• Week 8: Dominant Seventh Chord + Cheat Sheet

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    dominant seventh chord

    In today’s post, we will be looking at the dominant seventh chord, one of the most important chords in harmony.

    You can hardly learn how to harmonize or create chord progressions without coming across the dominant seventh chord.

    In fact, the dominant seventh chord has one of the strongest pulls in music. It creates tension that can resolve to major and minor chords.

    Welcome to the eighth week of our FREE 16-week chord revival program. Let’s get started by defining the dominant seventh chord.

    Definition Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    The term ‘dominant’ refers to the technical name of the fifth degree of the major scale.

    It can also be the fifth degree of a minor scale. But in today’s post, we will see the term dominant as the fifth degree of the major scale for the sake of simplicity.

    The dominant seventh chord can be formed on the fifth degree of the major scale in any given key. For example, in the F major scale:

    …C is the fifth degree.

    Therefore, using the “skip and pick” technique, you can form the dominant seventh chord in the key of F. In this case, it’d be a C dominant seventh chord.

    So from C:

    …skip D and pick E:

    …skip F and pick G:

    …skip A and pick Bb:

    We’re picking Bb because it is the fourth note of the F major scale, not the natural B:

    C, E, G, and Bb, put together, would produce the C dominant seventh chord. It is called a dominant seventh chord because it can be formed from the fifth degree of the major scale of any key.

    If this doesn’t make sense to you right now, fret not, as we’ll be covering every aspect of the chord, step by step.

    Intervallic Breakdown Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    To understand the dominant seventh chord properly, we need to break down its intervals to know what stuff the dominant seventh chord is made up of.

    First, we have the following intervals in relation to C.

    C-E:

    …the major third interval.

    C-G:

    …the perfect fifth interval.

    C-Bb:

    …the minor seventh interval.

    Put together, there are three intervallic components of the dominant seventh chord…

    • the major third
    • the perfect fifth
    • the minor seventh

    Let’s cross-examine these intervals using the C dominant seventh chord as a reference.

    The interval between C and E is a major third. The quality of third in a chord determines its tonality. The dominant seventh chord is considered a major chord because it has the major third interval as its intervallic component. I repeat, “what makes a chord major or minor is dependent on the quality of interval in its third degree.”

    The perfect fifth is between C and G. The perfect fifth is the interval between the first and fifth tones of any given major scale. The dominant seventh chord contains the perfect fifth interval and, as such, is considered to be stable even though it has a degree of instability. We will look at the instability of the dominant seventh subsequently in this segment.

    The minor seventh is between C and Bb. The dominant seventh chord contains a dissonant interval between its first and seventh tones, which are C and Bb respectively. C and Bb would produce a minor seventh interval if sounded together. If you’ve come across my post in the past on chromatic dissonant intervals, you will understand more clearly why minor seventh intervals are classified as dissonant intervals.

    “There’s a Tritone Hiding Somewhere In This Chord. Shhh… Let Me Show You…”

    Did you notice that unlike other types of seventh chords, the dominant seventh chord has a major third and minor seventh?

    It’s common to have chords that have the same quality of third and seventh…

    A major third and a major seventh (major 7th chord)
    A minor third and minor seventh (minor 7th chord)

    But here, we have the dominant seventh chord, built off a mix-up of the major third and minor seventh intervals.

    The dominant seventh chord is so called because it is formed from the fifth degree of the major scale (aka – “the dominant”). However, if you call the dominant seventh a major-minor seventh chord, so be it. You wouldn’t be wrong to make this reference (incidentally, there is also such a thing as the minor-major seventh chord as well).

    The variance in the quality of third and seventh draws our attention to another interval.

    The interval formed between the third and the seventh tones of the dominant seventh chord is the diminished fifth interval, which is popularly known as the tritone.

    The dissonance of this interval made musicians from several centuries ago call it the devil in music.

    Even though the dominant seventh chord has a perfect fifth interval between its first and fifth tone, the diminished fifth interval formed between the third and seventh tone makes the dominant seventh chord sound unstable.

