Secondary dominant chords on guitar (made easy)

Mar 27, 2023

Boring chords? Use THESE chord substitutions instead!

These secondary dominant chord subs take ordinary chords and substitute them with extraordinary chords!

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Finally, an opportunity to learn what secondary dominants ARE on guitar and HOW YOU can use them-with EASY examples!  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- you can add G or G7) 

What are secondary dominant chords?

They spice up your guitar chord progression! … 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)…

Why use secondary dominants?

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 from the TAB/notation examples

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 we’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!

Next step? Add THIS concept into YOUR compositions. Also try it with your favorite songs/pop rock songs! It’ll become an integral part of your playing….


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 it’s major triad (D instead of D7).

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