and Db):
Class #3 – The Extended Dominant Chords
Dominant chords that exceed the compass of an octave are classified as extended dominant chords. There are three sub-classes of extended dominant chords and they are as follows:
- The dominant ninth chords
- The dominant eleventh chords
- The dominant thirteenth chords
Extended dominant chords can be altered and this is basically done when the ninth and/or fifth tones are either raised or lowered. The alteration of a dominant chord chromatically adapts it to resolve to a foreign or related key.
For example, in the key of C major:
…the alteration of the G dominant ninth chord:
…produces the G altered chord:
…which resolves to the F# major triad:
…the chord of the first degree (aka – “tonic triad”) in the key of F# major:
…which is a foreign key.
From what we’ve covered in these lessons, you’ve seen the three classes of dominant chords.
These classes of dominant chords are designated for various harmonic situations. There are times when a dominant triad can get the job done, and there are also occasions when a dominant seventh or extended dominant chord can get the job done.
We’ll continue our discussion on dominant chords in another lesson. Until then, its bye for now.