Dominant (music)

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Dominant (music)
The C major scale and dominant triad

In music, the dominant is the fifth scale degree ( Scale deg 5.svg ) of the diatonic scale. It is called the dominant because it is next in importance to the first scale degree, the tonic. [1] [2] In the movable do solfège system, the dominant note is sung as "So(l)".


Dominant (music)
Chords with a dominant function: dominant chords (seventh, ninth, and dominant ninth) and leading-tone chords (diminished, half-diminished seventh, and diminished seventh). [3]

The triad built on the dominant note is called the dominant chord. This chord is said to have dominant function, which means that it creates an instability that requires the tonic for resolution. Dominant triads, seventh chords, and ninth chords typically have dominant function. Leading-tone triads and seventh chords may also have dominant function.

In very much conventionally tonal music, harmonic analysis will reveal a broad prevalence of the primary (often triadic) harmonies: tonic, dominant, and subdominant (i.e., I and its chief auxiliaries a 5th removed), and especially the first two of these.

Berry (1976) [4]

The scheme I-x-V-I symbolizes, though naturally in a very summarizing way, the harmonic course of any composition of the Classical period. This x, usually appearing as a progression of chords, as a whole series, constitutes, as it were, the actual "music" within the scheme, which through the annexed formula V-I, is made into a unit, a group, or even a whole piece.

Rudolph Reti, (1962) [5] quoted in [6]

Dominant chords

Dominant (music)
The C minor scale and dominant triad, first with a subtonic ( Scale deg 7.svg ) and then with a leading tone ( Scale deg 7.svg )

In music theory, the dominant triad is a major chord, symbolized by the Roman numeral "V" in the major scale. In the natural minor scale, the triad is a minor chord, denoted by "v". However, in a minor key, the seventh scale degree is often raised by a half step ( Scale deg 7.svg to Scale deg 7.svg ), creating a major chord.

These chords may also appear as seventh chords: typically as a dominant seventh chord, but occasionally in minor as a minor seventh chord v7 with passing function: [7]

Dominant (music)

As defined by the 19th century musicologist Joseph Fétis, the dominante was a seventh chord over the first note of a descending perfect fifth in the basse fondamentale or root progression, the common practice period dominant seventh he named the dominante tonique. [8]

Dominant chords are important to cadential progressions. In the strongest cadence, the authentic cadence (example shown below), the dominant chord is followed by the tonic chord. A cadence that ends with a dominant chord is called a half cadence or an "imperfect cadence".

Dominant (music)

Dominant key

The key immediately clockwise is the dominant key of the key immediately counterclockwise, and features either one more sharp or one less flat. Circle of fifths deluxe 4.svg
The key immediately clockwise is the dominant key of the key immediately counterclockwise, and features either one more sharp or one less flat.

The dominant key is the key whose tonic is a perfect fifth above (or a perfect fourth below) the tonic of the main key of the piece. Put another way, it is the key whose tonic is the dominant scale degree in the main key. [9] If, for example, a piece is written in the key of C major, then the tonic key is C major and the dominant key is G major since G is the dominant note in C major. [10]

In sonata form in major keys, the second subject group is usually in the dominant key.

The movement to the dominant was part of musical grammar, not an element of form. Almost all music in the eighteenth century went to the dominant: before 1750 it was not something to be emphasized; afterward, it was something that the composer could take advantage of. This means that every eighteenth-century listener expected the movement to the dominant in the sense that [one] would have been puzzled if [one] did not get it; it was a necessary condition of intelligibility.

Charles Rosen (1972) [11]
"Essentially, there are two harmonic directions: toward I and toward V. These primary diatonic triads form the harmonic axis of tonal music." Harmonic axis in C major and minor.png
"Essentially, there are two harmonic directions: toward I and toward V. These primary diatonic triads form the harmonic axis of tonal music."

Music which modulates (changes key) often modulates to the dominant key. Modulation to the dominant often creates a sense of increased tension; as opposed to modulation to the subdominant (fourth note of the scale), which creates a sense of musical relaxation.

The vast majority of harmonies designated as "essential" in the basic frame of structure must be I and V–the latter, when tonal music is viewed in broadest terms, an auxiliary support and embellishment of the former, for which it is the principal medium of tonicization.

Berry (1976) [4]

In non-Western music

The dominant is an important concept in Middle Eastern music. In the Persian Dastgah, Arabic maqam and the Turkish makam, scales are made up of trichords, tetrachords, and pentachords (each called a jins in Arabic) with the tonic of a maqam being the lowest note of the lower jins and the dominant being that of the upper jins. The dominant of a maqam is not always the fifth, however; for example, in Kurdish music and Bayati, the dominant is the fourth, and in maqam Saba, the dominant is the minor third. A maqam may have more than one dominant.

