During music theory class I was taught in C major we have six possible secondary dominant chords that resolve to non-tonic diatonic chords:

  • A7 (- Dm)

  • B7 (- Em)

  • C7 (- F)

  • D7 (- G)

  • E7 (- Am)

  • F#7 (- Bdim)

They are V7/ii, V7/iii, V7/IV, V7/V, V7/vi, and V7/vii°, respectively.

Can secondary dominants be used to resolve to non-diatonic chords as well?

  • 1
    My question - 'What Constitutes a Secondary Dominant?' is a close clone to this.
    – Tim
    Aug 16, 2020 at 11:31
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    what do you exactly mean by a non-diatonic chord?
    – Neil Meyer
    Aug 16, 2020 at 13:41
  • You know, chords that contain notes that don't exist in the diatonic scale.
    – user71438
    Aug 16, 2020 at 13:42
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    @NeilMeyer - it can only mean any chord that contains a note that is not in the relevant scale - any chord with a # or b, when considering key C, for example. Whether the root note or any other.
    – Tim
    Aug 16, 2020 at 14:03
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    What do you mean by secondary dominant, and what do you mean by diatonic? What will you do with this information? If in Am you resolve your E7 to Am maj7, then it resolved to a non-diatonic chord, because the maj7 is G# which is non-diatonic. Or in C, if you resolve G7 to C-5, which has a Gb, then you resolved to a non-diatonic chord. And it wasn't even a "secondary dominant" but a regular dominant. Do you mean that the root note of the target is non-diatonic? How about tritone substitution, D7 - Db9 - C? But would you then call D7 a secondary dominant? Aug 16, 2020 at 14:07

2 Answers 2


It's not entirely clear to me what the question is about, but here's a guess. And because comments can't have pictures in them. Here's a snippet from "Kun joulu on", a classic Finnish Christmas song composed by Otto Kotilainen, lyrics by Alpo Noponen.

Passage from "Kun joulu on" by Otto Kotilainen

This is from some random arrangement, but the relevant part is there. The song is in Em, and starting from measure 14 there's a chain of secondary dominants C#7 - F#7 - B7 - Em. The first C#7 is "V of V of V", then F#7 is "V of V", and finally B7 is the real V of I chord going into tonic Em. This happens so rapidly that IMO the tonic stays in Em very strongly the whole time, so there's no modulation.

In my opinion, the things they teach you on basic theory such as "dominant" and "secondary dominant" is some kind of harmony for dummies, stereotypical examples that you can easily classify as being this or that. But in reality, you'll encounter all sorts of halfway-in-between hybrid behaviour that can be looked at from different perspectives, and many explanations can be justified at the same time.

The topic line talks about "tonicization" - which should usually change the definition of what is called "diatonic". So if that's really the point, then this answer doesn't really apply.

  • Am7 - D7 - G - C#7 - F#7 - B7 - Em also forms a circle of fifths progression.
    – user71438
    Aug 16, 2020 at 14:32
  • @KotoriMinami Some other arrangements have it like C#7/E# ... but yes, why not. Though normally when someone says "circle of fifths progression", I don't think about getting multiple extra accidentals. Anyway, V - I is one of the most basic harmonic motions you can have. Aug 16, 2020 at 14:39
  • @KotoriMinami Am-D-G is part of the circle, C#-F#-B is another. The connection between G and C# has no place in the circle. How can it?
    – Tim
    Aug 16, 2020 at 15:43
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    @Tim if you want to see it as a fifth, G - C ... but with an additional twist in the form of an accidental. :) You know, C - F#dim is categorized as a part of a circle-of-fifths progression in Em, right? Em - Am - D - G - C - F#dim - B - Em. But IMO, G - C#7 doesn't sound like a motion of a fifth at all, due to the scale changing so much. Aug 16, 2020 at 15:57

Secondary dominants often refer to a dominant built on the non I, IV, or V chord (some writers call these secondary chords.) These chords resolve as though they were a normal dominant (and vii0 chords can do the same.)

However, there are two (obvious?) extra possibilities. First, a simple deceptive resolution is possible (G7 can resolve to A minor, V7-vi or even V7-VI which is common in minor keys). And second, a chromatic major (or seventh or similar) may resolve as a dominant. For example, E7 in (in C) would be expected to resolve to A-minor but A-major is possible. Likewise, a sudden chromatic chord, like Ab7 in the key of C major, could resolve to Db or Db minor. If not confirmed by both length and other chords (a quick return to the home key), these do not effect a modulation.

As an aside, Schoenberg and others point out that to establish a modulation, one needs a chord that "neutralized" the characteristic note(s) in the main key. For example in modulating from C to G, one needs a chord (or several) containing an F# to "neutralize" the F which is diatonic to C.

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