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dominant chord family of colors

Dominant harmony, grande topic, perhaps the most theoretically

complicated of the musical elements in this text. Really? Why? Well, as the
name potentially implies, i.e., to dominate, the dominant chord plays a
rather important role in most of the styles of American music. And
considering the myriad of different musical settings which we need the
dominant colors to create a reasonable historically authentic sound
stylistically, i.e., as the music was written or originally played, no wonder
that the dominant family of colors, as created from within the equal
tempered system of tuning, has sooooo many wonderful relatives, each
contributing an essential aspect of one or more styles! So very cool. Is there
a style of American music in the which the dominant colors are oftentimes
conspicuously absent? You bet, we have it all. Oftentimes the music of the
"new age" jazz genre, with it's "free floating" sense of tonal gravity and
exciting often "chant like" grooves for extended blowing, purposefully
omits the dominant color, i.e., the tritone tension from within the harmony,
creating it's sense of tension and release through more musically meditative
techniques. So...
Does a tonality without a tritone create the music of a new age global
Historical importance of the dominant family in American music? Well first
and perhaps foremost, the dominant sounds are the basis for American blues
harmony, the sounds of which find their way into all of the American
musical genres. Are the blue sounds part of the original core of the
American story? For many of our most celebrated American musical
heroes, a resounding YES!
Theoretical importance of the Dominants? That the dominant family of
chords are a key player in the creating of musical tension and it's release,
thus they play a pivotal role in most of the cadencing and modulation within
all of the American styles, thus we often find the dominant tension within
almost every popular chord progression used to tell our stories.
Is part of the excitement and challenge of bebop jazz created from the
coupling of rapid tempos and an equally rapid changing of key centers? I
think so. Is a sure way to change tonal centers within equal temper achieved
by simply sounding the dominant chord of the key we wish to go too?
Maybe. Cool with these ideas?
Dominant chord theory. Well enough musing eh ( ? ) and back to the theory
yes? Due to the encapsulated tritone dissonance of the dominant seventh
chord, this family of chords is generally of a unstable tonal nature. While
usually preceded by some type of relative stability, the sounding of the
dominant color creates a "need" and a potential wanting to return to a more
stable or restive place. Often called tonal gravity within this text, this "need
to resolve" as created by the dominant colors potentially creates a sense of
emotional expectation, a key ingredient on the creative musicians palette.
It's upon the shoulders of the dominant seventh family that much of the
dissonance, thus harmonic tension, in American music is found. Alterations
of the component parts of dominant seventh chords are as varied as the
styles of American music. Of the three families of chord types, the color
tones of the dominant seventh chords are the most widely altered and
substituted for, potentially becoming a inexhaustible resource with tension
creating ability. Created from the fifth scale degree of the major scale, let's
locate the dominant seventh chord in the following chart. Example 1.

scale degrees 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C major scale pitches C D E F G A B C
arpeggio degrees 1 3 5 7 9 11 13 15
C arpeggio pitches C E G B D F A C

The essential part of dominant harmony that structurally provides the

quality of sound associated with the this family are the third and seventh
degree. Let's spell out a G 7 chord, i.e., the dominant chord in the key of C
major. What is the interval created between the major third and the
dominant seventh? Right, the tritone. Example 1a.
chord degree 1 major 3 perfect 5 minor
letter name G B D F

The third degree B is a major third above the root G. The seventh of our
chord F, is a minor or blue seventh above our root, G. Find and create this
popular G 7 chord sequence on your instrument and begin to get a feel for
its tension and cool and unique sonority. Here is the dominant seventh
chord placed in the common One / Four / Five chord progression found in
various styles of American music. The One and Four chords are tonic chord
types, the Five is the dominant chord type. Example 1b.

