Applied Dominants (week 6)

Having covered diatonic chords, we now move to chromatic (having sharps or flats outside of the key signature) chords.

Applied dominants (sometimes called secondary dominants – from which I will refrain because of secondary functions, week 2) are one of the most straightforward chromatic concepts. Since we define Dominant function by its sound and resolution, almost anytime we hear a major triad with an added minor 7th we think “Dominant!” even if it isn’t leading to the original Tonic. These chromatically-altered chords apply their dominant function to chords other than tonic. We can momentarily think in a new key for 2 chords.

Generally, a raised pitch will indicate the new applied leading tone, emphasizing the following chord. For an applied dominant of the Dominant, the leading tone is fi, #4, pulling a half-step up to sol, the root of the chord. The dominant of the dominant is common and special enough to get its own symbol, the double-D shown below. Other applied dominants appear in parentheses: (D)P – D of Predominant for example. All of the brief examples assume a key signature of 1 flat.


Here are the chromatic notes to look for when looking for different applied dominants.

In major:
Solfege          applied D going to this chord
fi (#4) -> so –   D
di (#1) -> re –   Pr
si (#5) -> la –   Tr/Pv
ri (#2) -> mi –   Tvte (b7) -> la –   P

dprmaj             dtrmaj        dtvmaj

In minor:
Solfege          applied D going to this chord
fi (#4) -> so –    D
mi (#3) -> fa –    p
rah (b2) -> do – tV/pR
le (6) -> so –      tR

ddmindpmin            dtvmin       dtrmin

The only applied dominants that don’t have chromatically raised leading tones are (D)P, (D)tR, and (D)tV, as seen above. The (D)P instead has a lowered 7th of the chord (D7)P, which resolves to the third of the following triad. (D7)tV is similar in minor, having a lowered pitch acting as the 7th of the dominant functioning chord. (D7)tR has no chromatic notes at all, because the relative major of a given key shares the same key signature.

In the following example (click to see larger version), you can see some applied dominants at work in a Beethoven Piano Sonata. Applied dominants get inverted and altered just the same way normal dominants do; if the extra ninth that gets added to rootless-dominants is a chromatically-lowered pitch in the key, then a b9 is used to indicate this, as seen in mm. 7, 12, and 15.


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