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Chord Progressions - The harmonic stronghold: The V7-I progression

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Previous page: Chord Progressions - The dominant (V-chord) Next page: Chord Progressions - The subdominant (IV) chord

The harmonic stronghold: The V7-I progression

The strongest harmonic relation is between the V7 chord and the I chord, or the dominant and the root/tonic, if you prefer these terms. It is the V7-I relation that defines the root as the tonal centre. Just play the chords C-G7-C, and listen to how the G7 chord creates a tension that is resolved when you return to the C chord.

The V7 creates tension, that is released by going to the tonic chord. I am sure you played numbers of songs with this ending. And you very clearly hear the effect in the blues turnaround, where it is almost impossible to stop if you end a verse on the V7 chord.

When you try to identify chords by ear, which is the main topic of these lessons, it is not too difficult to identify this change. But you should know how the change works.

Start by comparing a V-I and a V7-I change. As an example, you can play G-C and G7-C.

 

(Picture) (Picture) (Picture) (Picture)
G C G7 (without 5th (D)). 7th note in red. C

 

You will probably notice that the V7-I produces a clearer ending. In some way, the leading effect of the chord is strengthened by the 7th extension of the chord.

Then play vii°-I, and compare it to the two other changes. It gives some of the same leading effect as the V7. In my ears it gives stronger lead than V-I, but not as strong as V7-I. You will see from the example below that there is not a large difference between B° and G7.

(Picture) (Picture) (Picture) (Picture)
C G7 C

If you listen to old music, you will hear V-I, but not V7-I. I have to reread some history of music, to find when the 7th became common. (Probably in the baroque, but I am not sure.) The V-I and the V7-I are both called perfect cadences.

If we look at the V and I chord, and use C-major as an example, you see that the C has the notes C, E and G, and the G (V) has G, B and D. It is one common note, the G. If you listen to the voice leading of these chords, the most important move is the notes B->C. The B is called a leading note. The second most important is the G->C, which is the dominant-tonic move.

If we extend the G to a G7, we add and F. This chord creates more tension than a G chord, and the reason is the F-B interval, which is a tritone (or B-F, a diminished fifth. The distance between the notes are the same, but they are spelled differently). This tension is resolved when the B moves to C and the F moves to E. If I have got it correct, the F is called e leaning note, resolving down to E. The two most important notes in the G7-chord in this progression, is the F and B. That is why you can substitute the G7 with a B°: They both have that F-B interval.

(examples)

If we then go to minor, you can first try the v-i change, for instance Gm-Cm. You will notice that it has some leading effect, but far from what we got with the major chords. We have to take another look at the chords. The Cm has the notes C, Eb and G, while the Gm has G, Bb and D. There will be a whole step from Bb to C, meaning that there is no leading note. That is the main reason why the Gm does not have that leading effect.

(examples)

If we to extend the Gm to a Gm7, we have to add an F. But it really does not help. It still does not have that leading effect. We still do not have a leading note. And there is no leaning note either. There is a whole step from F down to Eb. You might say that there is some kind of a leading relationship between the D and Eb, but this is not a clear lead back to C.

(examples)

To get that leading effect, one raised the 7th of the minor scale for harmonic purposes, thus creating the harmonic minorscale. If you play G-Cm instead of Gm-Cm, you get a clearer lead, because you have that leading note. If extend the G to a G7, you get a lead that is somewhat stronger, but still not as strong as the G7-C lead. The reason is that you do not get the F-E movement, since the Cm has an Eb and not an E. This gives a whole step, not a half step. Up to xxx one would not accept that V7-i change as a conclusion, because it was not strong enough. So even music in a minor key would end on a major chord. But today you will hear V7-i cadences.

(examples)

I called the V7-I change the harmonic strong-hold. A key is established by that chord change. Sometimes you will hear that change with chords that are not the V7 and I of your home key, for instance a D7-G change when playing in the key of C. You might hear it as a chord adding some spice and color. But what really is happening, is that you are modulating from C-major to G-major. You might continue modulation to other keys, but often you will return home by a G-G7-C change, reestablishing the C-major key.

You will hear that many, many songs end with the V7-I chord sequence, and it creates a firm and solid ending. If a line end on the V7 chord, you expect something to follow. It cannot be the last chord - at least in traditional harmony. If you play a 12 bar blues with a turnaround ending on the V7 chord, you have to play another verse. The V7 chord creates tension, and you have to resolve the tension. And the tension is not dissolved before you start the next verse with the I chord.

Many songs have a structure where the first part end on the V7 chord, and you then expect some more to come. A song that almost any guitar player have played in the beginning of his or her career, is the ballad Tom Dooley. This song is usually played with only two chords, the I and the V7. The first part starts on I and ends on V7, and the second part starts on V7 and ends on I.

I-V-I

Many other songs have the same kind of ending, but have more chords before the ending.

There are not that many well known songs with only the chords I and V7, but the V7-I is a part of many other progression, so you will develop your knowledge and ability to identify the change in the following lessons.

Compare the V-I change with the V7-I change. The V-I progression will also give some of the effects that the V7-I progression gives. But the V7-I progression gives a stronger statement. The two most important notes in a V7 chord is the 3 and the 7 (counted from the root of the chord, not the root of the key). If we look at a G7 chord, the notes 1-3-5-7 are G, B, D and F. In the key of C, the B is the leading note, a note that leads up to the tonic. The F is called the leaning note, a note that leads down to the third note, the E in C major. When you change from G7 to C, the B changes to C and the F to E, and then the tension in the chord is dissolved. If you play the G chord instead of a G7, you do not have the F, and then you cannot have the F to E movement.

The interval between the B and the F is a diminished fifth, which sounds the same as the tritone (or augmented fourth, as it might also be called). This is a dissonant interval, and the dissonance is dissolved when it change to a major third (C and E). A simple major chord, such as the G, does not have this interval. The two notes will be notes 4 and 7 of the major scale: The 7 of a dominant 7 chord is the 4 of the tonic scale, and the 3 of the chord is the 7 of the scale. This might be very confusing, but if you review the lesson on harmonized scales, you will probably understand the relation between scale notes and chords built on these scale notes. Enough of that: The point is that the tritone interval between the 4 and the 7 of the scale, are the two most important notes in the dominant 7 chord. As long as you keep these two notes, the chord will function as a dominant 7, and it will lead you back to the tonic.

By introducing new V7-I changes in a progression, you will establish a new key and the song will modulate. But we will come back to this in another lesson.

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