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Forgive me if my terminology is not the best.

I've long loved cadences where, in a major scale, a II is played instead of ii.

For instance,

G, A, Bm, C, D, Em, F#dim

rather than

G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, F#dim

I just don't know if this chord has been given some name (memorable or otherwise). The closest I can call it is a major second chord, or a lydian loaner, or something.

Any info is greatly appreciated.

-Jon

  • 1
    It depends on the actual context or progression you find it in, but probably you are talking about a secondary dominant, or V/V chord. Dm - G7 - C is a ii - V - I, but you could play D7 - G7 - C, where D7 is V of the G7. – David Bowling Sep 5 at 0:24
  • II is an "uncommon" chord for both natural major and natural minor progressions... I guess, one could think of it as borrowing the "blue" note from the parallel blues hexatonic major scale (that is, if my calculations are correct). – Pyromonk Sep 5 at 1:28
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    @Pyromonk -- is isn't uncommon to see a stack of fives, like III7 - VI7 - II7 - V7 - I, or some fragment of that, especially in turnarounds. – David Bowling Sep 5 at 1:36
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    @Pyromonk - in key C, the 'blues' note is generally considered Gb (in jazz, F#, but, hey ho), and is 'out of tune' to any accompanying chord. Here, the note in question is part of the accompanying chord - it's its M3. So that doesn't add up. Could be considered as Lydian. Or the more usual V/V, but not in OP's sequence. Not even part of circle of 4ths in that. It just sounds good! I'd call it 'serendipity'... – Tim Sep 5 at 7:57
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II7 could be labelled a 'secondary dominant' - particularly if it DOES progress to V.

But we must beware of giving functional names to a chord which DOESN'T have that function. Like calling the second chord of a Blues a 'dominant 7th'. It's that shape, yes, but it isn't being the dominant of anything. The current trend to always call that shape chord a 'dominant 7th' is , in my opinion, unhelpful.

A plain II may be used without any dominant function. Yes, it's a nice sound. I don't think there's any particular name for it. But I rather like 'Lydian loner'. Perhaps that will catch on!

  • If you mean that a seventh chord should be called a dominant only if it actually resolves to a tonic and does the V-I jump, then I have to disagree. To me it creates the feeling of dominant pressure anyway, even if the pressure is never resolved. Some people say that there are two kinds of seventh chords, major seventh and dominant seventh. In this sense, a dominant chord is a dominant even if you press stop on the tape and never find out what would have happened next. – piiperi Sep 5 at 13:10
  • @piiperi isn't a major 7th chord formed by playing the root (1st) + 3rd + 5th + 7th notes of a major scale. A dominant 7th is formed by lowering the 7th note a half step. – gingerbreadboy Sep 5 at 13:20
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    @piiperi there are at least five kinds of seventh chord. The major seventh and the dominant seventh differ in that the former comprises a major third, perfect fifth, and major seventh, while the latter has major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. Discussing chords that comprise different notes doesn't seem to be relevant to a discussion of the dominant seventh chord's functional characteristics. – phoog Sep 5 at 13:20
  • @gingerbreadboy yes, though I would prefer to describe it as the chord comprising the 5th, 7th, 2nd, and 4th notes of the major scale. – phoog Sep 5 at 13:22
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    @phoog I was trying to defend the legitimacy of calling a dominant seventh chord a dominant seventh chord even in blues. Yeah yeah, the word "dominant" may have originally been used in functional harmony, but now it's also used to differentiate between dominant seventh versus major seventh. This meaning of the word is already out there, serves a purpose, is understood, and trying to "remove" that meaning from the world feels pretty pointless. – piiperi Sep 5 at 13:52
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In isolation what you have is simply an altered chord but as noted above it can be use functionally as a 'secondary dominant' by (in your specific case) setting up tension which pulls towards the D major.

See Secrets Of Song Writing

To address the comments below

An altered chord is a chord in which one or more notes from the diatonic scale is replaced with a neighboring pitch from the chromatic scale. According to the broadest definition any chord with a nondiatonic chord tone is an altered chord, while the simplest use of altered chords is the use of borrowed chords, chords borrowed from the parallel key, and the most common is the use of secondary dominants. As Alfred Blatter explains,"An altered chord occurs when one of the standard, functional chords is given another quality by the modification of one or more components of the chord."

This is from a Wikipedia article titled Altered Chord quoting Alfred Blatter.

Emphisis is mine to highlight that this is exactly what the OP is asking about.

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    Most theorists only recognise the term "altered chord" to mean a dominant chord with certain alterations to it; namely, a note enharmonic to the ♯4, ♭9, ♭13, or ♯9 of the chord (the term comes from jazz). – user45266 Sep 5 at 18:41
  • Yes, 'Altered chord' has another distinct meaning. Better to keep the term for that I think. – Laurence Payne Sep 7 at 10:37
  • "An altered chord is a chord in which one or more notes from the diatonic scale is replaced with a neighboring pitch from the chromatic scale. According to the broadest definition any chord with a nondiatonic chord tone is an altered chord, while the simplest use of altered chords is the use of borrowed chords, chords borrowed from the parallel key, and the most common is the use of secondary dominants. As Alfred Blatter explains,"An altered chord occurs when one of the standard, functional chords is given another quality by the modification of one or more components of the chord." – gingerbreadboy Sep 13 at 11:54
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That sound can also be expanded if you make the III major as well. So I, II, III. In your case it'd be G chord, A chord, B chord.

I had the same question in the key of C major. I was told it was called "Real Planing". See here: What's the relationship between the chords Cmaj Dmaj Emaj?

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    It's going to depend on the context, but if the roots are sequential scale degrees, then planing might be a good description; but the voicings need to be unchanged from one chord to the next, i.e., parallel motion is needed among the voices. – David Bowling Sep 5 at 13:39
  • I've noticed this technique used a lot in music that needs some powerful resolution. On that thread, user Dekkadeci mentions that it can "be interpreted as ♭VI-♭VII-I of E major (with substantial borrowing from the tonic minor)", which sounds dead on. – Werewoof Sep 7 at 13:54
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Secondary Dominants. A bit like an optical illusion, where you realise that what you're looking at isn't what you first thought.

When you first hear the C Major and G Major chords you assume that you are in the key of C Major and those two chords are I and V of that key.

However - when you hear the D Major chord, you realise you're in G Major not C Major, and the C major chord is actually chord IV not chord I, and the D Major chord is the dominant V chord of G Major.

I really like this sort of tricksy harmony, where you set the scene one way then introduce that one new chord and the listener has to re-evaluate what they're listening to.

  • I love those tricksy bits too. Introducing D to a presupposed C Major could either land it in G Major, or if the tonic is strong enough, glorious C Lydian. Of course, if there's an F chord as well... – Werewoof Sep 7 at 13:50

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