Learning About Secondary Dominant Chords

Learning About Secondary Dominant Chords

Although the “secondary dominant chords” may sound intimidating, it’s a simple concept to grasp once you understand the formula behind it. In this blog post, we’ll discover what secondary dominant chords are, have a look at some song examples and learn how to make this technique our own.

This blog post aims to summarise the third part of our video ‘4 Chord Tricks The Beatles Knew (and you should too!)’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

What are Secondary Dominant Chords?

To examine what secondary dominants are, let’s have a look at “Something” by The Beatles. Halfway through the verse, there is a section where the chord progression goes from D7 to G. The relationship between D7 and G is what is known as a secondary dominant relationship.

For secondary dominance to occur, the following three conditions must be met:

  1. A dominant chord must always precede the target chord. Specifically, it must be a dominant seventh chord, which is characterised by Major chord with a flattened seventh on the top.
  2. The root of a secondary dominant chord must always be a perfect fifth above the target chord. For example, if the target chord is G, you must count up a perfect fifth, which is D. Hence, D7 is the secondary dominant of G.
  3. The secondary dominant must always directly precede the target chord. There must be no chord in between the secondary dominant and the target chord or else the effect of secondary dominance would be disrupted (or interpolated).

Click here to download a free PDF eBook with 3 great chord progressions to try in your next song, that you can use to experiment with secondary dominants on:

How to Make Secondary Dominants Our Own

Instead of starting the secondary dominant from the V chord, you could try starting from other chords in the key. For example, in the key of C, the vi chord is A Min. Counting a perfect fifth up from A, we get E. Hence, we could make a chord progression featuring E7 followed by A Min. This introduces a more melancholic sort of feel to a song, and can be quite interesting to use.

You can make a secondary dominant for any chord in the scale, except for the vii dim chord. The reasons involve esoteric music theory explanations that we won’t go into at the moment. However, as long as you stick to this rule, you’ll be able to come up with all sorts of secondary dominant combinations.

Conclusion: Learning About Secondary Dominant Chords

By incorporating dominant type chords that precede target chords, secondary dominants can create tension, anticipation, and captivating progressions. They add sophistication to regular diatonic chord progressions.

If you want to explore more sophisticated chord concepts in songwriting, click here for a playlist on how to adapt chord progressions from other songs in really creative ways.

This is only the third of four chord tricks we have for songwriters. Check out the full article for all 4 tips or check out the video here.

Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world:

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