See also


  1. Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.33. Seventh Edition. ISBN   978-0-07-294262-0. "So called because its function is next in importance to the tonic."
  2. Forte, Allen (1979). Tonal Harmony, p.118. 3rd edition. Holt, Rinehart, and Wilson. ISBN   0-03-020756-8. "V serves to establish the tonic triad...particularly evident at the cadence."
  3. Berry, Wallace (1976/1987). Structural Functions in Music, p.54. ISBN   0-486-25384-8.
  4. 1 2 Berry, Wallace (1976/1987). Structural Functions in Music, p.62. ISBN   0-486-25384-8.
  5. Reti, Rudolph (1962). Tonality in Modern Music, p.28.
  6. Kostka & Payne (1995). Tonal Harmony, p.458. ISBN   0-07-035874-5.
  7. Kostka, Stefan; Payne, Dorothy (2004). Tonal Harmony (5th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. pp.  197. ISBN   0072852607. OCLC   51613969.
  8. Dahlhaus, Carl. Gjerdingen, Robert O. trans. (1990). Studies in the Origin of Harmonic Tonality, p.143. Princeton University Press. ISBN   0-691-09135-8.
  9. "Dominant". Grove Music Online.Missing or empty |url= (help)[ full citation needed ]
  10. DeVoto, Mark. "Dominant". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  11. Rosen, Charles (1972). The Classical Style . W.W. Norton & Company Inc. Cited in White, John D. (1976). The Analysis of Music, p.56. ISBN   0-13-033233-X.
  12. Forte (1979), p.103.

Related Research Articles

In music theory, the term minor scale refers to three scale patterns – the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale – rather than just one as with the major scale.

In music, the tonic is the first scale degree of the diatonic scale and the tonal center or final resolution tone that is commonly used in the final cadence in tonal classical music, popular music, and traditional music. In the movable do solfège system, the tonic note is sung as do. More generally, the tonic is the note upon which all other notes of a piece are hierarchically referenced. Scales are named after their tonics: for instance, the tonic of the C major scale is the note C.

In music theory, a leading-tone is a note or pitch which resolves or "leads" to a note one semitone higher or lower, being a lower and upper leading-tone, respectively. Typically, the leading tone refers to the seventh scale degree of a major scale, a major seventh above the tonic. In the movable do solfège system, the leading-tone is sung as ti.

In a musical composition, a chord progression or harmonic progression is a succession of chords. Chord progressions are the foundation of harmony in Western musical tradition from the common practice era of Classical music to the 21st century. Chord progressions are the foundation of Western popular music styles and traditional music. In these genres, chord progressions are the defining feature on which melody and rhythm are built.

In music, the subdominant is the fourth tonal degree of the diatonic scale. It is so called because it is the same distance below the tonic as the dominant is above the tonic – in other words, the tonic is the dominant of the subdominant. It also happens to be the note one step below the dominant. In the movable do solfège system, the subdominant note is sung as fa.

Modulation (music)

In music, modulation is the change from one tonality to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature. Modulations articulate or create the structure or form of many pieces, as well as add interest. Treatment of a chord as the tonic for less than a phrase is considered tonicization.

Modulation is the essential part of the art. Without it there is little music, for a piece derives its true beauty not from the large number of fixed modes which it embraces but rather from the subtle fabric of its modulation.

A secondary chord is an analytical label for a specific harmonic device that is prevalent in the tonal idiom of Western music beginning in the common practice period: the use of diatonic functions for tonicization.


Tonality is the arrangement of pitches and/or chords of a musical work in a hierarchy of perceived relations, stabilities, attractions and directionality. In this hierarchy, the single pitch or triadic chord with the greatest stability is called the tonic. The root of the tonic chord forms the name given to the key; so in the key of C major, the note C is both the tonic of the scale and the root of the tonic chord. Simple folk music songs often start and end with the tonic note. The most common use of the term "is to designate the arrangement of musical phenomena around a referential tonic in European music from about 1600 to about 1910". Contemporary classical music from 1910 to the 2000s may practice or avoid any sort of tonality—but harmony in almost all Western popular music remains tonal. Harmony in jazz includes many but not all tonal characteristics of the European common practice period, sometimes known as "classical music".

In music, the submediant is the sixth degree of the diatonic scale, the lower mediant—halfway between the tonic and the subdominant. In the movable do solfège system, the submediant note is sung as la in major, as fa in minor. It is occasionally called superdominant, as the degree above the dominant. This is its normal name (sus-dominante) in French.


