Okay, so I'm basically just hoping someone can tell me if I'm on the right or wrong track here. I have to implement the technique described in the title in a piece I've written for an assessment.

In some of my notes, they imply that you can simply move a perfect fifth down or a perfect fourth up from a dominant chord to create a secondary dominant - does this sound right?

And then, to tonicize that secondary dominant, do you simply pretend as if you're in the key based on that note and write triads in that key?

For example - my piece is in D Minor, so if I were to say take chord III (F Major) - would a perfect fourth up be A? - and if so, would I then treat it as A Major or minor for the following chords?

Hope I've given enough info, any advice would be so greatly appreciated. I've come to at least a basic understanding about the other techniques I've been asked to apply but this one is still really troubling me.

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    Welcome to the site! I'm voting to close for the moment because your question is only pointed at your homework assignment, which is unlikely to be helpful to future readers. If you can broaden the scope of your question, then all will be well. Easy advice for your homework: 1.) Take your "ii" chord 2.) Make it major 3.) Pretend it's a "V" chord 4.) Resolve it as normal 5.) Carry on as normal in your original key before the secondary dominant = congrats, you've tonicized. Any chord can be secondary, but V/V's most common. Your notes are backwards; your teacher is talking about V/V... – jjmusicnotes Nov 14 '15 at 5:01
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    which is a perfect fifth up or a perfect fourth down from the dominant. For your intervals, you just simply need to learn the half steps - sit down at a piano and sort it out. A P4 is 5 half-steps; a P5 is 7 half-steps. If you don't know, a half-step is the next physical closest note on the piano from the one you play. – jjmusicnotes Nov 14 '15 at 5:04
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    @jjmusicnotes I think it is an interesting question which can yield some informative answers. The comments so far have sure been interesting. Would you consider editing the question to make it more appropriate for the site. I would love to see your answer for my own edification. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 14 '15 at 8:39
  • Thanks @jjmusicnotes, so if I'm putting in an E major chord instead of the E diminished that would normally be in D Minor key, how would I write the roman numeral analysis of it? And in regards to the last step, am I understanding correctly that all I have to do to fulfil the technique is change this one chord, resolve it and then carry on as normal with regular chords from D minor? Sorry to ask such specific questions but I felt like I had to because generic information wasn't allowing me to understand this any better. – Dylan Mallia Nov 14 '15 at 8:50
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    Possible duplicate of: music.stackexchange.com/questions/22057/… – jjmusicnotes Nov 14 '15 at 17:23

A secondary dominant chord by definition is a dominant chord that leads you to a chord that isn't the tonic. So in your example in D minor where you wanted to tonicize the F major chord (III), you would use a dominant chord of F which would most likely be C7 V7/III, but could also be Edim (vii°/III) which is another secondary chord with a dominant function typically called a secondary leading tone chord.

Notice how in the secondary dominant chords, we are using V7 and vii° of the relative roots of the chords we are basing them on.

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    Thanks for the image. I don't think you misinterpreted the text, I think you just extended your interpretation beyond the text a bit. The book says that you are welcome to substitute dominants with secondary leading tone chords when you want the same inherent function, but with a weaker sense of dominance. When composers use them, it is for this purpose; this subtlety is not to be taken lightly. Also remember that fully diminished chords are perfectly invertable; they can resolve four different ways; something that a dominant chord cannot do. – jjmusicnotes Nov 14 '15 at 5:43
  • @jjmusicnotes, I find your statement that dominant chords are only V chords to be very highly suspicious. While it is generally true that most all V chords are dominant, the statement that all dominant chords are V chords is decidedly not true. – dwoz Nov 14 '15 at 17:27
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    @dwoz - Please, please enlighten me. I would very much like to see examples / links to resources. – jjmusicnotes Nov 14 '15 at 17:39
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    This seems like semantics to me. It seems like everyone is agreed that (say) a vii° serves a dominant function (can lead to a tonic—whether it leads equally well to, say, a bVI, I'm not sure); does the question of whether we call it a dominant matter that much? – Brian Tung Jan 12 '16 at 18:12

I never found it helpful to think in terms of intervals from the desired chord; rather, the function of the chords involved helped this makes sense to me.

What Secondary Dominants Do

When a composer wants to make a "resting place" in a passage, a good way to do it is to set it up with a chord that resolves to it more strongly than any of the chords in the key can. To do this, you borrow a chord from the key of the chord you wish to end on. The best chord to borrow is the dominant of the chord you're trying to set up; so such chords are often called secondary dominants, and the technique is sometimes called tonicisation.

