Secondary dominant guitar chords (made easy!)

Mar 27, 2023

Use secondary dominant chord substitutions instead of the ordinary!

These secondary dominant guitar chords substitute fancier flavorful chords into your guitar chord progressions. Out with the ordinary and in with the more extraordinary.

Secondary dominants guitar chords are going to open up your guitar playing by expanding to more sophisticated and less cliche chord progressions. No more predictable chords- not when you can add more interesting chord subs (chord substitutions).

What are secondary dominant chords?

Secondary dominants are adding the V chord of chords that ARE ALREADY in a chord progression. (G or G7 is the V of C for example i.e. if you have only a C chord and it’s boring- or you want more tension, you can add G or G7).

Why use secondary dominant chords?

Secondary dominant chords spice up your guitar chord progression; therefore, they replace mundane chords with a little twist to add interest! Secondary dominants are tense, biting 7th chords, therefore they want to pull tension towards resolution. They can also turn the chord progression a different direction, thus creating a different vibe that the listener is expecting. These dominant chords are built off of a major triad- take G: G, B, D notes. Add an F note, and you get G7, for added tension that makes it harmonically want to go somewhere (G7 wants to go to C).

How to use secondary dominant chords on guitar

Secondary dominants on guitar can take your chords from ordinary to extraordinary- add unpredictability.

How? You can SUBSTITUTE chords that fit- and at the same time sound unexpected! (example- a two chord, lame C-F and back to C could go C-C7-F-C).

Notes for the TAB/notation examples below

Step 1

Take your ordinary pop/rock guitar chords as the basis for the secondary dominant concept. Here is what we’ll use: a I-Vi-ii-V in G (that is a common chord progression in the key of G). 

Step 2

In the key of G: pop the B7 as a secondary dominant in front of E minor, which resolves it. (Ordinarily, B is minor in the key of G- but here, we use B7 for: 1. Tension 2. Interest!

Step 3

Now you’ll apply the same principle to other chords in the progression! Instead of Am belonging to G, and that being predictable- what is the V chord of D7? It’s A7! (D7 is built off of the D triad). So, the A7 will resolve to the D- the fun thing is that it comes unexpectedly, placed in front of the D7!

Step 4

Now, see that Em? What can we do with that? Turn it into E7! Why and how? E is the V of A- so we can make E dominant- another V chord that resolves to the A7, using all of the dominant forms (E7 instead of simply E) we create tension and resolution and spark more interest and adventure into the progression- which is the ultimate goal!

All examples found in the video walkthroughs BELOW!

Final notes/takeaway on secondary dominant chord use

An easy-to-remember simple example to help remember: C-F-G-C > you could add C7 IN FRONT of F, D7 in front of G, and turn G into G7. IF you don’t like the 7th chord- just use its major triad (D instead of D7).

Now it’s time to go to YOUR chord progressions, along with your favorite songs: and add in these secondary dominant chords. Follow the principles above to do so. Best starting place? Pop songs. Pick some easy progressions and repetitive ones with minimal chords and start substituting in the dominant 7th secondary dominants!

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