• Here Are Two Ways To Resolve Dominant Seventh Chords

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    In this post I’ll be showing you two ways to resolve dominant seventh chords.

    The dominant seventh chord is one of the chords in music that is associated with dissonance (an unpleasant combination of notes), consequently, the dominant seventh chord sounds restless and has the tendency to move to a more stable chord when played.

    This movement to a more stable chord is known to music scholars as resolution and an understanding of the resolution of the dominant seventh chord is of the greatest possible importance.

    You’ll be learning two classic resolutions of the dominant seventh chord in this post, but before we get into all that, permit me to do a review on the dominant seventh chord.

    A Review On The Dominant Seventh Chord

    For the sake of those who are just coming across the term dominant seventh chord for the first time, we’ll start with the definition of the dominant seventh chord.

    “What Is A Dominant Seventh Chord?”

    The term dominant seventh chord can be understood better if we breakdown three words – dominant, seventh, and chord.

    “Here’s a breakdown of these terms…”

    Chord: A chord is a collection of related notes that are played or heard together. The term chord is generic.

    Dominant: The term dominant refers to the technical name that music scholars associate with the fifth degree of the scale. The term dominant is positional. Unless a chord is formed on the fifth degree of a particular [major or minor] scale, it can’t be a dominant chord.

    Seventh: Seventh is a term that describes the size of a chord or interval that encompasses seven scale degrees. The term seventh is descriptive. The size of the dominant seventh chord is described using this term. When played in root position, the dominant seventh chord fits exactly into the a compass of seven scale degrees.

    In a nutshell, the dominant seventh chord is a chord built on the fifth degree of the [major or minor] scale, that encompasses seven degrees of the scale. In the key of C major:

    …where G:

    …is the fifth tone of the scale, a chord built in the key of C major that encompasses seven degrees of the C major scale from G to F:

    …is the dominant seventh chord.

    “Here’s How To Form The Dominant Seventh Chord”

    Using any major scale, you can form the dominant seventh chord using the pick-skip technique.

    Here’s how it works…

    Starting from the dominant (the fifth degree) of the C major scale (which is G):

    …here’s how to add the remainder notes…

     

    Skip A, pick B:

    …skip C, pick D:

    …skip E, pick F:

    …at this point, you’ve encompassed seven degrees of the C major scale from G to F:

    …and consequently, you’ve formed the G dominant seventh chord:

    Following chord transposition principles, you can play the dominant seventh chords in all twelve keys on the keyboard…
    C dominant seventh:

    Db dominant seventh:

    Here are the rest of them…


    D dominant seventh:

    Eb dominant seventh:

    E dominant seventh:

    F dominant seventh:

    Gb dominant seventh:

    G dominant seventh:

    Ab dominant seventh:

    A dominant seventh:

    Bb dominant seventh:

    B dominant seventh:

    “Why Does The Dominant Seventh Chord Sound Restless?”

    The dominant seventh chord, unlike major and minor triads sounds very unstable. When played, it feels like resolving to another chord that is stable.

    Music scholars describe this feeling as the activity of the dominant seventh chord (versus the stability of major and minor triads.)

    Here are some of the frequently asked questions about the dominant seventh chord:

    • Why is the dominant seventh chord active, and not stable?
    • Where is that tendency to resolve coming from?

    Here’s what you need to know about the dominant seventh chord, that makes it sound unpleasant when heard (aka – “dissonant”.)

    The dominant seventh chord contains the diminished fifth (aka – “tritone“), a dissonant interval that was known to musicians who lived several centuries ago as the devil’s interval.

    This interval is found between the third and the seventh tones (aka – “skeleton“) of the dominant seventh chord.

    This interval wasn’t really devilish, rather its association with the devil came from its harshness and the fearful feeling it evoked when played.

    In the G dominant seventh chord:

    …the diminished fifth interval is formed between B and F:

    Every other dominant seventh chord has this tritonic element between its third and seventh tones.

    The Resolution Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    We established earlier that the dominant seventh chord resolves to a stable chord. In this segment, we want to explore two resolutions of the dominant seventh chord.

    Resolution #1 – Downward Resolution A Perfect Fifth Below

     

    The dominant seventh chord resolves to a major or minor chord whose root is a perfect fifth below its root. In the case of the G dominant seventh chord:

    …which is the chord of the fifth degree in the key of C major, the G dominant seventh chord resolves downward by a perfect fifth.

