Dominant Chords : Dr. Bob Lawrence

discover.learn.play dominant chords!

Dominant Chords


Introduction : Dominant Chords

Having a strong conceptual understanding of the harmonic structures of music (chords) is an absolute must if you are wanting to develop into an accomplished jazz musician. This is true whether you play piano, guitar, or any melodic instrument like saxophone, trumpet, trombone and yes, even vocalists! In fact, this blog looks at how to discover, learn, and play dominant chords melodically (voicing dominant chords are covered in a different blog). So, how does one determine how well and thoroughly they know dominant chords? How can one conclude that they know all of the dominant chords? In fact, how does one discover how many dominant chords actually exist? These are very important questions with very clear and specific answers. This blog, “Dominant Chords“, is the second in a series of chord blogs with the goal of answering those questions and many other regarding the study and mastery of chords. So, lets discover, learn, and play dominant chords – an enlightening and fascinating journey that will help you become an accomplished jazz musician.


Discover : Dominant Chords

When setting out to learn your dominant chords you should first seek to discover the facts by asking the right questions (always begin learning a new musical concept by seeking answers to basic and fundamental questions – always!).

  1. How many dominant chords exist in music?
  2. Are there different types of dominant chords?
  3. How are the dominant chords constructed?
  4. How do I properly study the dominant chords?
  5. How can I determine when I can confidently say, “I know the dominant chords“?

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!

  • How many dominant chords exist in music?
    • 12 (one dominant chord for each of the 12 notes in music)
  • Are there different types of dominant chords?
    • Yes (a dominant chord can be as simple as 4 notes (it can never be a triad) or include upper extensions like a 9th, 11th, 13th.
  • How are the dominant chords constructed?
    • We build dominant chords by stacking every other note of a major scale starting on the scales 5th note (ex. C E G Bb – starting on the 5th note of the F major scale)
  • How do I properly study the dominant chords?
    • Proper study of dominant chords require a pencil, some paper, and your instrument (more on this in the “Learn” section below)
  • How can I determine when I can confidently say, “I know the dominant chords“?
    • When you can instantly, and with ease, spell and play the dominant chords (more on this in the “Play” section below)

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


Learn : Dominant Chords

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 each of the dominant chords with ease. Likewise, you should be able to identify and properly notate the emphasized sound of each of the dominant chords – for example:

  • C Dominant 7 = C E G Bb (1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th of F major scale)
  • C Dominant 9 = C E G Bb D (9th added)
  • C Dominant 11 = C E G Bb D F (11th added)
  • C Dominant 13 = C E G Bb D F A (13th added)

This kind of understanding not only paves the way for your physical mastery of the dominant chords, it sets the stage for the formation of proper ear training.


Play : Dominant Chords

Once you have completed the amount of paper practice necessary for you to easily spell each of the dominant chords in their entirety (7th, 9th, 11th, 13th – for all 12!) then you are ready to play. Here is where jazz musicians approach the playing of dominant chords differently than other musicians. You never want to simply play dominant chords as a 7th only (ex. C E G Bb) – in other words, you want to be able to play and hear dominant chords from the root to the 13th (the entire dominant sound!). We want our launch point (the root) and our destination point (7th, 9th, 11th, 13th) to always be identified before we begin to play. In doing so we prep ourselves for the proper and necessary development of muscle and aural memory. I strongly recommend using an app like iReal Pro or Band In A Box to play with so you can “hear” the dominant chords within a musical context.

When practicing dominant chords in this manner you have expanded the scale beyond a simple technique exercise – you have actually established an invaluable responsibility for your ears. Do you hear what a dominant 7th sounds like? How about the sound of the dominant 9th? Do you hear how the the dominant 11th and 13th sound different that than dominant 7th?

For more insight regarding the dominant chords and especially how to successfully play them join discover, learn, play (dlp)!


Final Thoughts : Dominant Chords

If you wish to discover, learn, and play dominant chords (and much more) you should consider becoming a dlp (discover.learn.play) 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 discover.learn.play so feel free to Email me drlawrence@dlpjazz.com 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
President
The Dallas School of Music

Dominant Chords

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