Dominant 7th Chords: Heavy Gravity

Why Do We Call Them Dominant 7th Chords?

the power of dominant 7th chordsIf you read Merriam-Webster’s entries for the word “dominant,” it becomes evident that, in the context of chord progressions, dominant 7th chords maintain a “powerful, prevailing position of influence. ”

They most certainly do. In any given key, there is only one dominant 7th chord. This chord’s root is the 5th note of the scale of that key. This chord has the most powerful, prevailing tendency to gravitate (or resolve) to the I chord (which has the same letter name as the name of our key, of course).

The key of C Major is represented by the C Major scale:

C Major scale - Dominant 7th chords tutorial

The 5th note (often represented with the Roman numeral V) of the C Major scale is G. Therefore a dominant chord whose root is G will have the tendency to move to the chord whose root is the 1st note of the scale (I). Does it always? No, but its strongest tendency is to do that. We will see this in context in a moment. For now, let’s look at an easy way of playing dominant 7th chords…

Just One Tiny “Switch”

You already know how to play a Major 7 chord. Here is a Cmaj7 chord:

Cmaj7 chord

You will recall that the note furthest to the right, the 7th degree of the C Major scale, gives this chord the identity of being a “Major 7” chord. Well, to create a dominant 7th chord, we are going to leave everything in this chord the same except that note, the 7. We are simply going to lower it one half step:

C dominant 7th chord

That’s it!

Now, as we mentioned above, in the key of C Major, the V chord would be a dominant 7th chord whose root is G. Let’s look at a G dominant 7th chord:

G7 - dominant 7th chord

From A Different Angle

Let’s look at this chord from the same angle that we did when we first created the Major 7 chord. We will do this on the root G. Starting with a G Major triad, we will simply look for the note that is exactly one WHOLE step (or TWO half steps) below that G. Then we will will move that F an octave higher to arrive at the chord position illustrated above.

G dominant 7th chord analyzed

As we have mentioned more than just a couple of times in other lessons, the angle from which you arrive at the chord is up to you. Instant recognition of all your chords will soon be yours without any analysis. Truly, that’s good news!

The Dominant 7 Chord Symbol

There’s essentially one way you will see a dominant 7th chord notated in a lead sheet. It simply has a 7 after the letter name (root). Our first dominant 7th chord at the beginning of this lesson is a C7. The chord just above is a G7. We don’t usually say “G dominant 7th” when talking about chords in a progression. It’s easier to say “G7” just like that.

Keep It Simple

Save yourself the frustration that has taken hold of so many people who make the mistake of confusing the Major 7 chord with the dominant 7th chord.

If the chord symbol just has the number 7 after the root name, it is a dominant 7th chord.

A Major 7 chord symbol MUST include something in between that root name and the 7.

Cmaj7

Cmaj7 chord

C7

C dominant 7th chord

To recap:

A Major 7 chord has a 7 that is one half step lower than the root.

A dominant 7th chord has a 7 that is two half steps (or one whole step) lower than the root.

Our Dominant 7th Chord In A Musical Context

Let’s take a look at the dominant 7 chord in the context of a small lead sheet excerpt of Bart Howard’s Fly Me To The Moon:

excerpt from Bart Howard's Fly Me To The Moon

This song is in the key of C Major. Notice how the dominant 7th chord (the G7) resolves to the Cmaj7 chord, which is the 1st chord (the I chord) in the key of C Major.

Gosh, with what you know up to this point, you’re really in a great position. Fantastic!

Remember to play this chord, like the others, on all these roots:

C    F    Bb    Eb    Ab    Db    Gb    B    E    A    D    G  

 

Are you experimenting by looking through some music lead sheets to see how you can apply what you have been learning? This will benefit you greatly.

Next, we are going to place a focus on those minor 7 chords…

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