MUS 112 Study Guide R (Chapter 18)
Secondary Dominant Chords; Elementary Modulation
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The term chromaticism refers to the use of
tones not belonging to the diatonic scale in which they are
found. (In this definition, the two forms of scale degrees 6
and 7 in minor keys are not included.) General
principle: raised tones usually resolve upward; lowered
tones usually resolve downward.
The most common type of altered chord is the secondary
dominant, because it functions as a dominant to a major or minor
triad other than the tonic.
Secondary Dominant Chords: Imagine that
you are in the key of C major. You encounter an A major chord
(A C# E) followed by a D minor chord. If you play only these
two chords, the aural impression is that of a V-i in the key of D
minor with the altered tone, C#, now functioning as a leading tone
to the presumed key of D minor. This alteration and its
function as a leading tone to a chord a perfect fifth below is
typical of all secondary dominant chords.
Tonicization: the process of a
secondary dominantís endowing its following chord with the
property of tonic, even if only briefly.
The secondary dominant is symbolized as: V/?.
For example, in item number 3 above, ii (D minor triad) is tonicized,
so its secondary dominant (A C# E) is V/ii, spoken "five of
Any major or minor triad may be preceded by its
secondary dominant triad or seventh chord. For example,
V/ii, V7/ii, V/iii, V7/iii, etc. (The
secondary dominant seventh chord symbol is spoken, e.g., "five
seven of two.") Since diminished and augmented triads
cannot assume the function of tonic, they have no secondary
dominants. The example below shows all of the secondary
dominant possibilities in major and minor:
- Following are a few special explanations pertaining to the use of
secondary dominant chords:
Each secondary dominant triad may also be changed to a seventh
chord by adding a minor seventh above the root. In actual
practice, the seventh chords are the more frequently used, just as
the diatonic V7 is more common than the V triad.
In major, V/IV does not exist because there is no chromatic
alteration and V/IV is equivalent to the tonic triad. But
placing a minor 7th above the tonic does create a
secondary dominant, V7/IV. (The 7th is not
diatonic, so it creates a chromatic alteration.)
In minor, the major tonic triad (I) can be considered a
secondary dominant (V/iv).
In minor, the analysis of V/VI instead of III, or V/III instead
of VII, (in that there are no chromatic alterations) depends upon
the second chord. If the second chord is tonicized, then a
secondary dominant analysis is appropriate.
Secondary dominant triads and seventh chords may be found in
succession, such as V/vi followed by V/ii. (Since vi often
precedes ii, their secondary dominants may also be used in this
- Spelling Secondary Dominants: All secondary dominants are major
triads or major-minor seventh chords (dominant 7ths).
To spell any such triad, first spell the root of the tonicized
triad, count up five steps from that note, then spell a major
triad. E.g., to create a V/ii in a major: (1) the root
of ii is B, (2) five scale steps up is F#, (3) the major triad on F#
is F# A# C#. If the chord is a secondary dominant seventh
chord, simply add a minor seventh: F# A# C# E.
- Use of Secondary Dominants: Secondary dominants may be used
rather freely. For example, they may be used to slightly alter
the harmonization in a recurring phrase for variety.
- Hemiola: a metric device in which two groups of three
notes are performed as three groups of two notes, for example.
It creates a feeling of a changed meter.
- The Deceptive Progression: Like the deceptive progression
V-vi, the root of the secondary dominant can move up stepwise in its
own deceptive progression, e.g., where the root of V7/vi
moves up stepwise to IV.
- Secondary Dominant Chords in the Harmonic Sequence: The
effectiveness of the familiar and much-used device of harmonic
sequence can be enhanced through the additional opportunities for
variety when using secondary dominant chords.
- The V/V at the Cadence: The use of secondary dominant chords
may also be used at a cadence to modulate, thereby
introducing a new key. Modulation is the process of
going from one key to another.
- Modulation: Modulating from one key to another is
commonly achieved through the use of a pivot chord. A
pivot chord is a chord that is common to both the old and the new
key; it serves a dual function. E.g., in a modulation from the
key of E minor to G major, the iv chord in E minor may
simultaneously function as a ii chord in G major. When the
"ii" chord in G major is followed by (ii)-V-I (in G), a
modulation has occurred.
- Determining which Chords Can Be Pivots: Any chord that is
spelled identically in the two keys of a modulation can act as a
pivot, though two other considerations do apply:
The pivot usually immediately precedes one of these progressions or
cadences in the new key: V-I, I six-four-V-I, IV-V-I, or
ii-V-I. In other words, the new key is usually quickly
established via a cadence in the new key.
A pivot that includes V or viio is usually
avoided. The strength of each of these in relationship to a
tonic makes it difficult to aurally comprehend a relationship to a
- By lining up the triad spellings of the two keys, one can see
which chords are available as pivots (marked by the bold
font). Note that the pair that includes V is not useful
due to the strong association of the dominant, including viio,
to proceed to the tonic in the original key.
Thus, to modulate from a minor key to its relative major, there are
four useful pivots. E.g., from C minor to Eb major:
When lining up the triads of a major key and its dominant key, we
find three useful pivots. E.g., from D major to A major:
Return to the Original Tonic Key: Once a new
key is achieved, there may be an immediate return to the old key, or
the music may continue for a variable length of time in the new key
or other keys before making a return. Sometimes there is not a
return to the original key. For our purposes at present, we
will consider only the direct return to the original key.
After a modulation to a new key, return to the original tonic is
accomplished simply by beginning the next phrase with I, V-I, or some
other basic progression in the original key.
Modulation or Secondary Dominants in the Melodic
Line: In a melody, a modulation or a secondary dominant
becomes apparent when the implied harmony forms a cadence or a
cadential progression. Very often the location is obvious
because of the presence of an altered tone in
the melody. It is not always possible to depend upon the
appearance of an altered tone in the melody in that the implied
altered tone may be in the harmony, rather than in the melody line
Writing Secondary Dominant Chords: The
secondary dominant functions in the same way as the diatonic V or V7;
therefore, its leading tone (the third of the chord) normally
ascends, except that it may descend a half step, using the same
letter name, to the seventh of the following chord if the following
chord has a seventh. In a minor key, the fifth of V/V is #6,
but in relation to its tonicized chord it is scale degree 2, and my
The cross-relation occurs when a member of a
chord is also found in the following chord but in a different voice
and with a different chromatic inflection. It is usually
avoided because of its unpleasant sound. E.g., in a D minor
chord (D F A) going to a D major chord (D F# A), the F and F# are in
a cross-relation, and should be avoided. The cross-relation
can be avoided by keeping the two notes in the same voice line, or
its effect can be eliminated by adding a 7th to the
second of the two chords.
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