Pop Music Theory


Lessons in Order

1-7 (Intro & Pitch) +
8-18 (Major Scale) +
19-29 (Chord Progressions) +
25: Subdominant & Dominant
30-34 (Hook Chords) +
35-41 (Written Notes) +
42-50 (Song Chorus) +

Lessons by Topic

Strategy +
Pitches +
Scales +
Written Notes +
Chords +
Chord Progressions -
25: Subdominant & Dominant
Melody +
Songwriting Steps +
Science +
Games & Tools +
Song Examples: Crazy +
Song Examples: Rolling Stone +

Detailed Contents

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Lesson 25: Subdominant & Dominant

This lesson teaches the subdominant and dominant chord functions. This is part of understanding how the different diatonic chords "work" in chord progressions.

Before taking this lesson, you should know: the tonic chord function (Lesson 24: Tonic Function).

To review, the common major-key diatonic triads are:

I   IIm   IIIm   IV   V   VIm

This lesson explores IIm, IV, and V.

The Subdominant Chords: IV and IIm


Subdominant function. A subdominant chord feels like you've moved away from the home chord. It's extremely common for the I chord to be followed by a subdominant chord.

The IV chord. "Subdominant" is just a name for "scale degree 4", so "the" subdominant chord is the IV chord.

The IIm chord. The IIm chord also has subdominant function, meaning that is has a "moved away from home" effect similar to the IV chord. Notice that the IIm and IV chords share two of the same pitches (namely, scale degrees 4 and 6 of the song's key). In fact, these two chords are pretty interchangeable. Reasons a song might choose one or the other include:
  • To create a desired root motion (bassline);
  • The musical style. In jazz, IIm is more common (except it's usually used in its "jazz version", IIm7); in rock/folk/country (and classical music), IV is more common (or, in blues, IV7).

The Dominant Chord: V


Scale degree 5 is called the dominant; so, the V chord is called the dominant chord.

Dominant function. The dominant chord (the V chord) feels like it wants to return to the home chord; it's extremely common for the dominant chord to be followed by the I chord.

The Typical Diatonic-Function Sequence


Since tonic "tends to go to" subdominant, and dominant "tends to go to" tonic, the most typical sequence of diatonic functions is:

Tonic -> Subdominant -> Dominant -> Tonic

This sequence has a conventional "advancing" ("moving forward") feeling. If a chord sequence reverses this order (tonic -> dominant, dominant -> subdominant, subdominant -> tonic), it tends to sound like it's retreating. That's how I describe it, anyway; but these effects are subtle and subjective. You should decide for yourself what you think the effects of different diatonic-function sequences are, by studying the sequences in various songs.

In fact, that's the subject of the next lesson, Lesson 26: Diatonic Function Analysis.




Lessons in Order

1-7 (Intro & Pitch) +
8-18 (Major Scale) +
19-29 (Chord Progressions) +
25: Subdominant & Dominant
30-34 (Hook Chords) +
35-41 (Written Notes) +
42-50 (Song Chorus) +

Lessons by Topic

Strategy +
Pitches +
Scales +
Written Notes +
Chords +
Chord Progressions -
25: Subdominant & Dominant
Melody +
Songwriting Steps +
Science +
Games & Tools +
Song Examples: Crazy +
Song Examples: Rolling Stone +

Detailed Contents

Get Future Lessons


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