A Survey of Music Theory for the College Classroom: Diatonic Harmony

Dominant Seventh Chords

​​​​​Overview

In this chapter, we begin our examination of the role and use of seventh chords in music. With a single exception that will be discussed in Nondominant Seventh Chords, the presence of the seventh in a chord does not change the function of that chord within the circle of fifths progression. The addition of the seventh to a triad adds an extra dimension to the sound and creates a layer of tension that is released when the seventh chord resolves.

In addition to major and minor triads, the dominant seventh chord, which consists of a major triad with a minor seventh (Mm7), is one of the most recognizable and significant chords in the western music tradition during the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods. The dominant seventh chord has a strong, forward directed sound that provides extra impetus in a progression.

Not all major-minor seventh chords are built on the dominant scale degree. For example, the VII7 in natural minor and the IV7 in melodic minor are also dominant seventh sound types but do not share the function of the V7 in relation to the tonic chord. These chords will be discussed in the chapter covering Nondominant Seventh Chords.

While we will primarily study and apply these chords through SATB part-writing, a survey of music from across the literature for piano, orchestra, and choir reveals that the following guidelines for the resolutions of the various chord tones within a V7 are generally applied.

Root Position

Resolution of the root position V7 to I (i) or vi (VI):

  • Resolve the seventh of the chord (scale degree \(\hat{4}\)) down by step to scale degree \(\hat{3}\).
  • Leading tones placed in outer voices must resolve up to the tonic. This results in an incomplete tonic chord with a tripled root and a single third. This option is only available when the V7 is progressing to the final chord in an example.
  • If you wish to write a complete Vto a complete tonic chord, place the leading tone in an inner voice in the V7and resolve it down to the fifth of the tonic chord. Inner voice leading tones can be resolved up to tonic resulting in a tripled root (final chord only) or can be resolved down to the fifth of the I (i) chord which allows for a complete I (i) chord.
  • Scale degree \(\hat{2}\) (the fifth of the V7) resolves down to tonic.
  • Root position V7 chords can be resolved to I6 (i6) chords.
  • In a V7 to vi (VI) deceptive progression, the third of the vi (VI) chord will be doubled.

  

root position dominant to tonic and submediant chords

Incomplete V7 chords are perfectly acceptable within a four-part texture. The usual practice is to omit the fifth and double the root, and though it is possible to omit the third and double the root, this is very rare. Incomplete V7chords will progress to complete I (i) chords, and common tones should be kept. Please note that incomplete V7 chords in SATB writing cannot be correctly resolved in a deceptive progression and should not be used.

resolution of root position V7

Approach to the Seventh

Composers have approached the seventh of a chord in four ways. These approaches can be used in any voice within the texture but are illustrated below in the alto voice and using root position V7 chords. These approaches to the seventh can also be used in the leading tone and nondominant seventh chords that will be discussed later in this text. The most common of these approaches to the seventh are the first two.

  • As a passing tone figure – the seventh of the chord is approached by step from above.
  • As a suspension tone figure – the seventh of the chord is approached by the same tone.
  • As a neighbor tone figure – the seventh of the chord is approached by step from below.
  • As an appoggiatura figure – the seventh of the chord is approached by leap from below.

approaches to the seventh

First Inversion

The first inversion V7 is the most common of the inversions. The resolution is straightforward and is as follows:

  • The seventh of the chord resolves down by step.
  • The leading tone in the bass will resolve up to the tonic.
  • The supertonic resolves to the tonic.
  • The common tone is kept.

resolution of first inversion V7

Second Inversion

The second inversion V7 is sometimes used as passing chord to fill in the gap of a third in the bass line in the manner of a passing V64:

  • The seventh of the chord resolves down by step.
  • The leading tone resolves up to tonic.
  • When resolving the V43 to a I (i), the supertonic resolves to the tonic.
  • When resolving the V43 to a I6 or i6 (i.e., when used as a passing chord), the supertonic will resolve up to the mediant.
  • The common tone is kept.

resolution of second inversion V7

Third Inversion

Third inversion V7 chords almost always progress to a I6 (i6) chord, with the seventh of the chord resolving to the third of the inverted I (i) chord.

  • The seventh of the chord in the bass will resolve down by step to the third of the I6 (i6).
  • The leading tone resolves up to the tonic.
  • The supertonic resolves to the tonic.
  • The common tone is kept.
  • Cadential or passing six-four chords may be used.

resolution of third inversion V7

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