How to Apply the Pentatonic Scale on the Guitar
How to Play Dorian Mode on the Guitar
How to Name Notes, Scale Degrees, and Chords on the Guitar

Basics of Chord Function and the Dominant Chord on the Guitar

The dominant chord (or the chord built on the 5th degree of a scale) is a fairly important chord on the guitar because its structure and tendency toward the tonic chord really help define the tonal center of a progression. The word dominant refers to two things in music theory:

  • The first is the 5th degree of the major scale, named the dominant.

  • The second is a major triad with a minor 7th, called the dominant 7th chord, which naturally occurs on the 5th scale degree.

The chord function on V is the most important example of this. Because it’s built on the 5th scale degree, or the dominant note, the V chord has what’s sometimes called a dominant function. In a chord progression like I-V, the dominant chord has a sense of movement, or instability, that makes the progression want to continue leading back to the tonic, chord I.

You can intensify this leading quality of V by adding a 7th to the chord, making V7, or a dominant 7th chord. Every major scale has a naturally occurring V7 chord: G7 in C major, D7 in G major, A7 in D major, and so on. Here is a sample I-V7 chord progression in C.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Musicians also use the dominant 7th chord for its sound quality, or color. You hear this use in blues-based music, where the dominant 7th sound is a huge part of its style. These static dominant 7th chords, as they’re called, don’t necessarily need to resolve to a tonic chord.

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