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Great Composers Prolong the Inevitable

Great Composers Prolong the Inevitable

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Note: If you’re unfamiliar with the diatonic chords, read the very first entry on this blog (all the way at the bottom) before this one! We all know that Ke$ha writes great songs, but not everyone realizes that the music she, and countless other pop musicians, write is still heavily influenced by European composers who have been dead for over 300 years! 19th Century composers like Liszt and Chopin knew how to make simple chord progression interesting by leading the ear places it didn’t expect.Listen to this simple I – IV – V progression. C F G

and now that same progressions with some 19th century spice

C Bdim C/E F#dim G

It’s more interesting right? Yes, and now we learn all about it!

Diminished Chords

You’ll recall from your studies of the diatonic chords that the seven chord is always diminished, (that means that the third and fifth members of the chord are flattened). The root of the seven chord is the easiest one to find. It’s one half step below the one chord. So, the seven chord of G would be F#dim.

What’s the seven chord of D?

That’s right! C#dim

Here’s how you play them –

B Diminished

E Diminished

The root of the B dim is your middle finger on the fifth string and the root of the E dim is your first finger on the fourth string. They’re both movable chords so if you move the B up one fret you get C and then C# etc. You can play them all with these two shapes!

Dominant Chords

You may have different ideas about what makes a dominant chord. You know it’s the five chord and maybe that it has the tendency to direct the ear back home to the one chord. Today, let’s think of them as chords that set up other chords. If you play G C D you should feel a strong pull back to G. Try it.
Now try G C F#dim. Again, you should feel like playing G again. So the dominant chords of G, are D and F#dim (the five chord and the seven chord).

What would the dominant chords be for C?

Correct again! It’s G and Bdim (G is the five and B is one half step below one so it’s the seven) Try a couple more and play them –

Now you always know how to find your way home.

The fun part –

You can use dominant chords to tonicize chords other than the one!

This is where it gets crazy. Play that I – IV – V progression again –


and now try –

C F F#dim G (F#dim is the E dim shape with your first finger in the fourth fret)

We know that the seven chord of G (one half step below G) is F#dim and we used that chord to make G feel like home, even though it’s not! That’s called a –

Secondary Dominant Chords

A secondary dominant chord is a non-diatonic chord that can be used to tonicize another chord, (the computer thinks I’m spelling tonicize wrong but I’m sticking to my guns). That means that you can set up any diatonic chord by preceding it with either its seven chord or its five chord. You just pretend like you’re in the key of the chord you’re trying to lead into. Guitar players call it a “five of chord” or a “seven of chord”. Here are the chords that are most often tonicized in the key of C –

d min e min G a min
V / ii = A7 V / iii = B7 V / V = D7 V / vi = E7
vii/ii = C#dim vii/ii = D#dim vii/V = F#dim vii/vi = G#dim

What this chart shows you, is how to tonicize different chords in the key of C. Take D minor for example. The chords underneath it, in the chart are A7 (the five of two) and C#dim (the seven of two). That means that if you would like to lead the ear into D minor you can preface it with either of these chords. Try this progression –

C F A7 Dm

A7 isn’t normally played in the key of C but when you get to the A7 you should feel a strong pull toward the D minor.

If you want to pull the listener in to G you can try D7 (the five of five) or F#dim (the seven of five). It’s a great way make a simple chord progression more unique or, if your feeling particularly ambitious, to change to another key entirely!

Try it out.

By Shane Chapman

Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC's friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, a wife, three kids, a cat and some juggling equipment.


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