    Due to the fact that a perfect fifth below G:

    …is C:

    …the G dominant seventh chord:

    …resolves to the C major:

    …or the C minor triad:

    In the same vein, all other dominant seventh chords resolves downward by a fifth.

    Attention: Using the circle of fifths/fourths, you can be able to determine where a dominant seventh chord resolves to. Here’s the circle of fourths/fifths:
    circleoffiths1
    …and the direction to follow is the counter-clockwise direction.

    At the twelve O’clock position of the cycle of fourths/fifth is C. If C you’re given the C dominant seventh chord to resolve, all you need to do is as simple as going counter-clockwise to the next segment.

    A counter-clockwise movement from C, using the circle of fourths/fifths:
    circleoffiths1
    …takes us to F. Therefore, the C dominant seventh chord:

    …resolves to the F major:

    …or F minor:

    tonic triad.

    This resolution forms what music scholars call the dominant-tonic relationship, and considering that there are two tonalities, a dominant seventh chord can either resolve to a major triad (which is the tonic triad of the major key) or to a minor triad (the tonic triad of the minor key.)

    This explains why the C dominant seventh chord can resolve to the F major triad or the F minor triad.

    Using the circle of fourths/fifths:
    circleoffiths1
    …the F dominant seventh chord resolves counter-clockwise to Bb, the Bb dominant seventh chord resolves counter-clockwise to Eb, the Eb dominant seventh chord resolves counter-clockwise to Ab, etc.

    Before we end today’s lesson, let’s look at an alternate way of resolving dominant seventh chords.

    Resolution #2 – Downward Resolution A Half Step Below

    Dominant seventh chords also resolve downward by a half step. This happens a lot in gospel and jazz styles.

    Suggested Reading: Tritone Substitution 101: Fifth vs Half Step Equivalence.

    In this case, the G dominant seventh chord:

    …resolves to the F# major:

    …or F# minor:

    …triads.

    This is another resolution of dominant seventh chords that every serious musician needs to know.

    Final Words

    Always remember that there are other possible resolution and substitutions of the dominant seventh chord. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you too in subsequent posts.

    Meanwhile, feel free to resolve the dominant seventh chord using the two classic ways we explored in today’s lesson.

    Thank you very much and I’ll see you in another post.

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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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    { 10 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Abas

    So evaluative and knowledgeable. wonderful post. my question; Is there a possibility of resolving the dominant seventh chord to a Major or Minor seventh chord other than the (major/minor) triad?.
    what would be the implication?

    Reply

    2 Abas

    …whether a half step below or a perfect fifth below? Thank you.

    Reply

    3 zino

    great

    Reply

    4 zino

    wow this site has really help and change my musical career for good .God Almighty bless you people

    Reply

    5 Jo

    Great post… question on the key of C major, if I resolve the dominant G chord a half step below, wouldn’t that be going off the key? Thanks.

    Reply

    6 Chuku Onyemachi

    No you won’t, Jo!

    In the key of F# where the C# dominant seventh chord is chord five, the G dominant seventh chord can be used to substitute the C# dominant seventh chord. Instead of progressing from the C# dominant seventh chord to the F# major triad, one can progress from the G dominant seventh chord to the F# major triad. This resolution happens in gospel and jazz music and is sparingly used in classical music as well.

    In a nutshell, you won’t have a poor resolution.

    Reply

    7 Fashegs

    it would also resolve up to a major/minor a semitone, triad of itself and a minor chord a full tone above

    Reply

    8 Emmanuel

    wow I had no idea about this God bless youguys

    Reply

    9 Laroche

    Corrected Versions:
    #1 Transpose the root C and third E(b) up an octave, leave the G.
    #2 F of G7 goes an halfstep UP to F# – NOT down to C#.
    Because of the unavoidable parallel fifth (G and D to F# and C#) often a six-four suspensions of the tonic is inserted before reaching the final tonic.

    Dear Chuko Onyemachi – don’t teach if you don’t know the very basics of music. Thanks.

    Reply

    10 Edwin ZImmerman

    I understand everything you’ve posted about relationships of dominant 7th; however, one term eludes my feeble brain. And it has to do with how to use my new knowledge. What is meant by ‘resolve’?

    Reply

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