In the common-practice style, usually dominant chords were always major, even in minor keys. Without the leading tone, how did minor dominant chords (v) function?

  • Generally as a temporary tonal center, though I just searched for some examples of this without much luck. Do you have an example of a minor dominant chord?
    – phoog
    Jul 26, 2021 at 14:38
  • @phoog I admit it's pretty hard to find examples, but I saw a v6 tonicized in Corelli, Prelude, from Trio Sonata in D Minor. In measures 9-10, there is a V/v - V42/v - v6 progression, but I suppose its only purpose is to modulate from D minor to A minor.
    – Giovanni
    Jul 26, 2021 at 15:03
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    Richard's answer shows why theory has to be contextual. We shouldn't just look at chords and guess from them what's going on, but look at what's going on and explain the presence of certain chords from that. After all, the composer doesn't say "I feel like using a minor v. By Jove! As a result I find myself modulating!" The question "how does m V function" is a bit like asking "Is 'drum' a noun or a verb?" Jul 26, 2021 at 15:08
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    @AndyBonner indeed, a composer generally doesn't say that, but a composition student might employ a similar line of thinking in response to an assignment to use a minor v. It's easy for students to lose sight of the fact that theory often follows practice rather than the other way around, which is understandable given that they're being taught theory that largely didn't yet exist when the music it seeks to describe was being composed.
    – phoog
    Jul 26, 2021 at 15:18
  • @AndyBonner I agree, this was meant to be a more open ended question. Have you, by any chance, come across any other instances of a minor dominant in music from this time period?
    – Giovanni
    Jul 26, 2021 at 15:20

1 Answer 1


These minor v chords are not typically viewed as dominant in function, no.

Instead, they most often function as passing chords. Imagine we pass from i through v6 down to VI (or even iv6). In these cases the v chords very clearly do not reach the hierarchical level of a "real" dominant and instead are just voice-leading conduits leading from one chord to another.

They can serve a handful of other purposes (like as a pivot chord in a common-chord modulation), but their use as passing chord is far more common.

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    I generally agree. Just an observation, but isn't a "pivot chord" effectively just a "voice-leading conduit leading from one key to another"? I'm personally not a big fan of the concept of pivot chords for modulating (it's a somewhat ahistorical notion, as a modulation was generally created by an active note or interval shifting toward the new key). But generally when theory textbooks do choose to locate "pivot chords," they're often boring not-going-anywhere verticalities without a strong function in either key, or at least that's often how students are often taught to identify them.
    – Athanasius
    Jul 27, 2021 at 6:37

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