• FAQ: Why Is It Called The Dominant Seventh Chord?

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    You arrived at this page because you’re interested in learning about the dominant seventh chord.

    The dominant seventh chord is arguably one of the most important chords in tonal music for the past 500 years or so and musicians of the past and present generation have applied it in diverse ways.

    The dominant seventh chord has a common place in blues, gospel, and jazz music styles and is used as a passing chord most of the time.

    Today, you’ll discover the rationale behind the name dominant seventh chord and also why it’s important in harmony.

    “Why Is It Called The Dominant Seventh Chord?”

    There are various classes of seventh chords, ranging from the major seventh, to the minor seventh, to the diminished seventh, and the augmented seventh chord.

    The following terms:

    Major

    Minor

    Diminished

    Augmented

    …are used to describe the quality of a chord (aka – “chord quality”.)

    A Short Note On Chord Quality Determination

    Chord quality is derived from the intervals that make up a given chord. The quality of a chord is determined from the interval between its root and third tones, and the interval between its root and seventh tones.

    For example, the C major seventh chord:

    …is considered as a major seventh chord because the interval between its first and third tones (which are C and E):

    …which is a major third, and its first and seventh tones (which are C and B):

    …which is a major seventh interval.

    The quality of the major seventh chord is determined by the major third and major seventh intervals it’s made up of.

    Another example is the C minor seventh chord:

    …is considered as a minor seventh chord because the interval between its first and third tones (which are C and Eb):

    …which is a minor third, and its first and seventh tones (which are C and Bb):

    …which is a minor seventh interval.

    The quality of the minor seventh chord is determined by the minor third and minor seventh intervals it’s made up of.

    “What Is A Dominant Seventh Chord?”

    Unlike the major seventh, minor seventh, augmented (major) seventh, and diminished seventh chords that their names are derived from the intervals they’re made up of, the name of the dominant seventh chord is derived from its technical name.

    There are eight components in every key:

    The first is the tonic

    The second is the supertonic

    The third is the mediant

    The fourth is the subdominant

    The fifth is the dominant

    The sixth is the submediant

    The seventh is the subtonic

    The eighth is the octave

    The technical name of the fifth degree in a key is the dominant.

    So, the term dominant is a technical name, and not a quality like the following terms:

    Major

    Minor

    Diminished

    Augmented

    So, the term dominant seventh chord is used to refer to the seventh chord formed on the fifth degree in any given key and literally means the seventh chord of the fifth degree (aka – “the dominant”.)

    In any given key, the dominant seventh chord is the seventh chord of the fifth degree (aka – “the dominant.) For example, in the key of C major:

    …where the fifth degree (aka – “dominant”) is G:

    …forming a seventh chord (G, B, D, and F):

    …produces the G dominant seventh chord:

    In a nutshell, the dominant seventh chord is the seventh chord of the fifth degree in a given key. For example, the C dominant seventh chord:

    …is a seventh chord of the fifth degree in a given key.

    “So, In What Key Is C The Fifth Tone?”

    C:

    …is the fifth tone in the key of F major:

    Consequently, the C dominant seventh chord consists of C, E, G and Bb:

    …which are the fifth, seventh, second, and fourth tones of the F major scale:

    Final Words

    Seventh chords like the major seventh, minor seventh, etc., derive their name from their quality, while the dominant seventh chord derives its name from the degree of the scale where it is formed.

    I’ll see you in the next lesson!

    P.S

    “Check Out The Dominant Seventh Chord On The Keyboard…”

    C dominant seventh chord:

    C# dominant seventh chord:

    D dominant seventh chord:


    Eb dominant seventh chord:

    E dominant seventh chord:

    F dominant seventh chord:

    F# dominant seventh chord:

    G dominant seventh chord:

    Ab dominant seventh chord:

    A dominant seventh chord:

    Bb dominant seventh chord:

    B dominant seventh chord:

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    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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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Michael Granger

    The question was: why is it called “dominant”. The answer you gave was that it’s based on the fifth note of the scale whose technical name is “dominant”. OK, but why then is the fifth of the scale called “dominant”? How does the usual meaning of the word “dominant” relate to that note? How does that note dominate?

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