Any chord can be chosen for tonicisation, but probably the most common chord is the dominant (V).

Some Examples

The V/V

We're in the key of D minor. The V chord is A (usually major). To make a passage ending with that A chord feel more final, it can be set up using an E chord, which would be the dominant in the key of A major. In the key of D minor, the E chord ought to be diminished (e-g-bb), but we instead use the chord borrowed from A major, which is e-g#-b. You'll notice two accidentals in the chord, which is a hint you're looking at a borrowed chord, and it resolves to the A major chord, lending it a stronger resolution than any progression solely within the key of d minor. To make it even stronger, use a E7 chord of e-g#-b-d, which will provide an even stronger resolution to A major.

The vii/V

Another common choice would be to use the vii chord to set up the A major chord. These are often still considered under the umbrella of secondary dominants, even though it is technically a secondary leading tone chord. In this case, the vii in the key of A major is g#-b-d; again there will be two accidentals relative to D minor and the chord will resolve to A major very strongly.

The V/V/V or Tertiary Dominants

To make it even stronger, a composer can borrow from the key of the secondary dominant to create a chain of very strongly resolving dominant chords. This is often done around modulations. So in the key of d, A major is the dominant chord. E major minor 7 (e-g#-b-d) is the secondary dominant. In the key of E, B major minor 7 (b-d#-f#-a) is the dominant. So in this case, we would use B7->E7->A. There are going to be a whole pile of accidentals going on, and a B Major chord can be almost impossible to explain in the key of d minor without a good understanding of how secondary and tertiary dominants function (a raised VI7 resolving to a II rather than a ii dim...huh?)

The V/III, or Using Secondary Dominants in Modulations

One more example, this time using the III chord, which is especially common in minor keys as a way of modulating to the parallel major.

In d minor, the III is F major. The dominant in the key of F is C major. So we set up with a c-e-g-bb resolving to f-a-c. While there are no accidentals in this case, the (major) VII is extremely rare, so it's a good hint there some sort of secondary dominant going on.

Other Uses

Some times you'll find secondary dominants or other borrowed chords that don't resolve to the chord they're borrowed from. These are "implication" chords, which imply their tonic without actually sounding it. Generally this technique is used to create a very weak progression, and is pretty much only found toward the end of the era of functional harmony.

Analysis Is Not Music

Ultimately, it's important to remember that most music is not written to be analyzed - it is usually written the way it sounds good and later analyzed to figure out why. Sometimes chords serve to tonicise other chords without being a secondary or even a borrowed chord, and sometimes a chord that could be a secondary dominant just doesn't function that way. But in common practice functional harmony, secondary dominants are pretty common.


Well done. Without getting too technical, You may also take any chord that you are currently playing, change it to a major dominant seven chord and treat it as the dominant chord in the next key and resolve it to that key. example c-eb-g, changed to c-e-g-bb, then resolve it to f-a-c, (circle of fourths l/fifths). Do it again with the f-a-c, change to f-a-c-eb, then resolve to bb-d-f.. GET IT?


Good question! A secondary dominant is a major-minor seventh chord that tonicizes a triad that is not the tonic. The purpose of the secondary dominant is to place emphasis on a chord within the diatonic progression. Functioning secondary dominants are used when a composer wants to inject a greater feeling of movement into a diatonic progression.

In d-minor, the dominant seventh and the secondary dominants resolve and progress as below:

  • A7 - Dm (d: V7 - i)
  • B7 - Em-5 (d: V7/iio - iio)
  • C7 - F (d: V7/III - III) (F: V7 - I)
  • D7 - Gm (d: V7/iv - iv) (g: V7 - i)
  • E7 - A (d: V7/V - V) (A: V7 - I)
  • F7 - Bb (d: V7/VI - VI) (Bb: V7 - I)
  • G7 - C (d: V7/VII - VII) (C: V7 - I)

We can also have secondary leading-tone chords as well. Here are the leading-tone seventh and the secondary leading-tones that resolve to diatonic chords in d-minor:

  • C#dim7 - Dm (d: viio7 - i)
  • D#dim7 - Em-5 (d: viio7/iio - iio)
  • Edim7 - F (d: viio7/III - III) (F: vii°7 - I)
  • F#dim7 - Gm (d: viio7/iv - iv) (g: vii°7 - i)
  • G#m7-5 - A (d: viiø7/V - V) (A: viiø7 - I)
  • Am7-5 - Bb (d: viiø7/VI - VI) (Bb: viiø7 - I)
  • Bm7-5 - C (d: viiø7/VII - VII) (C: viiø7 - I)

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