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Secondary Dominant Chords


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Secondary dominant chords are usually sevenths or ninths. Since the German augemented sixth chord sounds like a dominant seventh, it can be approached as one function and left as the other. A respelled German chord can become eithe V7 or any secondary dominant seventh chord. Likewise, any dominant seventh chord may be respelled as a German chord. A secondary dominant chord usually resolves to its expected chord of resolution, usuing normal doublng and voice leading procedures.

Any chord with dominant quality (M, Mm7, d, dd7, dm7 or dominant ninth) may function as a secondary dominant. A secondary dominant chord may substitute for any diatonic chord with the same function. For instance, vi (which usually resolves to ii or IV) may be replaced by a secondary dominant of ii or IV. By the same token, ii or IY may be replaced by a secondary dominant of V.

Hope this helps.

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Thanks for the answers, but I suppose I have to work from

what I know toward these rather complex-sounding functions.

Would it be too much trouble to simply list the pitches in some secondary dominant chords in the three keys: C, G, and F?

That way I could see how it worked in a key with no accidentals, one with a sharp, and one with a flat.

I think once I saw the list of pitches in the secondary dominants of these three keys, I could then transfer the principles to other


If you will do this, don't worry about inversions. I can figure out inversions pretty easily.

Thanks very much for the help here.

Best regards,


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I may be revealing some ignorance here, but a secondary dominant is one whose main purpose is to resolve to some other chord that will then resolve someplace else. The opening of Beethoven's 1st Symphony, is V-7 of IV. Then you get a lot of V action, and only then wind up in C.

So in C, a V of V (or V-7 of V) would be D, F#, A[, C]. Resolves to GBD (or GBDF), and then C Major. Without the F#, you would have a garden-variety ii-V-I.

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A secondary dominant is the dominant chord of any chord other then the tonic. For example, V is the dominant of I, right? And ii7 (or II7) is the dominant of V. This makes any of those ii chords, when placed before a V, a secondary dominant. So any chord used to create a V-I relationship (or a V7-I relationship) to any chord other than the tonic, is a secondary dominant.

The secondary dominant chords in the keys of C, G and F are pretty much any diatonic chords of those keys other than the V chords, if those chords are used to create a V-I relationship. That is, in G:

D7-G is a V7-I progression. D7 is the dominant.

A7-D is a II7-V progression. A7 is a secondary dominant.

B7-Em is a III7-vi progession. B7 is a secondary dominant.

You can create a "dominant-tonic" progression that resolves to any chord. You can even chain secondary dominants together to create nice long progressions that build to the V7 chord, then resolve to the tonic. This is a typical Mozart method of establishing tonality at the beginning of a piece:

I-vi-ii-V7-I. (vi is the dominant of ii is the dominant of V7 is the dominant of I).

You can extend the chain farther backwards using all the diatonic chords:

I-IV-vii-III-vi-ii-V7-I. Common practice uses major, minor and seventh forms of all of these chords. This is also a common way of prolonging the buildup to a climax.

Hope this made sense.

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Walter Piston's 'HARMONY' deals with this subject.

Its the dominant of a scale degree. V of I , V of II, V of V, etc. In common practice its used to enhane the vocabulaire of chords in a given key. Usually the secondairy dominant is followed by the chord of the scale degree the dominant is taken from... But it opens more possibilities (modulation)

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I guess the difficult part for me right now is trying to read the coding. I understand I, IV, V, even V7...but it's translating

those small letters--ii, iii...--that's tripping me up because I don't have any confidence here.

I do understand now that each pitch in a scale has a dominant chord of its own. That makes perfectly good sense.

And I also understand how to find that dominant chord.

I'm not sure when accidentals should be added to that dominant chord. Are they added just to make the chord a standard dominant

chord set us like a standard major chord? Are there exceptions to this rule? Or are all secondary dominant chords

major chords? If so, that, at least, simplies things.

But the ii, iii coding I'm going to have to think about a bit more. Will read through all this carefully this weekend.

Thanks very much for everything you all have provided. It's not quite as confused to me as before, but still not completely


Best regards,


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Capital roman numerals represent major chords, lower-case represent minor chords. In C major, "V" represents a G major chord, "ii" represents a D minor chord.

As to the quality of the secondary dominants (major/minor, seventh or not), that's an historical or stylistic issue with no universal right or wrong answers. If you look over the repertoire, you'll find examples of all forms. A general rule might be that, when preparing a modulation (for example, if you're in C major and you are going to modulate to G major), the secondary dominant that prepares the modulation (that is, the D chord acting as the dominant of G in C major) may be made into a major chord, even a seventh chord (D or D7 in C major). This is usually only important at cadence points; for interior progessions, not so much. Voice leading and melodic writing are more important than arbitrary rules of use.

Hope that helps.

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