Substitute chords

Secondary Chords

Musical theory is a vast subject, and it is not always as simple as playing a I - IV - V progression. In this article, we will take a look at some different types of secondary chords.

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Secondary Dominants

A secondary dominant is a major chord, often with a minor seventh, which is not the dominant (fifth degree) of the tonic chord, but rather the dominant of another chord in the scale. For example, in the key of C major, the dominant would normally be G7, but a secondary dominant could be any chord which is the dominant of another of the notes in the scale. For example, D7 is the dominant chord of G. As such, D7 would be a secondary dominant for the C major scale.

It is very common that if you see a major version of a chord which is otherwise minor in the scale, it is because it is the secondary dominant.

The notation for a secondary dominant is a V over the chord to which it is the dominant. If the secondary dominant is the dominant of the dominant, the notation would be "V/V", and if it is the dominant of the submediant (the sixth degree, which in C major would be A minor), then it would be written as "V/vi".

Secondary Subdominants

A secondary subdominant works in much the same way as a secondary dominant, but is not used as frequently. It is the subdominant (fourth degree) of chord in a scale which is not the tonic chord. For example, in C major, the subdominant is F major, and subdominant of F major is B♭ major, which would in turn be a secondary subdominant of the C major scale. In this case, it would be written as "IV/IV".

Parallel Chords

A parallel chord is when a chord in a scale is substituted with the major or minor version of that same chord. For example, in the key of C major, the second chord is D minor. The parallel would be substituting this D minor with a D major chord. Similarly, substituting the fourth chord, the F major, for an F minor would also be an example of using a parallel chord.

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