Secondary chord

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Secondary chord
Secondary chords in Mozart's Fantasia in C minor, K. 475 [1]

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.


Secondary chords are a type of altered or borrowed chord, chords which are not part of the key the piece is in. They are by far the most common sort of altered chord in tonal music. [2] Secondary chords are referred to by the function they have and the key or chord to which they function. Conventionally, they are written with the notation "function/key". Thus, the most common secondary chord, the dominant of the dominant, is written "V/V" and read as "five of five" or "the dominant of the dominant". The major or minor triad on any diatonic scale degree may have any secondary function applied to it; secondary functions may even be applied to diminished triads in some special circumstances.

Secondary chords were not used until the Baroque period and are found more frequently and freely in the Classical period, even more so in the Romantic period. Although they began to be used less frequently with the breakdown of conventional harmony in modern classical music, secondary dominants are a "cornerstone" of popular music and jazz in the 20th century. [3]

Secondary dominant

Secondary chord
V7 of V in C, four-part harmony [4]

The term secondary dominant (also applied dominant, artificial dominant, or borrowed dominant) refers to a major triad or dominant seventh chord built and set to resolve to a scale degree other than the tonic, with the dominant of the dominant (written as V/V or V of V) being the most frequently encountered. [5] The chord that the secondary dominant is the dominant of is said to be a temporarily tonicized chord . The secondary dominant is normally, though not always, followed by the tonicized chord. Tonicizations that last longer than a phrase are generally regarded as modulations to a new key (or new tonic).

According to music theorists David Beach and Ryan C. McClelland, "[t]he purpose of the secondary dominant is to place emphasis on a chord within the diatonic progression." [6] The secondary-dominant terminology is still usually applied even if the chord resolution is nonfunctional. For example, the V/ii label is still used even if the V/ii chord is not followed by ii. [7]


The major scale contains seven basic chords, which are named with Roman numeral analysis in ascending order. Because tonic triads are either major or minor, you would not expect to find diminished chords (either the viio in major or the iio in minor) tonicized by a secondary dominant. [2] It would also not make sense for the tonic of the key itself to be tonicized.

In the key of C major, the five remaining chords are:

Secondary chord

Of these chords, the V chord (G major) is said to be the dominant of C major. However, each of the chords from ii to vi also has its own dominant. For example, V (G major) has a D major triad as its dominant. These extra dominant chords are not part of the key of C major as such because they include notes that are not part of the C major scale.Instead, they are secondary dominants.

The notation below shows the secondary-dominant chords for C major. Each chord is accompanied by its standard number in harmonic notation. In this notation, a secondary dominant is usually labeled with the formula "V of ..." (dominant chord of); thus "V of ii" stands for the dominant of the ii chord, "V of iii" for the dominant of iii, and so on. A shorter notation, used below, is "V/ii", "V/iii", etc.

Secondary chord

Like most chords, secondary dominants may be seventh chords or chords with other upper extensions. Dominant seventh chords are commonly used as secondary dominants. The notation below shows the same secondary dominants as above but with dominant seventh chords.

Secondary chord

Note that the triad V/IV is the same as the I triad. When a seventh is added (V7/IV), it becomes an altered chord because the seventh is not a diatonic pitch. Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 begins with a V7/IV chord: [8]

Secondary chord

According to the principles exposed above, in fact, V7/IV, which means the C7 chord, i.e. the dominant seventh chord on the F major scale (C–E–G–B♭), does not represent the tonic because it contains a B♭ which isn't included in the main key, as Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 is written in the key of C major. The chord then resolves on the natural IV (F major) and in the following bar the V7, i.e. G7 (dominant seventh chord on the C major key), is presented.

Chromatic mediants, for example VI is also a secondary dominant of ii (V/ii) and III is V/vi, are distinguished from secondary dominants with context and analysis revealing the distinction. [9]


Secondary chord
Secondary dominants in Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 10, op. 14, no. 2, mvmt. II [10]

Before the 20th century, in the music of J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, a secondary dominant, along with its chord of resolution, was considered a modulation.[ citation needed ] Since this was a rather self-contradictory description, theorists in the early 1900s, such as Hugo Riemann (who used the term "Zwischendominante"—"intermediary dominant", still the usual German term for a secondary dominant), searched for a better description of the phenomenon.[ citation needed ]

Walter Piston first used the analysis "V7 of IV" in a monograph entitled Principles of Harmonic Analysis. [11] (Notably, Piston's analytical symbol always used the word "of"—e.g. "V7 of IV" rather than the virgule "V7/IV.) In his 1941 book Harmony, Piston used the term "secondary dominant". [12] At around the same time (1946–48), Arnold Schoenberg created the expression "artificial dominant" to describe the same phenomenon, in his posthumously published book Structural Functions of Harmony. [13]

In the fifth edition of Walter Piston's Harmony, a passage from the last movement of Mozart's Piano Sonata K. 283 in G major serves as one illustration of secondary dominants. [14] This passage has three secondary dominants. The final four chords form a circle of fifths progression, ending in a standard dominant-tonic cadence, which concludes the phrase.

