The Playing Changes series presents and expands on concepts from my book, The Living Jazz Tradition: A Creative Guide to Improvisation and Harmony published by CMA Press.
Hearing, internalizing, and improvising over secondary dominant harmony is essential for playing jazz repertoire from the 1920s through the 1950s.
A secondary dominant is a V chord that resolves to a diatonic chord other than I. Be sure to play these examples on the piano. These will likely be familiar sounds even if the terminology is new for you.
D7 is the V7 chord of G (the dominant of the dominant). In C major, D7 isn’t a diatonic chord, because the third of the chord, F#, leaves the key of C. Dm is the ii chord, D7 is V7 of V (five of five).
Each secondary dominant chord contains a chromatic (non-diatonic) tone. The third of the V7 of V is the raised fourth scale degree in the tonic key. This tone resolves up a half step to the root of the V chord. Listen for V of V in measure seven of the second movement of Joseph Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony no 94:
The Great American Songbook is filled with secondary dominants. George and Ira Gershwin’s “But Not for Me” opens with a V7 of V chord:
Secondary dominants are “V7 of” any diatonic chord. Let’s look at the most common ones.
The V7 of IV is a dominant seventh chord built from the tonic. The seventh of this chord is lowered by a half step making it a non-diatonic or chromatic tone. This tone resolves down a half step to the third of the IV chord:
Listen to V7 of IV in Davis and Mitchell’s “You are My Sunshine”:
The V7 of ii is a dominant seventh chord built from the sixth note of the major scale. The third of this chord is raised by a half step making it the chromatic tone. This tone resolves up a half step to the root of
the ii chord:
Listen to V7 of ii in “O Christmas Tree”:
A common jazz variation of the 12-bar blues uses V7 of ii in measures 8 and 11 (much more on blues harmony in future articles).
The V7 of vi is a dominant seventh chord built from the third note of the major scale. The third of this
chord is raised by a half step making it the chromatic tone. This tone resolves up a half step to the root of
the vi chord:
Listen to V7 of vi in Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind”:
When you encounter secondary dominants, experiment with targeting the non-diatonic chord tones in melodies. Here is an example of voice leading through the chromatic tone in V7 of vi. The second line is a melody that targets these tones:
This melody targets the thirds of chords in a turnaround progression:
Chapter Four of The Living Jazz Tradition presents a walk-through of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” a song based on diatonic chords and secondary dominants. Each walk-through presents four approaches for improvisation:
The chord progression to “I Got Rhythm,” known as “Rhythm Changes,”
is the basis for many songs including:
Index of Playing Changes Articles
Next in the series: “Playing Changes Part 9: Circle of Fifths Cycles”
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