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Dominant Chord Resolutions

Did you know that dominant 7 chords commonly resolve in more that just one way? The first might be obvious, down a Perfect 5th. This resolution is completely diatonic (using only the notes in the major key), we can see that the four note chord built from the 5th note of the major scale is a dominant one, so we can safely resolve to the key's tonic (1st note of the major scale). This is of course the most common, it is even called the perfect cadence, but there are some other resolutions discussed in Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book worth having a look at.


The next is a plagal cadence, which resolves down a Perfect 4th to the target root. This is because traditionally the plagal cadence has been used a lot in classical and pop music, however usually without the b7, and instead with a diatonic IV triad. The b7 creates added juiciness, imposing a minor 3rd sound over the target chord.


The next resolution is to resolve up a semitone. Often in Jazz, the 3 and b7 are considered the most important guide tones of the dominant chord (as the others, may be altered to create more tension), and since they are a tritone apart then it is possible to 'flip' them while still playing the same notes but instead now the 3 has become the b7 and vice versa. If you recall the plagal cadence, common in classical and popular music, resolves down a Perfect 4th - And, if we take a plagal cadence, with the root of our dominant chord on the Perfect 4th and 'flip' our dominant guide tones by shifting them up or down a tritone, then we find our root note has moved to be one semitone below our target root. This process is called a Tritone Substitution, and we have applied it to a plagal cadence. If we applied it to a Perfect cadence, then we'll find that a dominant chord may also resolve down a semitone to the target root.


Try going through all 12 roots and resolving to a fixed target chord. This way, we can learn from our ears and discover new flavours of tension and resolve, deciding which ones sound best to us.

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