One Four Five 7 One

Can you sense that the chord in bar 3 wants to resolve to the sound in bar
4?. If not, try again. If so, welcome to world of tonal gravity. Musical artists
are simply people like us who balance and control this tension and its
release. This One, Four, Five sequence of chords is very popular with just
about everyone stylistically. The tonic chords in example 1b above just
might be the granddaddy chord progression of them all. So what is it about
the dominant chord that creates the tension? Well, lets find out shall we?
The two key structural components of all of the three chord families are
their third and seventh degrees. In the dominant family, the interval created
between the third and the seventh is the all important tritone, among the
most dissonant of our diatonic intervals. Artistically, we want to create
tension and release it. This tension and release is tonally achieved primarily
by use of dominant seventh sounding chords ( V 7 ) and their resolution to
tonic sounding chords. The tension inherent in dominant seventh chords is
basically centered around this tritone interval created between the third and
the seventh of the chord. Thus in the key of C major, the tritone interval is
created between the B natural and F natural. One consonant resolution of
this tritone interval in the key of C major could be that the B resolves to the
tonic C while the F resolves to major third E. Example 2.

tritone tonic
tension release
dissonance consonance

Pretty vanilla huh? Pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaassssssssssseeeeeeee, play this

tritone resolution on your instrument, if possible, or at the piano. Depending
on your artistic directions, this tonal concept and the resulting sounds are
potentially very important. Here is the tritone interval working its magic in
creating the harmony in the blues world. Example 3.

using the tritone color to back a blues lick

Hear the tritone quality in the chords above? Are the dominant chords
considered the tonic chords in the blues? Exactly. Lest we forget that in
performance, American blues is oftentimes a combination of "in tune
chords" with variably tuned melody pitches, i.e., honks, moans, squeals,
shakes, vibratos, bends, rattles and rolls! This last line ends with the pitches
of a minor triad in the melody, aren't the chords in the idea based on the
major triad, i.e., a major 3rd? A blues controversy? Can we add other color
tones to the dominant chord in the blues styling? Of course we can, we do it
all here yes?
Folk music. Although we do occasionally find the dominant chord as the
tonic of a folk song, such as "Old Joe Clark", in the various styles and sub
genres of folk music the dominant chord is mostly used within a cadential
motion towards the tonic. In the following selection we find the dominant
chord within an American classic gospel folk song. Example 4.

One Four One Five 7

Nice line huh? Feel the dominant color setting up the next phrase? Can you
sing the rest of the line? Find it on your ax? So in folk music the dominant
7th chord is pretty vanilla? Pretty much, rarely do the folk players extend
the dominant chord past the 7th degree. Why? Well, mainly it's tradition.
Folk music is generally played by "folks" on a standard tuned 6 string
guitar. With the majority of the chords being the open chords in the first few
positions on the instrument.
Blues artists base their sound in the dominant color, as it assumes the role of
the tonic. Tritone instability and all? Yep, is that part of what makes it the
blues? Could be. And although the V 7 chord is by far the most common,
blues players oftentimes extend up into the arpeggio to include the 9th of
the chord. Really? So, we can we expand and create other colors of the
dominant seventh type ( V 7 ) chords by moving into the upper structure of
the arpeggio? Exactly. In the following chart we simply think of G as the
root and spell the chord diatonically using the pitches of the C major scale.
Example 5.

arpeggio degrees 1 3 5 7 9 11 13 15
G dominant
seventh arpeggio G B D F A C E G

Here the music simply moves back and forth between One and Four with a
blues based feel using the dominant 9th color. Example 5a.

I9 IV 9 I9 IV 9

Is the dominant 9th the ultimate "funk" chord in the universe, the global
vamp and groove of hipsters everywhere? Could very well be.
The rockers tend to follow the blues guys in regards to their dominant
chords although in many of the newer rock styles of the last 10 years or so,
the V 7 chord is oftentimes simplified to include just the root and 5th of the
chords. This voicing principle is often applied to a lot the chords in a tune,
the chords moved about in parallel motion. Adding in the Three chord to the
above idea creates the jamm groove for the rock anthem "Freebird." Due to
my programming limitations, you'll have to imagine the classic rock sound
as created by the Les Paul / Marshall matchup, both on 10, for this next
idea. Example 6.

One flat Three Four Five

Do the 5th's sound a bit primitive? I think that's the idea. I'm not really a
rocker by TRADE , although I dig the music, any comments as to why the
rock harmony evolved from the fuller sounding bar chords of the 60's and
70's into the 5th's? Is it the modern gear, the overdrives / distortions so
favored by the younger players today that in a sense necessitates the need to
simplify the harmony? Does the simpler overtone series created by using
just the root and fifth as in the above idea give the distortion a better chance
to work it's magic?
Jazz players tend to be the most adventurous of the creative musicians when
coloring their dominant chords. Any color tone extension, either diatonic or
altered often find a home within the jazz language. Here is a "jazzed up"
realization of the Freebird harmonic motion shown above. 1 / b3 / b6 / b2
cadential motion. Hip to the #'s? Example 7.

