I was wondering about using secondary dominants in a chord progression. I suppose anything can be redundant if used too often, but, can someone give me some insight on using secondary dominants in a chord progression?

Are secondary dominant chords used only for modulation?

2 Answers 2


Secondary dominants perform a very specific function. They are used to temporarily tonicize whatever the chord is a dominant of. They are not used to modulate as if they were, they just become dominants of the key you modulate to.

Let's look at an example using the classic ii7-V7-I in C which is Dm7-G7-Cand a very common use for secondary dominants. In this progression a lot of times the ii chord is switch for a V7/V (a secondary dominant of the dominant). The progression then becomes D7-G7-C. Between the two progressions there is only one note diffrence, but the difference is noticeable. The secondary dominant chord has a greater pull to the dominant which then wants to take you right back to the tonic of the key you are in. This adds a "chain of resolutions" that gives a certain flavor that sometimes you want. A good example of a longer change of this can be seen in any Rhythm Changes progression.


One place where secondary dominants are often used is where the music doesn't want to go straight to the dominant, but sounds like it's going to modulate to that dominant, although in reality it's just going through a 'minimodulation' to come back to the original key.

It works particularly well if a melody note is in the root chord, but also in the secondary dominant. In C, for example, C or E would work, as C is the b7 of the sec. dom., whilst E is the 9th - still a dominant sort of note. Thus the harmony would be C-B-C and E-F-E, both together making a strong semitone pull back to the root chord.


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