• Five Functions Of Dominant Seventh Chords Every Musician Should Know

    in Beginners,Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    If you’re interested in learning about the functions of dominant seventh chords, then this lesson is for you!.

    A vast majority of musicians use major and minor seventh chords more than dominant seventh chords while playing songs.

    If you belong to this league of musicians, then luck just smiled on you because in this lesson, I’ll be taking you by the hand and showing you five functions of the dominant seventh chord that will open your eyes to other ways it can be applied to songs.

    Attention: If you’re yet to know what the dominant seventh chord is, don’t worry, we’re starting this lesson with a review on the dominant seventh chord.

    If you’ve read about the dominant seventh chord before now, kindly skip the review.

    A Review On The Dominant Seventh Chord

    Due to the fact that the dominant seventh chord is basically a chord, we’ll start this review by discussing the term chord briefly.

    There are many ways to define a chord, but I have preference for Jermaine Griggs’ definition which says that “…a chord is a collection of three or more related notes, played [or heard] together or separately.”

    Let’s expound on some of the keywords in this definition like:

    • Three or more
    • Related notes
    • Together

    …before we proceed.

    “…Three Or More…”

    There is emphasis on ‘three or more’ as the number of notes it takes to form a chord because there are those who consider a collection of two notes (commonly known as an interval) as chords.

    Although intervals according to Jermaine Griggs “…are the building blocks of chords” they are not to be classified as chords.

    “…Related Notes…”

    A collection of three or more notes can be classified as a chord, however, there must be a relationship between them. A collection of three or more notes must be related in two ways:

    • By a given scale
    • By a stipulated interval

    …before they can be considered as a chord.

    “…Together…”

    Accord is the old English word that means ‘together’ and the root word for the termĀ chord. Although the notes of a chord can be played separately to form arpeggios and broken chords, a chord is meant to be played together by design.

    In a previous lesson on note relationships: melody and harmony, we learned that harmony is the relationship between notes that are heard ‘together.’

    In a nutshell, a chord (accord, together) is one of the primary sources of harmony, that is used to provide accompaniment to melodies.

    “What Is A Dominant Seventh Chord?”

    Here’s a breakdown of the term dominant seventh chord

    Dominant: The technical name music scholars associate with the fifth degree of the scale.

    Seventh: The size of an interval or chord that encompasses seven tones of the scale.

    Chord: A collection of three or more related notes, played [or heard] together or separately.

    A dominant seventh chord is a collection of related notes (chord), formed on the fifth degree of the scale (dominant), that encompasses seven tones of the scale (seventh.)

    In the key of C:

    …where the fifth tone of the scale is G:

    …the dominant seventh chord can be formed in third intervals (aka – “tertian harmony“) starting from G.

    A third above G:

    …is B:

    Another third above G-B:

    …is D:

    Altogether, we have G-B-D:

    …the G major triad.

    A third above G-B-D:

    …is F:

    At this point, we’ve formed G-B-D-F:

    …the seventh chord of the fifth degree (aka – “dominant”), which is known as the dominant seventh chord.

    Here are 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:

    F# dominant seventh chord:

    G dominant seventh chord:

    Ab dominant seventh chord:

    A dominant seventh chord:

    Bb dominant seventh chord:

    B dominant seventh chord:

    If you’d spare a couple minutes, I’ll be pleased to enlighten you on the intervallic properties of the dominant seventh chord, before we get into its functions.

    Intervallic Properties Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    Due to the fact that intervals are the building blocks of chords, all chords (whether triads, seventh, and extended chords) can be broken down to intervals.

    Breaking down the dominant seventh chord into intervals is one of the ways to expose its properties.

    We’ll be breaking down the dominant seventh chord into third and fifth intervals in this segment using the G dominant seventh chord:

    …as a reference.

    “A Breakdown Of The Dominant Seventh Chord Into Third Intervals…”

    The following third intervals are in the G dominant seventh chord…

    G-B:

    …a major third interval.

    B-D:

    …a minor third interval.

    D-F:

    a minor third interval.

    The dominant seventh chord can be classified as a major chord because the interval between its first and third tones (G-B):

    …is a major third interval.