In music, the supertonic is the second degree of a diatonic scale, one step above the tonic. In the movable do solfège system, the supertonic note is sung as re.

In music, the subtonic is the flattened seventh scale degree of the diatonic scale, that is, the lowered or minor seventh degree of the scale, a whole step below the tonic. In the movable do solfège system, the subtonic note is sung as te. It appears in the natural minor and descending melodic minor scales but not in the major scale. In major keys, the subtonic sometimes appears in borrowed chords.

In music, function is a term used to denote the relationship of a chord or a scale degree to a tonal centre. Two main theories of tonal functions exist today:

Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism and modality. Chromatic elements are considered, "elaborations of or substitutions for diatonic scale members".

Not only at the beginning of a composition but also in the midst of it, each scale-step [degree] manifests an irresistible urge to attain the value of the tonic for itself as that of the strongest scale-step. If the composer yields to this urge of the scale-step within the diatonic system of which this scale-step forms part, I call this process tonicalization and the phenomenon itself chromatic.

Chromaticism is almost by definition an alteration of, an interpolation in or deviation from this basic diatonic organization.

Throughout the nineteenth century, composers felt free to alter any or all chord members of a given tertian structure [chord built from thirds] according to their compositional needs and dictates. Pronounced or continuous chordal alteration [and 'extension'] resulted in chromaticism. Chromaticism, together with frequent modulations and an abundance of non-harmonicism [non-chord tones], initially effected an expansion of the tertian system; the overuse of the procedures late in the century forewarned the decline and near collapse [atonality] of the system [tonality].

Chromaticism is the name given to the use of tones outside the major or minor scales. Chromatic tones began to appear in music long before the common-practice period, and by the beginning of that period were an important part of its melodic and harmonic resources. Chromatic tones arise in music partly from inflection [alteration] of scale degrees in the major and minor modes, party from secondary dominant harmony, from a special vocabulary of altered chords, and from certain nonharmonic tones.... Notes outside the scale do not necessarily affect the tonality....tonality is established by the progression of roots and the tonal functions of the chords, even though the details of the music may contain all the tones of the chromatic scale.

Sometimes...a melody based on a regular diatonic scale is laced with many accidentals, and although all 12 tones of the chromatic scale may appear, the tonal characteristics of the diatonic scale are maintained. ... Chromaticism [is t]he introduction of some pitches of the chromatic scale into music that is basically diatonic in orientation, or music that is based on the chromatic scale instead of the diatonic scales.

In music theory, a dominant seventh chord, or major minor seventh chord, is a seventh chord, usually built on the fifth degree of the major scale, and composed of a root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. Thus it is a major triad together with a minor seventh, denoted by the letter name of the chord root and a superscript "7". An example is the dominant seventh chord built on G, written as G7, having pitches G–B–D–F:

In music theory, a Neapolitan chord is a major chord built on the lowered (flatted) second (supertonic) scale degree. In Schenkerian analysis, it is known as a Phrygian II, since in minor scales the chord is built on the notes of the corresponding Phrygian mode.

Andalusian cadence

The Andalusian cadence is a term adopted from flamenco music for a chord progression comprising four chords descending stepwise—a vi–V–IV–III progression with respect to the major mode or i–VII–VI–V progression with respect to the minor mode. It is otherwise known as the minor descending tetrachord. Traceable back to the Renaissance, its effective sonorities made it one of the most popular progressions in classical music Play .

Primary triad

In music, a primary triad is one of the three triads, or three-note chords built from major or minor thirds, most important in tonal and diatonic music, as opposed to an auxiliary triad or secondary triad.

In music, the axis system is a system of analysis originating in the work of Ernő Lendvai, which he developed in his analysis of the music of Béla Bartók.

In music theory, the half-diminished seventh chord is a seventh chord composed of a root note, together with a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh. For example, the half-diminished seventh chord built on C, commonly written as Cø7, has pitches C–E–G–B:

Parallel and counter parallel

Parallel and counter parallel chords are terms derived from the German to denote what is more often called in English the "relative", and possibly the "counter relative" chords. In Hugo Riemann's theory, and in German theory more generally, these chords share the function of the chord to which they link: subdominant parallel, dominant parallel, and tonic parallel. Riemann defines the relation in terms of the movement of one single note:

The substitution of the major sixth for the perfect fifth above in the major triad and below in the minor triad results in the parallel of a given triad. In C major thence arises an apparent A minor triad, D minor triad (Sp), and E minor triad (Dp).