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I've been playing Angel Band by Ralph Stanley a lot recently. The verse ends on the I chord and the chorus starts on the V. I'd love to find a good transition chord between the two, something that pulls from the I to the V the way the I7 pulls to the IV.

Any suggestions? The tricky part is that the chord can't sound out of place in a traditional American (folk/old time/bluegrass) context, so fancy jazzy chords are right out (the Imaj7 walks right up to that line).

Any other suggestions for good transition chords?

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There are several possibilities, but here are some:

  1. You say you want a transitional chord similar to how "the I7 pulls to the IV." Well, this I7 is what we call a secondary dominant to the IV; in other words, it's just the V7 of the IV chord (indeed, that's typically a better way to describe it since it's more specific). So, your transitional chord could just be the V7 of V, which is very common. If you're in C, I is C and V is G. You want the V7 of V (=G), which would be a D7 chord. Try that!

  2. More generally, the I chord has what we call "tonic" function and the V chord has what we call "dominant" function. There's also a group of chords that we call "predominants" that smoothly lead from tonic to dominant; common predominants are IV and ii, with vi happening occasionally. So you can use either an F major, D minor, or A minor chord to transition from I to V.

All of these chords will absolutely fit in the style you described.

  • Not wishing to criticise your obvious knowledge - how is I7 the secondary dominant of IV? I thought secondary dominants were the dominant OF the dominant - as yopu stated, D7 to go to G in key C. Maybe I read it incorrectly. – Tim Aug 4 '16 at 6:46
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    Interesting; perhaps this is the case in some circles, but I've always heard "secondary dominant" being used to mean a chord chromatically altered to become the dominant of another chord. Thus "I7" is the dominant of IV, making I7 a secondary dominant in the overall key. – Richard Aug 4 '16 at 6:49
  • I think that a chord can only be dominant to one other - that which is a 4th up. And a secondary dominant is the V of THAT chord. Possibly? But you're right, the D7 in C is the most appropriate to use to get to the bridge, etc., starting in G, where the rest of the song is in C. It sounds as if the song has modulated, or more likely, changed key, which it hasn't I don't think. +1. – Tim Aug 4 '16 at 6:52
  • I've personally never heard the term used in that narrow of a sense. A D7 is a secondary dominant in C, but it's not the ONLY secondary dominant in C. music.stackexchange.com/questions/22057/… – Richard Aug 4 '16 at 6:57
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    @Tim, secondary dominant is just a dominant chord that stands in a fifth relationship to some other root than the tonic. Richard is entirely correct here. It's called secondary because the dominant of the tonic region is primary in Common Practice harmony. It's secondary in the sense that it implies a move to a secondary (in the sense of "subordinate" and "impermanent") tonal region. – user16935 Aug 5 '16 at 1:01

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