• Unmasking The 7-chord: An Implied Dominant Seventh Chord

    in Piano

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    Our focus in this lesson is on the diminished seventh chord as implied dominant seventh chord.

    “What Does It Mean To Imply Something?”

    When you’re suggesting the existence of something (or someone) without making reference to it, you are implying. For example, if I tell you, “Hey, watches like yours look good; especially when they are original.”

    Wow! I’m sure you know that while it’s true that I never said that your watch is NOT original, I implied it.

    Now, there’s a chord on the seventh tone of the scale (or you can also say “the seventh degree of the scale”) and it usually implies the dominant seventh chord when played and that’s what we want to unmask.

    So, the same way you’ll unmask my savage compliment and respond like, “Hey! Dr. Pokey, are you IMPLYING that my watch is not original?”, that’s exactly what we want to do.

    We want to look at the 7-chord in the eye (in this lesson) and say to it, “Hey, Mr. Diminished Chord, are you trying to imply that you are a dominant seventh chord?”

    Is your seat belt on? Alright, let’s get this party started already.

    Unmasking The 7-Chord In The Major Key

    In the major key, there are seven unique scale tones.

    Using the C major scale (as a reference):

    …we have the following tones:

    C as the first:

    D as the second:

    E as the third:

    F as the fourth:

    G as the fifth:

    A as the sixth:

    B as the seventh:

    Now, the seventh tone of the scale (which is B):

    …is associated with the number seven, we can as well call the chord of the seventh tone of the scale (consisting of B, D, and F):

    …the 7-chord.

    The 7-chord in the major key is (for all intents and purposes) a diminished chord and if you breakdown the distance between B and F:

    …in the “B-D-F” chord:

    …that’s a “diminished” fifth interval — which is where the name of the chord is derived from.

    Unlike every other chord in the major key, which are basically major and minor chords, the 7-chord is very different and when played you must observe the following:

    1. It sounds harsh and in medieval times, you could get ex-communicated from the church if you play the diminished chord. It was forbidden.

    2. It sounds incomplete and that’s why you cannot end a song on the diminished chord and that’s because it tends to move up by a half-step to a major or minor chord when played.

    3. It sounds dissonant because of the tritone interval between its root and fifth — the diminished fifth interval (aka – “the devil in music”)

    So, that’s the 7-chord, which is a diminished chord and now that we’ve unmasked it, let’s go ahead and look at its implied dominant seventh harmony.

    The Implied Dominant Seventh Chord

    When a diminished chord is played or heard, even without the knowledge of the player or singers and the listeners, a dominant seventh chord is implied.

    To make this clearer to you, we’ll have to take a look at the dominant seventh chord in the key.

    So, in the key of C major:

    …the dominant seventh chord of the key is the G dominant seventh chord:

    …and the 7-chord is the B diminished chord:

    Now, if we try to play the G dominant seventh chord:

    …without the G on the bottom (which is its root):

    …what we have left is the B diminished chord:

    …and that’s the 7-chord.

    What’s the difference between a rootless G dominant seventh chord:

    …and a 7-chord:

    I’m sure you can see that there’s none. In fact, 3 out of the four notes in the dominant seventh chord are the tones of the 7 chord and in this case, the B, D, and F tones:

    …in the G dominant seventh chord:

    …are the tones of the 7-chord:

    Now, considering that 75% of the make up of the dominant seventh chord comes from the 7-chord in the key, playing the 7-chord:

    …implies the dominant seventh chord:

    So, in a song, if you play the B diminished chord:

    …even without playing the G dominant seventh chord:

    …you’ve already implied it.

    Attention: You will not find where the G dominant seventh chord can fit in that the B diminished chord can not.

    Final Thoughts

    I’m sure you’ve learned how diminished chords can be used to imply a dominant seventh chord and how all diminished chords can be used as incomplete dominant chords.

    In another lesson, I’ll show you how this concept can be applied while creating passing chords and if you’re a jazz or gospel musician, I’m doubly sure that you’ll love how this works.

    If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, please feel free to post them in the comment section and I’ll gladly respond to them accordingly.

    Special thanks to my mentor and role-model, Jermaine Griggs for this opportunity to share this concept with you.

    See you in the next lesson.

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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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