Using Dominants – Part 3

In this new, 5 part series we’ll be looking at the importance of the dominant 7th chord and some of the more unusual places that you can use them. In part 3, we’ll be looking at how to use dominant 7th on chord 2:



So far in this series, we’ve looked at how we can use a dominant 7th chord on chords 1 and 5 (tonic and dominant). This week, we’re going to see how we can use a dominant 7th on chord 2 (super tonic). When tackling this, we will naturally come onto the V on V theory, something we’ll look at properly in the final lesson on dominants, so don’t worry too much about it now.
If we use a dominant 7th on chord 2 and use the dominant 7th in its functional way (acting as a temporary chord V, taking us to a temporary chord 1) then we will land on the actual (not temporary) chord V of the key that we’re in. That sounds ridiculously complicated; let me explain properly.


We’re in C major:
I     ii       iii    IV   V    vi    vii
C   Dm   Em   F   G   Am   Bº(diminished)


If we make chord 2 a D7 instead of a Dm then it becomes a temporary chord 5 and will take us a fifth away to G, our temporary chord 1 (you can count up five notes on a major scale to find the chord that is a fifth away). Remember, every time you play a dominant 7th chord it becomes a temporary chord 5 and naturally wants to go back to chord 1, a fifth away.


Temporary function:                  (V   -  I)  <— perfect cadence
Actual function in C major:       II    -  V
                                                             D7      G


We have now landed on G major, the actual dominant of C major, which sets us up for another perfect cadence:


Temporary function:                  (V   -  I)  <— perfect cadence
Actual function in C major:      II    -  V    –   I   <— perfect cadence
                                                            D7      G7      C


Now we’ve got two perfect cadences in our chord sequence. So, in this case, chord 2 is acting as the dominant of the (primary) dominant, chord 5. This is why, when chord 2 is played as dominant 7th chord instead of its usual minor 7, we call it a Secondary Dominant.
Okay, so that’s the theory, let’s look at a non-functional use of the major chord 2. If we ignore the 7th and just focus on the fact that chord 2 now has a major sound instead of a minor (due to the third being changed) then we’ve got a really nice new sound to play with.
Having analysed a load of songs that use this technique, there’s one chord sequence that keeps coming up; I, II, IV, I. Using chord 2 in this way brings a really nice, clean, pop sound. You can hear it in some S Club 7 – after the chorus of ‘Sunshine’ (we all love a bit of S Club!) and probably most familiarly heard in Cee Lo Green’s ‘Forget You’:


I    II   IV   I
C   D   F   C


                  C                                                    D                                       F
I see you drive round town with the girl I love and I’m like
“forget you”.


Most of the song is based solely on this chord sequence (verses and chorus). Similarly to when we looked at ‘Get Lucky’, the song doesn’t get boring because it’s using a chord sequence that is different from what we’d normally hear.
Have a play through all this, get used to the sound of the secondary dominant, play it through in different keys and try and work it into some of the songs you know or are writing. Look at the idea of major chord 2 and try and find some different chord sequences that use the major chord 2.




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