    In a nutshell, a breakdown of the third intervals in the G dominant seventh chord has exposed that dominant seventh chords are major chords.

    “A Breakdown Of The Dominant Seventh Chord Into Fifth Intervals…”

    The G dominant chord can be broken down into the following fifth intervals…

    G-D:

    …a perfect fifth interval

    B-F:

    …an diminished fifth interval.

    The diminished fifth interval (which is commonly known as a tritone) between B and F:

    …the third and seventh tones of the G dominant seventh chord sounds harsh and unpleasant when played/heard.

    From our intervallic breakdown, we just found the diminished fifth intervals in the dominant seventh chord, which explains why the dominant seventh chord sounds harsh and tends to move to a more stable chord when played.

    Five Harmonic Functions Of The Dominant Seventh Chord

    If you understand the functions of the dominant seventh chords, applying them to chord progressions becomes a whole lot easier.

    The dominant seventh chord has a variety of functions, however, I’ll be showing you five of them on top of my list.

    #1 Function – To Add Richness To Chord 5

    The very first function of the dominant seventh chord is to upgrade the chord of the fifth degree.

    For example, the G major triad is the chord of the fifth degree in the key of C:

    …where G:

    …is the fifth tone.

    A 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of C using triads entails a chord movement from the D minor triad (chord 2):

    …to the G major triad (chord 5):

    …finally to the C major triad (chord 1):

    In the 2-5-1 chord progression, chord 5 can sound richer if a G dominant seventh chord:

    …is played instead of the G major triad:

    In a nutshell, irrespective of the key you’re in (whether major or minor), the dominant seventh chord can be used to add richness to the chord of the fifth degree.

    #2 Function – To Increase The Drive Towards The End Of [The Section Of] A Song

    Believe it or not, most songs end with the 2-5-1 chord progression 95% of the time. The dominant seventh chord is used as chord 5 in 2-5-1 progression because of the high level of affinity it has for chord one.

    In the key of C:

    …when the G dominant seventh chord:

    …is played, it builds up a degree of tension that only the C major triad:

    …can resolve.

    The affinity of the dominant seventh chord for the chord of the first degree creates the drive that is needed at the end of songs.

    #3 Function – (With Chord 1) To Harmonize All The Tones Of The Major Scale (Save 6)

    The dominant seventh chord with chord 1 in any key can be used to harmonize the tones of the scale except the sixth tone.

    In the key of C:

    …the tones of the scale(except the sixth which is A):

    …can be harmonized using the G dominant seventh chord:

    …and the C major triad:

    “Here’s How It Works…”

    Harmonization of C:

    …using the first inversion of the C major triad.

    Harmonization of D:

    …using the third inversion of the G dominant seventh chord.

    Harmonization of E:

    …using the second inversion of the C major triad.

    Harmonization of F:

    …using the root position of the G dominant seventh chord.

    Harmonization of G:

    …using the root position of the C major triad.

    Harmonization of B:

    …using the second inversion of the G dominant seventh chord.

    In a nutshell, the dominant seventh chord plays an active role in the harmonization of the major scale.

    #4 Function – To The Define A Key Quickly

    #5 Function – To Intensify A Chord Progression

    Dominant seventh chord are used to build up harmonic intensity in chord progressions and this is because dominant seventh chords have the tendency to move to more stable chords when played.

    A regular 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of C using seventh chords can be played thus:

    The Dmin7 chord:

    …to the Gdom7 chord:

    …then to the Cmaj7 chord:

    Introducing more dominant seventh chords into this progression would increase its intensity. For example, substituting the Dmin7 chord:

    …with a Ddom7 chord:

    …generally increases the intensity of the 2-5-1 chord progression.

    “Check It Out…”

    The Ddom7 chord:

    …to the Gdom7 chord:

    …then to the Cmaj7 chord:

    Final Words

    Although we just got started with our discussion on the dominant seventh chord, we’ll be ending here for today, to continue in another post where I’ll be showing you other subtle application of the dominant seventh chord in gospel and jazz styles.

    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 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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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 emmanuel

    Thanks so much for the post. I must really say I’m improving by the day

    Reply

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