Secondary chord
Secondary chord
Measure 2 shows a bebop cliché arpeggio upwards from the third to the ninth of A79, which is the secondary dominant of D minor, the ii chord in the key of C (V/ii). [15]
Secondary dominant in "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" (1971), mm. 1-8 Play (help*info) I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing secondary dominant.png
Secondary dominant in "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" (1971), mm. 1–8 Loudspeaker.svg Play  

In jazz harmony, a secondary dominant is any dominant seventh chord which occurs on a weak beat[ citation needed ] and resolves downward by a perfect fifth. Thus, a chord is a secondary dominant when it functions as the dominant of some harmonic element other than the key's tonic and resolves to that element. This is slightly different from the traditional use of the term, where a secondary dominant does not have to be a seventh chord, occur on a weak beat, or resolve downward. If a non-diatonic dominant chord is used on a strong beat, it is considered an extended dominant. If it doesn't resolve downward, it may be a borrowed chord.[ citation needed ]

Secondary dominants are used in jazz harmony in the bebop blues and other blues progression variations, as are substitute dominants and turnarounds. [15] In some jazz tunes, all or almost all of the chords that are used are dominant chords. For example, in the standard jazz chord progression ii–V–I, which would normally be Dm–G7–C in the key of C major, some tunes will use D7–G7–C7. Since jazz tunes are often based on the circle of fifths, this creates long sequences of secondary dominants.[ citation needed ]

Secondary dominants are also used in popular music. Examples include II7 (V7/V) in Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and III7 (V7/vi) in Betty Everett's "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)". [17] "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" features chains of secondary dominants. [18] "Sweet Georgia Brown" opens with V/V/V–V/V–V–I. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

Extended dominant

Secondary chord
Secondary chord
A diatonic I–vi–ii–V turnaround [19] and a progression with secondary dominants: I–V/V/V–V/V–V–I

An extended dominant chord is a secondary dominant seventh chord that resolves down by a fifth to another dominant seventh chord. A series of extended dominant chords continues to resolve downwards by the circle of fifths until it reaches the tonic chord. The most common extended dominant chord is the tertiary dominant,[ citation needed ] which resolves to a secondary dominant. For example, V/V/V (in C major, A(7)) resolves to V/V (D(7)), which resolves to V (G(7)), which resolves to I. Note that V/V/V is the same chord as V/ii, but differs in its resolution to a major dominant rather than a minor chord.

Quaternary dominants are rarer, but an example is the bridge section of the rhythm changes, which starts from V/V/V/V (in C major, E(7)). The example below from Chopin's Polonaises, Op. 26, No. 1 (1835) [20] has a quaternary dominant in the second beat (V/ii = V/V/V, V/vi = V/V/V/V).

Secondary chord

Secondary leading-tone

Secondary chord
A secondary leading-tone half-diminished chord in Brahms's Intermezzo, op. 119, no. 3 (1893) [20]
Secondary chord
Three measures from "Easy Living" showing secondary leading-tone chords. [21]

In music theory, a secondary leading-tone chord or secondary diminished seventh (as in seventh scale degree [22] or leading-tone, not necessarily seventh chord) is a secondary chord that is the leading-tone triad or seventh chord of the tonicized chord, rather than its dominant. In contrast to secondary dominant chords, these chords resolve up a half step. [23] Fully diminished seventh chords are more common than half-diminished seventh chords [23] and one may also find diminished triads (without sevenths). [22]

Secondary leading-tone chords may resolve to either a major or minor diatonic triad: [23]

In major keys: ii, iii, IV, V, vi
In minor keys: III, iv, V, VI

The type of diminished seventh chord is typically related to the type of tonicized triad:

  1. If the tonicized triad is minor, the leading-tone chord is fully diminished seventh chord.
  2. If it is major, the leading-tone chord may be either half-diminished or fully diminished, though fully diminished chords are used more often. [24]

Especially in four-part writing, the seventh should resolve downwards by step and if possible the lower tritone should resolve appropriately, inwards if a diminished fifth and outwards if an augmented fourth, [25] as the example below [26] shows.

Secondary chord

Because of their symmetry, secondary leading-tone diminished seventh chords are also useful for modulation; all four notes may be considered the root of any diminished seventh chord.

Secondary leading-tone chords were not used until the Baroque period and are found more frequently and less conventionally in the Classical period. They are found even more frequently and freely in the Romantic period, but they began to be used less frequently with the breakdown of conventional harmony.

