I don't know if this is substitution, or simply saying it's the V of the V chord, it would be helpful if someone could explain this to me.

  • also, just a question regarding secondary dominants, are they exclusively used to precede the chord it is a secondary dominant to? Is this how sequential progressions that have multiple in a row work? Each anticipating the very next chord? Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 23:48

3 Answers 3


Great answers here. Here's another go with visual aids.

In Western tonal harmony, the most important chords are the I and V, the Tonic and Dominant chords, respectively. The V chord being the most dominant route to resolve back to the I chord.

Your example of the “V of the V chord” (noted V/V) is a Secondary Dominant chord, which is a borrowed chord from another key. In the key of C major, the dominant is G. In the key of G major, the dominant is D.

So, if you’re in the key of C major and play a V/V, you’re playing a D Major chord, which is borrowed from the key of G major.

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They are secondary chords and they are used in analysis to indicate that a chord has a relationship to a chord in the progression that can be view from another perspective. Specifically any chord with V or V7 in the numerator like V7/V or V7/ii is used to denote a secondary dominant and V7/V will pull you to V in whatever key you are in and V7/ii will pull you to ii in whatever key you are in and both would be V7 in their own key respectively.

Most secondary chords will be secondary dominants or have very similar function, but there are such thing as non-functional secondary chords that don't quite behave this way.

  • can you explain why I - IV - V/III - V/VI - V/II - V/V - V - I is an effective sequential progression? How would one come to invent such a seemingly random (to my uninformed perspective) sequence other than root movement? Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 23:54
  • That's a very different question from what you're currently asking so it's best to ask that as a new question, but it has to do with the function of the chords and what they actually are. The difference between V/V and ii is only one note and so the previous secondary dominant is pulling you to that one and the patter persists though out the whole chain of secondary dominants.
    – Dom
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 0:08
  • alright sorry it was the underlying question I had once I understood what they were in the first place, taking compo class haha. thank you. Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 0:16
  • 1
    Regardless of level of knowledge, it's the sound that counts. Dominant chords create tension that the listener's ear wants resolved. Sometimes by using V/V or V/ ii the resolution is delayed and in creating more tension. The important thing to keep in mind is that music boiled down is tension/resolution. How a progression sounds to your ear is more important than the technical theory behind it.
    – mikeford
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 4:23
  • @Frank Badertscher, V/II is also V of V of V, V/VI is also V of V of II, and V/III is also V of V of VI. Your suggested chord progression is therefore a long chain of secondary dominants of secondary dominants (think V of V of V of V of... and strip a "V of" each chord change).
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 10:56

I am a student composer in the Mannes School of Music.

The whole notion of chord progression as varied due to taste. In simple terms I like is the "home base" of the piece. Traveling outside the house is like exploring other chords.

V can also be referred as the "dominant" chord. In music, V "resolves" to I naturally as it is pleasing to the ear. (Take Bach's Chorale in C major as it resolves from G (V) to C major (I) -

at 0:45) In that example, Bach starts in C, travels to G (V), and resolves back to C (I).

However, secondary dominant chords a bit different. Simply, we start out with the tonic chord (i.e. C major for simplicity). A dominant chord's role is to resolve back in the tonic. But, what if we want to resolve into another chord other than the tonic?

This is when a secondary dominant chord comes into play. Its function is to resolve into a chord other than the tonic. We will call the new chord we want to "arrive", or "resolve in", the target chord. We will pick Bb Major as our target chord.

To determine the secondary dominant chord, we will need to figure out the (regular) dominant of our target chord. In this case it is F major. So, F Major would be our secondary dominant chord, resulting in a sequence of C-F-Bb, or I-IV-bVII.

We are not done yet, though. Many composers like to add a 7th interval to the secondary dominant, as it allows more tension and a bigger resolution. So, our secondary dominant chord would have the notes (F-A-C-Eb).

In conclusion, a sequence with this particular example of a secondary dominant would be C-F7-Bb, or I-IV7-bVII

If this is a bit confusing, a secondary explanation may be helpful: https://music.tutsplus.com/articles/secondary-dominants-and-how-to-use-them--audio-2663

Other chords act in a similar fashion, some building up the harmony of the piece, some creating a dissonance, and some resolving to a more "pleasant" chord. For example, a very simple chord progression is I-IV-I64-V-I. The progression starts of at "home base", ventures out to IV, which strikes out to the ear. It then reaches I64 (or G-C-E if we are in C major) in a grand fashion, travels to V, which resolves back home to I.

The concept of these simple progressions is inside the big umbrella of music theory. Bach (and sometimes Mozart) give great examples of these progressions, and what chords mean and sound like.

I hope you found this helpful!

  • 1
    This is a nice answer, but did you possible answer the wrong question? It doesn't seem to even mention the notion of secondary dominants, which is the crux of the original question.
    – Richard
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 19:36
  • Give me a second, I'll edit my answer to include it. Sorry, I did not see your comment with the second question. Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 19:40
  • I've finished editing it a few hours ago, hope it was helpful! Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 2:31

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