Music theory can be an intimidating subject, but understanding its concepts can take your musical abilities to the next level. In this article, we’ll delve into one of the more advanced topics in music theory – secondary dominants.

What is a Dominant?

Before we dive into secondary dominants, let’s first define a dominant. A dominant chord is the fifth chord in a scale and creates tension that leads to the resolution of the tonic or first chord. In simpler terms, it’s a chord that makes you want to hear the first chord again.

For example, in the key of C major, G major is the dominant because it’s the fifth chord (C-D-E-F-G). When you hear a G major chord, your ears anticipate hearing C major again.

What is a Secondary Dominant?

A secondary dominant is when you use a dominant chord from outside of the current key to lead to another chord that isn’t the tonic. This creates even more tension and interest in your music.

Let’s look at an example. Say we’re in the key of C major and we want to go from a C major chord to an A minor chord.

Normally, you would just play an A minor chord after a C major one. But if we use a secondary dominant, we can create more interest and lead into that A minor chord more effectively.

The secondary dominant for A minor is E7 because E7 is the dominant for A minor (A-B-C-D-E). So instead of just playing C major followed by A minor, we can play C major followed by E7 followed by A minor.

How To Use Secondary Dominants

To use secondary dominants effectively, you need to know which chords are dominant in each key. Here’s a quick reference chart:

Once you know the dominant chords for each key, you can use them to create more interesting chord progressions. For example, instead of just playing a C-F-G progression in C major, you can play C-B7-E7-Amin-Dmin-G.


Secondary dominants are a powerful tool in music theory that can add more interest and tension to your chord progressions. By understanding which chords are dominant in each key, you can use secondary dominants to create more complex and engaging music.