The chord progression viio7/V–V–I is quite common in ragtime music. [23]

Secondary supertonic

Secondary chord
A secondary supertonic chord: ii7/V–V/V–V in C major (a7–D7–G)

The secondary supertonic chord, or secondary second, is a secondary chord that is on the supertonic scale degree. Rather than tonicizing a degree other than the tonic, as does a secondary dominant, it creates a temporary dominant. [22] Examples include ii7/III (Fmin.7, in C major). [27]

Secondary subdominant

The secondary subdominant is the subdominant (IV) of the tonicized chord. For example, in C major, the subdominant chord is F major and the IV of IV chord is B major.


The other secondary functions are the secondary mediant, the secondary submediant, and the secondary subtonic.

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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.

An altered chord is a chord in which one or more notes from the diatonic scale is replaced with a neighboring pitch from the chromatic scale. According to the broadest definition any chord with a nondiatonic chord tone is an altered chord, while the simplest use of altered chords is the use of borrowed chords, chords borrowed from the parallel key, and the most common is the use of secondary dominants. As Alfred Blatter explains,"An altered chord occurs when one of the standard, functional chords is given another quality by the modification of one or more components of the chord."

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.

Chord (music) Harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches/frequencies consisting of multiple notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and broken chords, or sequences of chord tones, may also be considered as chords in the right musical context.

Modulation (music) change from one tonality (tonic, or tonal center) to another

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.

In music theory, a diminished triad is a triad consisting of two minor thirds above the root. It is a minor triad with a lowered (flattened) fifth. When using chord symbols, it may be indicated by the symbols "dim", "o", "m5", or "MI(5)". However, in most popular-music chord books, the symbol "dim" and "o" represents a diminished seventh chord, which in some modern jazz books and music theory books is represented by the "dim7" or "o7" symbols.

Augmented sixth chord

In music theory, an augmented sixth chord contains the interval of an augmented sixth, usually above its bass tone. This chord has its origins in the Renaissance, was further developed in the Baroque, and became a distinctive part of the musical style of the Classical and Romantic periods.

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 degree of a musical scale which is a whole step below the tonic note. In a major key, it is a lowered, or flattened, seventh scale degree. It appears as the seventh scale degree 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 the movable do solfège system, the subtonic note is sung as te.

Extended chord

In music, extended chords are certain chords or triads with notes extended, or added, beyond the seventh. Ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords are extended chords. The thirteenth is the farthest extension diatonically possible as, by that point, all seven tonal degrees are represented within the chord. In practice however, extended chords do not typically use all the chord members; when it is not altered, the fifth is often omitted, as are notes between the seventh and the highest note, unless they are altered to give a special texture.

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, partly 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, tonicization is the treatment of a pitch other than the overall tonic as a temporary tonic in a composition. In Western music that is tonal, the piece is heard by the listener as being in a certain key. A tonic chord has a dominant chord; in the key of C major, the tonic chord is C major and the dominant chord is G major or G dominant seventh. The dominant chord, especially if it is a dominant seventh, is heard by Western composers and listeners familiar with music as resolving to the tonic, due to the use of the leading note in the dominant chord. A tonicized chord is a chord other than the tonic chord to which a dominant or dominant seventh chord progresses. When a dominant chord or dominant seventh chord is used before a chord other than the tonic, this dominant or dominant seventh chord is called a secondary dominant. When a chord is tonicized, this makes this non-tonic chord sound temporarily like a tonic chord.

The diminished seventh chord is a four-note chord composed of a root note, together with a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a diminished seventh above the root:. For example, the diminished seventh chord built on C, commonly written as Co7, has pitches C–E–G–B:

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:

Chromatic mediant

In music, chromatic mediants are "altered mediant and submediant chords." A chromatic mediant relationship defined conservatively is a relationship between two sections and/or chords whose roots are related by a major third or minor third, and contain one common tone. For example, in the key of C major the diatonic mediant and submediant are E minor and A minor respectively. Their parallel majors are E major and A major. The mediants of the parallel minor of C major are E major and A major. Thus, by this conservative definition, C major has four chromatic mediants: E major, A major, E major, and A major.

In music theory, Roman numeral analysis is a type of musical analysis in which chords are represented by Roman numerals. In some cases, Roman numerals denote scale degrees themselves. More commonly, however, they represent the chord whose root note is that scale degree. For instance, III denotes either the third scale degree or, more commonly, the chord built on it. Typically, uppercase Roman numerals are used to represent major chords, while lowercase Roman numerals are used to represent minor chords. However, some music theorists use upper-case Roman numerals for all chords, regardless of chord quality.

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

Nondominant seventh chord

In music theory, a nondominant seventh chord is both a diatonic chord and a seventh chord, but it does not possess dominant function, and thus it is not a dominant seventh chord.


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