Dominant Sound : Dr. Bob Lawrence the dominant sound!

Dominant Sound

Introduction : Dominant Sound

I have always found it interesting that we rarely engage in musical conversations about the “sounds” of music. We have no problem talking about scales, chords, melodies, rhythms, theory, composition, etc. but yet, we give little attention to addressing these various aspects of music from the perspective of “sound”. Think about it – what do scale produce? They produce a type of musical “sound” – major, minor, dominant, etc. What do chords produce? Again, a type of musical “sound” – major, minor, dominant, etc. So, with this mind, the objective of this blog post is to discover, learn, and play a musical sound – the dominant sound!

Discover : Dominant Sound

When setting out to discover the dominant sound, you should first seek to understand it conceptually. To do this you have to ask and find answers to significant questions (always begin the exploration of a new musical concept by seeking answers to basic and fundamental questions – always!). Here are some questions we must answer:

  1. What is the dominant sound?
  2. Can it be played harmonically?
  3. Can it be played melodically?
  4. Is there only one or are there a variety of dominant sounds?

These questions make sense! Your mastery of any musical concept begins with your conceptual understanding of the “data”. In other words, if you approach the skill you seek to play before you truly discover and learn the skill, you are going to simply impede your progress (if there is any progress at all). So, let’s answer our questions before we begin the process of learning them!

  • What is the dominant sound?
    • It is a major scale or major chord with a flat (or lowered) 7th.
  • Can it be played harmonically?
    • Yes, it can be played as a chord – as simple as 4 notes (it can never be a triad) or it can include upper extensions like a 9th, 11th, 13th.
  • Can it be played melodically?
    • Yes, it can be played as an arpeggio – again as simple as 4 notes or include upper extensions like a 9th, 11th, 13th
  • Is there only one or a variety of dominant sounds?
    • There is only one! It can however be decorated a variety of ways (b9, #9, b5, #5, and more!). This blog deals strictly with the pure dominant sound.

Now that we have successfully taken the time to discover answers to our questions regarding the dominant sound, let’s begin to dissect our new knowledge – let’s learn our dominant sound!

Learn : Dominant Sound

Once you have a conceptual handle on the musical concept you are wanting to master then you can begin to learn the skill. Your best “learning” will always be done away from your instrument. This is so important that I am going to say it again – your best “learning” will always be done away from your instrument! Yes, that is correct – away from your instrument! I like to refer to this learning as “paper practice”. Grab a piece of paper and a pencil – find a comfy chair and begin sketching out/drawing the data. This type of practicing forces you to “think” through the concept. You should be able to spell the dominant sound with ease launching from each of the 12 notes of music (see below). Additionally, although not necessary but nevertheless very beneficial, is to be able to illustrate each dominant using traditional music notation (see below).

Paper Practice:
F Dominant Sound (Scale Format) = F G A Bb C D Eb
F Dominant Sound (Arpeggio Format) = F A C Eb G

*spell out both formats for the remaining 11 notes

Musical Notation Practice:

Dominant Sound

*notate on the musical staff both formats for the remaining 11 notes


It is important to draw your attention to the fact that the scale format and the arpeggio format of the dominant sound consists of the same 7 notes (just arranged differently). Both formats represent the entire pure dominant sound! Again, before you begin to play the dominant sound, take the time to recreate the above illustrations for the remaining 11 notes.

Play : Dominant Sound

Once you have completed the amount of paper practice necessary for you to easily spell each dominant sound launching from all 12 notes, then you are ready to play the dominant sound. Of course the first order of business is to get comfortable playing the dominant sound as a scale and as an arpeggio (demonstrated in video). Once you have mastered the scale and arpeggio formats then it’s time to snap the sound into fragments (see illustration below) and begin improvising to develop melodic ideas (demonstrated in video).

Dominant Sound Watch Video Demonstration

I strongly recommend using an app like iReal Pro or Band In A Box to play with so you can “hear” the dominant sound and fragments within a musical context. For more insight regarding the dominant sounds and especially how to successfully play them join discover, learn, play (dlp)!

Final Thoughts : Dominant Sound

If you wish to discover, learn, and play the dominant sound (and much more) you should consider becoming a dlp ( member. You’ll have access to professional jazz instruction and guidance from a professional jazz music educator (me!). Your dlp membership gives you lifetime access to all of my instructional jazz videos (which you can access and study as often as you wish – again, for life!). Additionally, your own private Mavenlink support portal is established, hosted, and maintained allowing you to interact with me as often as needed each and every week. Likewise, you’ll receive tuition discounts if you ever choose to have private online jazz lessons with me through The Dallas School of Music.

I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have regarding this blog so feel free to Email me or call me 972-380-8050 Ext. 211. Please take a moment and listen to a few of my recordings or follow me at SoundCloud to get a feel for how I play and approach this wonderful art form we call jazz.

I look forward to helping you discover, learn, and play jazz!

Best Wishes,
Dr. Bob Lawrence
The Dallas School of Music
jazzpianoskills | discoverlearnplay

Dr. Bob Lawrence