The tonic (I
or "1 chord") and dominant (V
or "5 chord") are probably
the most important chord relationship used in chord progressions.
We're first going to look closely at the dominant chord, its
its relationship with the tonic - a relationship that will be integral
many of the chord progressions you play.
chords are an important part of music theory in general, not just on
guitar. I won't spend time on what the name "dominant" means,
not important what you call it, rather you understand its musical function.
When thinking about and writing your own chord
progressions (a sequence of
chords), dominant chords can be seen as natural tension chords
before returning back to the starting chord of the progression.
"tension" I mean they have a naturally unresolved feel to them, leaving
the chord progression feeling "away from home". So, first, think
of dominant chords in relation to a journey away from that starting 1
Let's say we begin a chord progression on C major. We can
call that the tonic chord
or the 1
That is "home". During the progression, we journey "away from home"
other chords. Some progressions spend very little time away from the
tonic and stay close to home. Others go on a longer journey. However,
the dominant (or 5)
be used, in both long and short journeys, as a natural gateway
to return back home/resolve to the tonic chord.
It's this resolution that helps to reaffirm the major key centre. Not
always the aim in music, but used enough to know about.
Take a listen below to a tonic major chord followed by its relative
chord, before returning back to the tonic.
In that example, our tonic chord was C major.
The dominant chord was G
major. However, the relationship
between tonic and dominant chords is the same no matter which
you play in. Take a listen to this same tonic-dominant relationship but
in incremental keys:
...and so on and so forth. When the tonic chord changes, the dominant
chord moves with it as a relative position...
For the moment, it's good to train your ear to
the sound of that relationship and the tension of the dominant chord
before its return home.
To add to that tension, the dominant chord is often played with a flat 7th interval.
Don't worry if you're not sure what that means yet. All will become
clear. We'll look more at this particular variation next time.
Let's delve a bit more into the theory and function of this chord...
chords and the major scale
It's surprising just how much music theory stems from knowledge of the major
scale. Dominant chords are no exception. This will explain
why we call it the "5 chord"...
Let's take a typical "boxed" major scale pattern:
you may already know, that pattern can be moved up or down the
fretboard, depending on which key you're playing the major scale in.
But let's say we're in the key of G,
on the 3rd fret above.
We could build a tonic
major chord over that major scale shape by simply using an E
there's our tonic "home" chord - G major. Now, the dominant chord of
key is rooted on the 5th
degree of the same root major scale. Identify the 5th
note on the tonic above. That is where the root note of
We can then build the dominant major chord from that dominant
root note. I've used the A
shape barre chord in the example
below, because its lowest root note lies conveniently on the A string...
in this example, because the tonic chord was G major, the dominant
chord is D major. Let's listen to that tonic-dominant relationship
again, this time between G and D major:
really hear the dominant function in its element, we need to add some
chords away from the tonic, and use the dominant chord as the final
chord before returning home. A common 3 chord progression
which is Roman numerals for: 1
(tonic or 1st degree chord) 2
(2nd degree chord in major scale) and 5
(5th degree chord).
any chords you might use away from the tonic (as long as you think
they're musical) can interact with the dominant chord in this way.
Now, this tonic-dominant root note
relationship can also be
identified in other positions where chord root notes occur
(e.g. for the common barre shapes)...
Remember, all these
positions are the relative
between tonic and dominant, the same as root (1) and 5th (5) intervals
major scale. The actual fret positions are not important, as these are movable
relationships. Tonic moves, dominant moves with it, just like a movable
chord shape or scale pattern. Starting with the
one we already know...
as these are root
note intervals, we can build chords on each of them -
chords and dominant chords on their respective root note positions.
This is just to give you a visual
reference to get your bearings on the fretboard. Once you
know the root notes, you can build the actual chords wherever you want,
using other chord shapes you've learned.
So, in a nutshell, the dominant chord root note is on
the 5th degree of the tonic's major scale, the tonic being the 1st
degree of that same
scale. It's this tonic chord which defines the key of our progression.
For example, if the tonic were C major,
our progression would be said to be "in the key of C major", and the
root of our major scale would be C
(useful to know for soloing).
That, in its basic form, is the I
(or 1 - 5) relationship. Most songs, especially pop songs you'll hear
will make use of this
relationship in some way.
But of course, there's more to it than what we've covered here. In the
next lesson, we'll delve further into the theory behind dominant chords
how you can make really effective use of them in your songwriting,
especially by using what's called the subdominant (or 4
hope this has, at least partially, opened a new door for you as far as
guitar theory goes. Perhaps I've bored you to death in the process.
If so, perhaps more interactive
learning will bring you back to life.
this lesson helpful? Please let others know, cheers...