I maj9 bVI 6/9

tonic b3 b6 b2
bIII maj7 bII maj 9
Coolness emerges n'est pas? Is the jazz vocabulary the most complex of the
American musical dialects? Could be. Is the advanced jazz artist of today
mainly dealing with a chromatic palette of colors? Yes pretty much. Even
simply mixing together the 7 pitches of the major scale with the other 5
pitches, i.e., the blue notes, combines to create the magic number of 12
pitches arranged sequentially as the chromatic scale. How many eggs in a
dozen? Can any chord, scale, or arpeggio come from the chromatic scale?
Here is the chart from above spelling out the pitches of the dominant color
built on the root G, the 5th degree of the C major scale. The new addition to
the chart here is the other 5 pitches. Example 7a.

1 3 5 7 9 11 13 15
G dominant
seventh G B D F A C E G
arpeggio pitches
the other 5
Gb Bb Ab C# Eb

So, any combination of pitches creates a jazz chord? How so? Well thanks
to all of the cool players before us, the dominant color within the jazz
language has been expanded from it's mainly V 7 Ragtime / Dixieland
origins, through the b5 / b9 of the bepop era, into the # 11 polytonal
direction initiated in the late 50's early 60's which continues on today. It's all
about the recreation of a style? Yep. Do the dominant 7th / # 11 colors
create Dixieland jazz? No, not really. Does a vanilla V 7 chord sound out of
place in a polytonal piece? Yep, at least to my ears it does. So, as a player
moves through the color tones, when one is exhausted over time we simply
move onto the next, oftentimes retaining our own cliche ideas as originally
created at that level within the arpeggio, and using them whenever we
choose too? Cool with this process? it's a common denominator for all the
art forms, players oftentimes simply call it "searching." Of course this
process of "exhausting" a color oftentimes takes month's or years of
shedding. Needless to say when the new colors evolve, there is a new ton of
joy in the souls of the searchers!
Thinking of the harmony built on the 5th degree, here are a few of the more
common dominant colors generally associated with the Five chord. Placed
in a resolving motion towards various tonics, we perhaps begin to illuminate
the immense variability of the dominant family of chordal colors. Can
anything go anywhere? Or does everything go everywhere? So very cool.
Example 7b.

G7 V 7b5 V 7+5 V 7+5

C maj 7 Gb maj 9 C min 9 C major 7

G9 V 7b9 V 7b9 V 7#9

Gb maj 9 C min 9 C maj 9 C minor 7 6/9
G sus4 G 7#11 G 13 V 7b13
C maj 7 C min 9 C maj 9 C major 7

Can we remix and rematch any of the above colors? Pretty much. Here are a
few of the popular configurations available to the creative artist. Example

G 7b5b9 V 7#9#5 V 7#11b9 G 13b9

C min 7 C maj 9 C min 9 Db maj 9
The following shapes are headed in the polytonal direction, almost like
chords on top of chords? Well ... Here we'll use letter names to simplify
identification. Example 8.

F triad / G F maj 7 / G A triad / G G triad / F

C maj C ma 9 C major C min 11

The dominant ninth chord is the ultimate funk and blues chord. The
polytonal chords are a bit modern and less tonally directed. The altered
chords are bopish in the major tonality and their darker colors work very
well in the minor tonality. All a matter of knowing the resource and
exploring, coming up with something new and cool and experimenting with
it in existing tunes, forms, formats etc. Here are some additional concepts
involving chord type and dominant harmony.

chord voicings
chord inversions
voice leading
chord substitution
tritone substitution
2 / 5 / 1 cadential ideas

Review: Of the three different chord types, the dominant chord is the most
manipulated. The number of different non diatonic alterations is limited
only by our own imaginations. Again, the key element which initially
creates the dominant colors is the tritone hue. With this tritone interval
somewhere within the chord structure, really anything goes in regards to
creating different voicings, inversions, modulation, tonal direction etc.

Each of us must work for our own improvement, and at the

same time share a general responsibility for all humanity.
Marie Curie