Music theory can be a complex topic to understand, but it’s essential for musicians and music enthusiasts to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals. One of the essential elements of music theory is chords, and within chords, there is a specific type called applied chords. In this article, we’ll explore what applied chords are and how they’re used in music.

What Are Chords?

Before we dive into applied chords, let’s first define what a chord is. A chord is a group of three or more notes played simultaneously to create harmony. Chords are the building blocks of music, and they help provide structure and movement in songs.

What Are Applied Chords?

Applied chords are chords that are borrowed from another key and used in the current key. These chords are also known as secondary chords because they function as secondary dominants or subdominants in a new key.

For example, let’s say we’re in the key of C major, and we want to use an F# chord (which is not in the key of C major). We can use an applied chord by borrowing that chord from the key of G major (which has an F# chord) and using it in our progression.

Types of Applied Chords

There are two main types of applied chords: secondary dominants and secondary subdominants.

Secondary Dominants: A secondary dominant is a chord that functions as the dominant (the fifth scale degree) of another chord within the current key. For example, if we’re in the key of C major, we can use a D7 chord (the dominant of G major) as a secondary dominant for G7.

Secondary Subdominants: A secondary subdominant is a chord that functions as the subdominant (the fourth scale degree) of another chord within the current key. For example, if we’re in the key of C major, we can use an F#dim7 chord (the subdominant of B minor) as a secondary subdominant for Bm7.

How to Identify Applied Chords

Applied chords are identified by analyzing the chord progression and looking for chords that don’t belong to the current key. Once you’ve identified an applied chord, you can determine whether it’s functioning as a secondary dominant or a secondary subdominant.

Uses of Applied Chords

Applied chords are used to add complexity and interest to a song. They provide a way to modulate (change keys) smoothly without making abrupt changes. Additionally, they create tension and release within a song, which can add emotional depth and impact.

Examples of Applied Chords in Popular Music

– In “Let It Be” by The Beatles, the chorus contains an E7 chord (which is not in the key of C major) that functions as a secondary dominant for A7.

– In “Someone Like You” by Adele, the verse contains a Bb chord (which is not in the key of A major) that functions as a secondary subdominant for Dm.

– In “All of Me” by John Legend, the bridge contains an Ab7 chord (which is not in the key of G major) that functions as a secondary dominant for Db.

Conclusion

Applied chords add depth and interest to music by borrowing chords from other keys. They provide smooth ways to modulate and create tension and release within songs. Understanding applied chords is essential for musicians who want to create complex and interesting music.