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.

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of: music.stackexchange.com/questions/22057/… Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 17:23
  • @DylanMallia You'd write it as "V/V" (Five of Five): D->A->E | a dominant of a dominant. You're basically correct. Tonicization only occurs from a few beats to a measure or two at most before wandering back to the original key. If it stayed in the new key, it would be called a modulation. After you resolve the new dominant, it is wise to use a pivot chord that will let you smoothly head back to your original key. Commented Nov 14, 2015 at 17:37

3 Answers 3


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.


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?

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