    Without further ado, let’s look at the chord formation process of the dominant seventh chord.

    Alternative Chord Formation Approaches

    There are two chord formation approaches that we are going to explore here:

    • The scale approach
    • The interval approach

    The Scale Approach To The Chord Formation Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    The very first chord formation process is the scale approach.

    The scale approach to chord formation will require us to use the mixolydian mode to form the dominant seventh chord.

    “Considering that the mixolydian mode is an old system, why are we using it?”

    The reason why we are bringing the mixolydian mode into chord formation is because the mixolydian mode is the fifth church mode (aka – “fifth ecclesiastical mode”).

    We are using it in chord formation because just as the term dominant refers to the chord of the fifth degree of the major scale, so does the term mixolydian refer to the fifth church mode.

    “So what’s the easiest way to form the mixolydian mode?”

    The mixolydian mode can be formed from the major scale by lowering the seventh degree of the major scale by a semitone (half step).

    The C major scale can be used to form the C mixolydian mode. If we lower the seventh degree (B):

    …by a semitone or half step (Bb):

    …this will produce the C mixolydian mode:

    Below is the mixolydian scale in all the keys…

    C mixolydian mode:

    Db mixolydian mode:

    D mixolydian mode:

    Eb mixolydian mode:

    E mixolydian mode:

    F mixolydian mode:

    Gb mixolydian mode:

    G mixolydian mode:

    Ab mixolydian mode:

    A mixolydian mode:

    Bb mixolydian mode:

    B mixolydian mode:

    Using any of the mixolydian scales above, we can form the dominant seventh chord using the pick and skip technique we covered earlier.

    Simply stack every other tone – 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th – to create the dominant 7th chord in any key.

    The Interval Approach To The Chord Formation Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    We can form the dominant seventh chord by fitting all its intervallic components into one octave.

    The three intervallic components we came across earlier are the major third, the perfect fifth and the minor seventh intervals.

    Putting all these intervals into one octave will produce the dominant seventh chord.

    Here is a Quick Way to Form The Intervals of the Dominant Seventh Chord In All the Keys…

    The major third is the relationship between the first and the third tone of any major scale. Using any major scale on the keyboard, you can form the major third interval by stacking the first and the third tones.

    The perfect fifth can be formed by the relationship between the first and fifth degree of any major scale.

    The minor seventh interval is smaller than the relationship between the first and seventh degree of the major scale. So if the major seventh, which is the first and seventh degree of the major scale, is stacked together and is shrinked by a semitone (half step), this will produce the minor seventh.

    Bonus Approach: The Use Of The Major Triad In Octave Position

    The major triad can be played in octave position and here is how…

    The C major triad consists of C E G:

    Playing it in octave position will entail adding an extra C on top of the chord and this would produce C E G C:

    In this case, the root is doubled.

    Considering that the root is doubled, the chord is also in octave position.

    If we simply lower this octave by a whole step, in this case from C:

    …to Bb:

    …this will produce the dominant seventh chord.

    Shrinking all octave position chords by a whole step will produce the dominant seventh chord.

    Here are other examples:

    D major chord consists of D-F#-A:

    Playing D major in the octave position will produce D-F#-A-D:

    Lowering the upper D by a whole step will produce D-F#-A-C:

    …and that’s the D dominant seventh chord.

    For another bonus method to forming the Dominant Seventh chord using the diminished triad, click here.

    Final Words

    An understanding of the dominant seventh chord will help you better understand the application of the tritone.

    Don’t miss reading this blog for a single day because I’ll be back with a post on the relationship between the tritone and dominant seventh chord.

    See you then.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 kingx

    everyday I am getting better thanks a lot you are heaven sent

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    2 Karen Sue Loader

    Your blog is more comprehensive than a textbook and with Your fabulous links it feels like a music encyclopedia. It is superb and I love learning here.

    Thank you for so freely giving of yourself, You are a Godsend to me. May our Lord Bless you and keep you and chase you with His favor, giving you every good gift for life and godliness!

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