Secondary dominant chords are used to spice up your chord progressions. The same goes for diminished triads or diminished chords. They are very beautiful, colourful and they can be so useful and powerful! But what if music theory has never been your strongest feature? Or maybe you don’t know music theory at all? don’t worry. It’s a lot easier than you think. Let’s dive in!

Secondary dominant chords

I will show you an extremely easy technique for applying and creating diminished triads and a secondary dominant chord in the first inversion. I know it sounds difficult and like a mouth full, but trust me. You Can Do This!

I discovered this technique many years ago on guitar. And it came to me absolutely by accident/intuitively. I have used it to create music, write music and interesting chord progressions for years without knowing the correct musical terms. Here’s how I found it:

When you have any normal major chord/triad, you just change one or two notes and there you go… Creating the diminished triad is even easier. You just move the root note of your major chord half a step up, while the rest of the chord stays the same. Let’s check out some examples.

Video Tutorial: Secondary Dominant Chords and Diminished Chords The Intuitive Way!

If you don’t feel like reading and if you want to these examples with real music, then check out my music tutorial below. And if you want to learn more creative songwriting and music composition techniques, check out this playlist.

Easy Trick For Getting Diminished Triads

What do you hear when you play something like this?

Two chords with a diminished chord in between
Two chords with a diminished chord in between
Diminished chord example
In midi: Two chords with a diminished chord in between

The chord in the middle, which is a diminished chord/triad creates a strong pull towards the last Em chord. And how I made this chord is by simply raising the root note of the D major chord with half a step. You can apply this trick to any major chord and it will give you the diminished chord that lies half a step above your original major chord.

What are diminished triads?

Diminished triads are three-note chords that have a tense and dissonant sound. You can easily create a diminished chord because they are made up of two minor thirds stacked on top of each other. A minor third is the distance of three half steps on the piano or guitar.

How to create a diminished chord
How to create a diminished chord
In midi: How to create a diminished chord
In midi: How to create a diminished chord

For example, in the key of Eb, a D-diminished triad would be D – A – A♭. These three notes are each three-half steps apart from the next one.

Diminished triads often sound like they’re waiting for something else to happen. They create a bit of tension and make you feel like the music needs to move to another chord that sounds more stable.

How To Create and Use a Secondary Dominant Chord In First Inversion

What if you want to have the same kind of tension as a diminished triad, but you want the chord to sound brighter? Then using a secondary dominant chord in the first inversion is the way to go. And I know it sounds difficult, but it’s not!

When we take the D major chord from our previous example and raise the root note with half a step and the fifth with a whole step, what you get is a major chord in the first inversion.

When I use this in our previous chord progression, we actually created a secondary dominant chord in the first inversion. Just play this and the previous example and compare their sound.

Creating a major chord in first inversion
Creating a major chord in the first inversion
In midi: Creating a major chord in first inversion
In midi: Creating a major chord in the first inversion

What are chord inversions?

Chord inversions are a different way of arranging the notes in your chord. Instead of having the root note as the lowest note, one of the other notes from the chord is in the lowest position. If you compare a chord to a stack of blocks. When you change the order of these blocks, you get a new look, but it’s still the same set of blocks.

For example, in a C major chord, which has the notes C, E, and G. Normally the C is the lowest note. But if you put E or G at the bottom, you get a different inversion.

Chord inversions help make music smoother and more interesting.

What are Dominant Chords?

Dominant chords are chords in music that have a strong and powerful sound. They create tension and make the music want to go towards the next chord.

For example, in the key of C major, the G major chord is the dominant chord. When you hear this chord, it usually wants to go to the C major chord. The C is on the first scale degree and the G major is on the fifth scale degree. So there is a five-one relationship as it’s called.

What are Secondary Dominant chords?

Secondary dominant chords are chords that temporarily take on the role of dominant chords in a key other than the main tonic chord’s key. We use them to create tension by leading to a chord that’s not the tonic but still feels resolved. These chords are very common in music that has more complex harmonic progressions.

For example, in the key of C major (I), the dominant chord is G major (V). A secondary dominant option could be to play a D major chord (this is the dominant chord of G major). This will create a sense of tension before resolving to the G major chord.

Secondary dominant chords are often written using Roman numerals to show their relationship to the key. For instance, in the key of C major:

To recap, secondary dominant chords are chords that temporarily act like dominant chords in keys other than the main key.

  • The V/ii chord refers to the secondary dominant of the ii chord (D minor).
  • The V/iii chord refers to the secondary dominant of the iii chord (E minor).
  • The V/IV chord refers to the secondary dominant of the IV chord (F major).
  • The V/V chord refers to the secondary dominant of the V chord (G major).
  • The V/vi chord refers to the secondary dominant of the vi chord (A minor).

Adding multiple first-inversion secondary dominant chords to a progression

Let’s compare a regular chord progression with a progression that uses many secondary dominant chords. You tell me which progression has more tension….

A regular Em chord progression
A regular Em chord progression
Em chord progression with secondary dominant chords
Em chord progression with secondary dominant chords

Conclusion

As I told you, you don’t need those music theory terms that go along with this technique. Just apply how and what notes I changed to create these chords. You don’t need any music theory for this!

But for the people who want to really get things straight: What you are doing is making a chromatic passing chord between the two original chords that are one whole step away from each other. This added chord in between creates tension, a pull and a smooth stepwise connection to the chord half a step above it.

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Suggested Video Tutorial:

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Video Transcript

First inversion chords as secondary dominants and diminished triads! That sounds difficult… but it’s not!
And can you learn this without being a music theory expert? Yes you can.
So let’s get creative!

Let’s forget about these music theory terms for a minute because i found these techniques by accident on guitar without even knowing their names.
And tell me, what do you hear when i play something like this?

What i hear is a very strong pull towards the e minor. And especially the chord in the middle, which is a diminished triad, is responsible for this. And how i got to this chord is extremely easy. When you have any major triad you just raise the root note with half a step and there you are!Now you have a diminished triad.

And as you might have heard already this chord automatically creates some kind of pull towards the chord that’s half a step above it. No matter if it’s major or minor.

It’s about 12 years ago that i accidentally found this technique. I stumbled upon it while playing the following chord progression. And for you to compare, the second time i’ll play it with the diminished triad, and the first time it will be without.

And did you hear a difference? The second time for me it really creates so much more tension and pull towards that e minor chord. It’s really nice!

But what if you want to use a diminished triad in a different context? Well just remember; if you want to create a diminished triad you just stack two minor thirds on top of each other and voila. There you go, your diminished triad ready to go.

But what if you want to create a brighter sound and also have a better voice leading? Well when looking back at our major triad again we’re gonna raise the root note with half step but now we’re gonna raise the fifth note with a whole step. And what you actually get now is a major chord in its first inversion. And in the case of our next example it will be a secondary dominant in its first inversion. It would look and sound like this:

I can even apply this trick multiple times in one chord progression. Just listen!

As i said, you can forget all about these music theory terms. Because if you just apply how and what notes i changed to create these chords, you’re all ready to go. No real music theory knowledge is needed. And i certainly used it for many years without knowing the correct musical terms!

So for all the people who really want to wrap their head around the music theory terms. What you’re actually doing is this: you’re creating a chromatic passing chord between the two original chords. And this extra chord in between creates tension. And a smooth connection to the chord that lies half a step above it. And this really sums up the use of diminished triads and first inversion secondary dominants.

And they’re just too good not to try them out. But before you do, i hope you find your way to the like and subscribe buttons and give them a tap to help the channel out. And don’t forget to share this video if it was useful to you. And for now…
See you next time!

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