• Exposed: The Skeleton Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    in Chords & Progressions,General Music,Piano,Theory

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    You arrived this page because you want to learn about the skeleton of the dominant seventh chord.

    Believe it or not, the more you know about the dominant seventh chord, the better for you. This is because the importance of the dominant seventh chord in music for the past 500 years cannot be over-emphasized.

    In a previous lesson on the functions of the dominant seventh chord, we covered five functions of the dominant seventh chord that every serious musician should know.

    We’re taking our discussion further in today’s lesson by exploring the skeleton of the dominant seventh chord and I’m asking for your undivided attention for the next 17 minutes or so.

    A Review On The Dominant Seventh Chord

    Permit me to breakdown the individual words that make up the term dominant seventh chord.

    A Breakdown Of The Term Dominant

    There are technical names that music scholars associate with every degree of the scale. The term dominant is one of them.

    The fifth degree of the scale has been associated with the term dominant since the inception of tonality – the concept of key. Since then, the term dominant has been considered to be synonymous with five or a fifth.

    In the key of C major:

    …the fifth degree (which is G):

    …is known to music scholars as the dominant.

    A Breakdown Of The Term Seventh

    Seventh is a term used to express the measure of an interval or chord that encompasses seven degrees of a given scale. In the key of C major:

    …any musical element that spans from C to B:

    …(be it an interval or a chord) is quantified as a seventh.

    A Breakdown Of The Term Chord

    A chord is a collection of related notes (agreeable or not), that are played [or heard] together.

    “Let’s Briefly Discuss On The Relationship Between The Notes That Make Up A Chord…”

    The notes that make up a chord (aka – “chord tones”) are usually related in two ways – by a scale, and a class of harmony.

    In scale relationship, chord tones are related by a given scale. For example, the notes of the C major triad (which are C, E and G):

    …are related by the C major scale:

    In class of harmony, chord tones are related by a stipulated distance between them. In the C major triad, successive chord tones are related by third intervals.

    “What Is A Dominant Seventh Chord?”

    A dominant seventh chord consists of a collection of related notes founded on the fifth degree of the scale (aka – “dominant”), that encompasses seven degrees of the scale.

    The first part of the definition that says “consists of a collection of related notes” is derived from the definition of a chord.

    The second part of the definition that says “founded on the fifth degree of the scale” talks about the dominant.

    The third part of the definition that says “encompasses seven degrees of the scale” is derived from the definition of a seventh.

    “Let’s Make It Practical…”

    A dominant seventh chord in the key of Bb major:

    …is a collection of related notes founded on the fifth degree (which is F):

    …that encompasses seven degrees of the Bb major scale from F to Eb:

    Pursuant to the chord formation guideline for tertian chords, we can derive the “related notes” thus:

    A third from F:

    …is A:

    A third from F-A:

    …is C:

    A third from F-A-C:

    …is Eb:

    Altogether, that’s the F dominant seventh chord:

    …which is the dominant seventh chord in the key of Bb major:

    “For You’re Reference, Here’s The Dominant Seventh Chord In All Twelve Keys…”

    C Dominant Seventh Chord:

    Db Dominant Seventh Chord:

    D Dominant Seventh Chord:

    Eb Dominant Seventh Chord:

    E Dominant Seventh Chord:

    F Dominant Seventh Chord:

    Gb Dominant Seventh Chord:

    G Dominant Seventh Chord:

    Ab Dominant Seventh Chord:

    A Dominant Seventh Chord:

    Bb Dominant Seventh Chord:

    B Dominant Seventh Chord:

    The Skeleton Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    I want to assume that you’ve not come across the musical term skeleton.

    “What Is A Skeleton?”

    A chord is a collection of three or more related notes that are generally referred to as chord tones. All chord tones are important. However, there are two chord tones that are more important and as a result, should NOT be omitted from a chord. They are, the third and the seventh tones.

    The third and seventh tones of a chord are important because the quality of a chord is uncertain without them.

    The C major seventh chord:

    …and the C minor seventh chord:

    …have the same root (C) and fifth (G):

    …tones. The difference between both chords is their third and seventh tones – E-B:

    …in the case of the C major seventh chord, and Eb-Bb:

    …in the case of the C minor seventh chord.

    Due to the importance of the third and seventh tones in qualifying a chord, they are called the skeleton of a chord.

    Exposed: The Skeleton Of A Dominant Seventh Chord

    The skeleton of the dominant seventh chord is its third and seventh tones. The skeleton of the C dominant seventh chord:

    …is E-Bb:

    …which is (for all intents and purposes) an interval.

    “So, What’s The Interval Between The Skeleton Of The Dominant Seventh Chord?”

    E-Bb:

    …the skeleton of the C dominant seventh chord:

    …is a diminished fifth interval.

    The diminished fifth interval is popularly known as the tritone and is considered unpleasant and harsh. When played or heard, the diminished fifth interval has the tendency to resolve to a more stable interval or chord.

    “Alright…”

    Now that you’ve discovered that the skeleton of the dominant seventh chord is the tritone, let’s end this lesson by exploring it.

    The Tritone – Explored

    A Brief Historical Background Of The Tritone

    The tritone is one of the earliest dissonant interval that was discovered several centuries ago when most trained musicians were church men.

    The first tritone that was discovered was F-B:

    …an augmented fourth interval.

    Every other fourth interval on the keyboard like C-F:

    …D-G:

    E-A:

    …and so on, was a perfect fourth save F-B which is an augmented fourth interval.

    Due to its harsh and unpleasant outcome when heard, it was considered imperfect and attributed to the devil. Hence, the name diabolus in musica which means the devil’s interval.

    The Inversion Of The Tritone

    The inversion of the tritone produces an inverted tritone – which for all intents and purposes is still a tritone.

    The inversion of the tritone F-B (an augmented fourth interval):

    …produces B-F (a diminished fifth interval):

    …which is an inverted tritone.

    In actuality, it is the inverted tritone that is the the skeleton of the dominant seventh chord. For example, B-F (a diminished fifth interval):

    …is the skeleton of the G dominant seventh chord:

    …and an inversion of F-B (an augmented fourth interval):

    …which is a tritone.

    “Check Out The Inverted Tritone (aka – “skeleton of dominant seventh chords) In All 12 Notes…”

    C tritone:

    …the skeleton of the Ab dominant seventh chord:

    C# tritone:

    …the skeleton of the A dominant seventh chord:

    D tritone:

    …the skeleton of the Bb dominant seventh chord:

    D# tritone:

    …the skeleton of the B dominant seventh chord:

    E tritone:

    …the skeleton of the C dominant seventh chord:

    F tritone:

    …the skeleton of the Db dominant seventh chord:

    F# tritone:

    …the skeleton of the D dominant seventh chord:

    G tritone:

    …the skeleton of the Eb dominant seventh chord:

    G# tritone:

    …the skeleton of the E dominant seventh chord:

    A tritone:

    …the skeleton of the F dominant seventh chord:

    A# tritone:

    …the skeleton of the F# dominant seventh chord:

    B tritone:

    …the skeleton of the G dominant seventh chord:

    Final Words

    Now that you know that the tritone is the skeleton of the dominant seventh chord, feel free to substitute the dominant seventh chord with its skeleton where necessary.

    In a 5-1 chord progression in the key of C major:

    …the skeleton of the G dominant seventh chord:

    …can be used as chord 5, resolving to the C major triad:

    That’s the much we can take in this lesson.

    See you in the next lesson and thanks for your time!

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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