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If I have the progression Cm > Ab > Bb > Cm from the C natural minor scale, does the Bb chord still work as a dominant chord as it would in Eb major? I know that in the minor scale, technically the Gm chord would be the v chord or perhaps G7 if we are talking about the harmonic minor scale but I was thinking that this progression does sound like a cadence even though there is no V chord in it.

marked as duplicate by user45266, Shevliaskovic, Dom theory May 18 at 22:29

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  • Could you transform the "is X a ..." question into a "does X do ..." or "can X do ..." question? For example, "can the V major chord be used to perform a dominant function in a minor key". As you've already seen, "is" questions are ambiguous and generate unnecessary debate and misunderstanding, because people tend to have different opinions as to what "is" implies. Some people take it as meaning, "can X be labelled as Y in all imaginable circumstances while retaining all the same mental associations". – piiperi May 14 at 11:27

You seem a bit confused with your scales. In the C natural minor scale the Bb would work as the dominant, but to Eb, if it was followed by Eb, but not to Cm. Your progression is Cm > Ab > Bb > Cm. In the Eb major scale that would be vi IV V vi, whereas in the C natural minor scale this would be i bVI bVII i.

If you want the dominant for the C natural minor scale, that would be Gm. But in practice you'll see that people more often use G, as a borrowed chord from the C major scale (or the melodic/harmonic minor). The reason is that G has the leading tone (B), which gives the chord the "dominant function".

So, the progression you're looking for, with G as dominant would be Cm > G > Cm or Cm > Gm > Cm if you don't want to borrow the G major chord.

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    I don't see that I am confused by the scales. The i bVI bIIV i progression is exactly what I was talking about so not sure why you said I was confused about the scales. Also, I thought the G comes from the raised notes in the harmonic minor scale. It is the first time someone told me that the V7 chord in the minor scale is borrowed from the major scale. – armani May 14 at 8:05
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    @armani you said that Bb would act as a dominant to Cm; it doesn't. Also, G can be borrowed both from the harmonic, the melodic minor and the major scale – Shevliaskovic May 14 at 8:07
  • Well, when I play the progression it does kind of resolve to the i chord (to my ears anyway)so I was asking if it did. I know it is not the correct v chord of the scale. – armani May 14 at 8:08
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    @armani there are many chords that can be nicely resolved to a tonic,and can act as a dominant chord of some kind, but the dominant chord per se would be V – Shevliaskovic May 14 at 8:12
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    @Grace yes. Unless you choose to use B for the aforementioned reasons – Shevliaskovic May 14 at 11:09

I think you are saying that bVII sounds like a dominant because bVII I feels like conclusion, even though you know that the dominant is V (or v).

I think the concept you are referring to is a cadence, which is exactly that: a chord progression that feels like conclusion. Turns out the (maybe) most common cadence is the Perfect Cadence (V I), which involves the dominant, and maybe this is causing you some confusion.

There are countless types of cadences, some feel more like conclusion than others, depending on the situation. Keep in mind that "dominant" is just a name for the fifth degree of the scale, it isn't necessarily in a cadence, nor a cadence must necessarily have it!

  • Yes you are right, I now understand the terminology better. bVII > i does sound like a cadence to my ears and I should have used this term in my question. I will edit it. – armani May 15 at 7:04

There are various types of cadences that sound resolved. Classical music tends to focus on perfect cadences (V>I) and, to a lesser extent, plagal cadences (IV>I) in terms of resolved cadences. But there are other cadences that sound resolved too, and bVII can have a relatively strong "pull" to the I. Not as much as a V7 does, but it's still very much there, and it's an interesting colour

There is a cadence sometimes called the "super mario cadence" or the "lady madonna" cadence which uses this pull upwards by a tone twice, bVI > bVII > I. So the bVI pulls to the bVII, then the bVII to the I. And it doesn't even have to be in key; you're talking about Ab Bb Cm but in many cases (mario and the beatles for example) you hear this in a major context i.e. Ab major > Bb major > C major

There are a series of chord progressions that do this. The most famous is the "secondary dominant" (5 of 5 to 1) but you also see 4 of 4 to 1 and, in your case, 7 of 7 to 1.

e.g. (all examples here work with C major too)

5: Cm D7 G7 Cm
4: Cm Bb F Cm
7: Cm Ab Bb Cm
b2: Cm D Db Cm (linked example in Dm and it's Dm > F > E7 > Emaj7 > Dm)

The confusion comes that in Jazz terms we like to talk (often quite loosely) about chords with a "dominant function" aka pulling to the 1, and how flexible you can stretch that terminology depends on who you're talking to, in what situation. Often it's restricted more for chords that actually function as a substitution of a literal 5>1 (diminished chords, tritone substitutions etc.), but sometimes people do use it just to mean "any chord that pulls to a resolved 1", and in that sense you could say bVII can have a "dominant function" in a "pulls to the tonic" sense, but it's probably best to avoid that terminology in most cases.

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