Chord Lesson 4: Dominant Chords

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Dominant Chords: Adding a Note for Tension and Excitement

Hi! If you’ve kept up with this series of basic chord lessons from Guitar-Muse, you’ve already learned some major chords (CAGED), a few minor chords (Amin, Emin, and Dmin) and some progressions using all of these chords.

In this lesson, we’ll be learning a third type of chord. They’re called dominant chords, and they share some similarities to major chords—but each one has an additional note that causes exciting dissonance and tension. These chords are often used to create strong anticipation for another chord that follows.

There are many different chords in the dominant family; the ones I’ve given you here are 7 chords—they’re written as a note name followed immediately by the number 7.

Dominant Chord Chart
Dominant Chords – Click to Enlarge

Learning the chords

As with all the other chords we’ve discussed in this article series, be sure to learn each of the above carefully; make sure every individual note of the chord rings out. If you hear a dull “thud” or a buzzing noise when you play a particular note in a chord, try this:

  • Make sure the finger responsible for fretting that note is pressing down hard enough
  • Make sure none of the nearby fingers are leaning on or otherwise touching strings they shouldn’t be.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed—remember, the black dots at the tops of the diagram are open strings and require no fretting hand action at all.

Above I’ve included several different ways to play A7 and E7. This is because there’s more than one way to collect together the notes that are needed to form a dominant chord. You’ll also notice that these chords share many notes in common with their corresponding major chords: both A7 chords above show a lot of similarity to the A major chord you learned back in lesson 2, and the same is true for E7 and E; also D7 and D. Interesting, no? We won’t get into all of the technical details of this now—but given that you’ve stuck with me for four lessons now, I thought you’d appreciate some evidence that there’s logic behind all of these shapes; I’m not just making this stuff up.

Noticing the similarities and differences between major and dominant chords of the same letter name will also help you remember both.

Progressions using the dominant chords

Try out the chord progressions listed here. When there’s more than one way to play a dominant chord, play the progression several times to try out all the possible variations. You’ll probably discover that you like the sounds of certain fingerings more than others in each of these situations.

C → G7 → C
A → E7 → A
G → D7 → G
E → B7 → E
D → A7 → D

Hear how that dominant chord really sets up the chord that follows it in each case?
Here are a few slightly longer chord progressions using dominants:

A → D → E7 → A
G → C → D7 → G
E → A → B7 → E

Keep practicing these dominant chords; they’re a bit more complicated than the chords we’ve learned in previous lessons. Dominants may take you a few days or even a few weeks to master, depending on how much time you devote to practice each day. Rest assured that dominants are well worth your time and trouble.

Join us next time, when I’ll give you a break from learning all these chords and give you a few guidelines that’ll help you write your own chord progressions.

By the way, have you subscribed to the Guitar-Muse RSS feed yet? 😉


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Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Chord Lesson 4: Dominant Chords

  • December 22, 2011 at 10:12 AM
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    Don’t forget the blues! That’s the best way to use dominant chords xD

    …or maybe you’ve already written about the blues and I’m just new. If that’s the case- ignore me!

    I used to play guitar and I’d jam out on the blues with my bro every night. He’d be on piano and we’d take turns soloing 🙂 It’s really easy and a good way to develop some improv skills.

    Reply
    • January 14, 2012 at 8:32 PM
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      Not sure how I missed this comment. Sorry, Tommy!

      You’re dead on. Dominants sound great when you’re playing blues.

      Reply

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