In this lesson we’re going to study the Dominant 7 chord quality. We’ll look at how it is constructed, how to play it in different positions on the neck and how to play the three inversions. We will look at six different combinations of extensions and finally we’ll take a look at what altered dominant (eg. G7Alt) means.
So, what is a Dominant 7 chord and where does it come from?
The Dominant 7 occurs naturally in both Major and minor keys. It is built on the fifth degree of the scale and its function is to create tension which is traditionally resolved by playing the tonic (root or I or “home”) chord of the key after it. In this case it would be said to be a functioning Dominant 7. If a Dominant 7 chord is followed by any chord other than a chord down a fifth or up a fourth then it is a non functioning Dominant 7. Also, if a Dominant 7 chord has its root note anywhere other than the fifth degree of the key centre then it is called a secondary dominant. To learn more about the function of chords take a look at the Harmony lessons. (coming soon!)
Figure 1 shows the C Major scale. If we play every other note starting from the fifth we get the Dominant 7 arpeggio, figure 2.
There can only be one Dominant chord in any Diatonic key. If there were more than one, then which one would dominate?
Now we know what a Dominant 7 is we can look at some different ways to play it. Figures 3 through 6 show some different fingering possibilites for a one octave Dominant 7 arpeggio Starting on G.
You probably noticed that all of these examples have the root note on the low E string. Go ahead and play these examples starting on all the other available G notes. If you don’t know where they are take a look at these fret diagrams.
Lets look at a way we can practice this material in all 12 keys and over two octaves.
Practicing the arpeggios in this way is really going to help you learn the neck in an organised way.
While this work is great for learning where the notes are it isn’t music. Technical exercises like these are a great first step but the sooner you put the material to use in a musical context the better.
Here are 12 Dominant 7 grooves, one in each key. There is a bit more going on than just arpeggio notes here so be really sure which notes are the chord tones in each key, this way the other notes, the spice, will make more sense.
C Dominant 7 groove
F Dominant 7 groove
Bb Dominant 7 groove
Eb Dominant 7 groove
Ab Dominant 7 groove
Db Dominant 7 groove
Gb Dominant 7 groove
B Dominant 7 groove
E Dominant 7 groove
A Dominant 7 groove
D Dominant 7 groove
G Dominant 7
What is an inversion?
So far we have played the Dominant 7 arpeggio in root position. This means that the root is the lowest note we play. We could also start with the third, fifth or seventh which we would call first, second or third inversion respectively. Here’s how a two octave G Dominant 7 arpeggio looks in first (figure 7), second (figure 8), and third (figure 9) inversion on four string bass.
Now its time to play this material in all twelve keys. Working through every key will not only give you epic knowledge of all the right notes for any given chord, but also strengthen your understanding of how the chord is built because as you get into the inversions when you move from say; G7 in second inversion to C7 in second inversion you should be visualising the fifth of C. Its an extra layer of information that will become instinctive after practicing the material in this way. (I should point out this will take a while!)
What is an extension?
Extensions are the notes beyond the 7th; the 9th, 11th, and 13th (sometimes refered to as the 6th).
If we want to extend the Dominant 7 chord to the thirteenth there are six different ways we can do it. When we see a Dominant chord written on a chart or lead sheet, often (but definitely not always) it will have some specific extensions notated. It is unusual however to have a ninth, eleventh and thirteenth all notated. This is where using your ears and hearing what extensions the harmony instruments (piano/guitar etc.) are playing is really important.
So, now we know there are six ways we can extend the chord that means we now have six arpeggios to learn. We will name them here with all extensions so you know what extensions each one has but remember they won’t always be written on charts or lead sheets like this.
With a root note of G, our 6 extended Dominant chords will be:
Now we can see what extensions each arpeggio has lets take a look at how to play them.
Here are three exercises on G7 (9 #11 13) to help you get comfortable with where the notes are. Figure 10 uses dyads, figure 11 is triads, and figure 12 is made of seventh chords.
As always you should try to put this material into a musical context as soon as possible. Of course you need to know where the notes are in every key but also you need to have fun with the material. In this video you can see me playing a simple G7 groove and using the extensions to add colour during fills.
The next three exercises follow the same pattern of Dyad, Triad and Seventh structure and are on G7 (9 #11 b13).
Next up; G7 (b9 #11 b13)
Now G7 (b9 #11 13)
Next we have G7 (#9 #11 13)
And now G7 (#9 #11 b13)