Suomeksi | In English

Dominants

The term dominant is associated with location in a key (the fifth note of the scale) and the chord built on that note (V degree). The concept dominant can also be discussed in terms of degrees and their tendencies (see Tonal degrees and degree tendencies).

The seventh degree of a scale is the leading note, leading to the tonic (first degree). The progression 7-8 could also be written 7-1, but 7-8 better describes the direction of the progression – a semitone upwards.

The fourth degree of a scale is sometimes called a leading note as well because of its semitone relationship (in a major scale) to the adjacent note but to the opposite direction. Both degrees are active in a major key. When simultaneous, they form a tritone (aug5 or dim5), an active interval as such.

The dominant nature of these degrees can be defined as energy finally resolving into stable degrees (first and third).

A dissonant interval between the active degrees is also an important dominant-defining factor.

In a minor key, the semitone is found only in the progression 7-8, while 4-3 is a whole tone. However, in a harmonic minor there is a tritone also between degrees 2 and 6. This dominant interval leads to the tonic of the relative major; in minor keys, a modulation to a relative major is quite common.

A dominant seventh chord (dom7) is usually a four-note chord building on the fifth degree of a scale. The lowest (bass) note of the harmony usually moves a perfect fourth up or a perfect fifth down. This fourth relation is most often found in cadences.

The example below presents other dominant chords as well. In a tritone substitution, the bass is a tritone apart from its typical position. In classical music theory, this chord is an augmented sixth building on the lowered second degree (the interval D flat-B is aug6). This chord can also be written Vs7 with s denoting substitution.

This is a four-note chord, but the fifth is quite unessential to the harmony and therefore omitted. In Western music theory, chords are still perceived as piles of thirds, not as degrees or other structures. V7 and Vs7 include the same active degrees, also considered the character notes of the chord. The character notes of dom7 in root position are always M3 and m7 counting from the bass.

In addition to V7 and Vs7, dominant functions are assigned to chords building on VII degree (see "alternative dominants" in Functional harmony in jazz).

Other dominant harmonies are available through the active notes of a scale. In early Renaissance music, a common cadence included two leading notes (to the fifth and first degrees), and the bass moved downwards from the supertonic to the tonic. A diminished four-note chord often resolves into a major chord with three semitone relations. The last bar in the example below includes as many as four semitone relations, which makes the chord quite dominant (active).