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What is a Dominant 7th Chord?

The dominant 7th chord is the most common type of seventh chord you will encounter in music. It is used extensively in every style — Classical, blues, jazz, rock, R&B, funk — you name it.

If you’ve studied the major 7th chord pattern, the dominant 7th is different by only one note — the 7th. The dominant 7th chord uses a flatted 7th; that is, it uses a 7th which is a half-step lower than the 7th used in the major 7th chord. It is a major triad with the addition of a flatted 7th. You should recognize this as the same 7th we used in the root-5th-flat 7th pattern in the common bass patterns category.

Dominant 7th Chord Construction

Intervallically the dominant 7th chord contains a root, major 3rd, perfect 5th, and a minor 7th. (See intervals.)

The stacked thirds construction is a major 3rd (root to the 3rd), plus a minor 3rd (3rd to the 5th), plus a minor 3rd (5th to the 7th).

Dominant 7th Chord Pattern Fingering

Again, we will start with one common fingering for the dominant 7th chord pattern even though there are many other ways of playing it. If you know the major 7th chord pattern fingering, you only need to change one finger to account for the flatted 7th. You should play the flatted 7th with your 2nd finger.

Finger the dominant 7th pattern this way:

  • Root (2nd finger)
  • 3rd (1st finger)
  • 5th (4th finger)
  • Flat 7th (2nd finger)
  • Octave of the root (4th finger)

The Dominant 7th Chord Symbol

The chord symbol for a dominant 7th is simply the chord’s root followed by the number 7.

For example, a C dominant seventh chord is notated C7. Its notes would be C-E-G-Bb.

An Ab dominant 7th is notated Ab7. Its notes would be Ab-C-Eb-Gb.

When a musician says a chord is a “seventh chord” they are almost always implying it is a dominant 7th chord. Otherwise they will specify if it is some other type of seventh chord (e.g. major seventh, diminished seventh, etc.). A musician would say the above chords' names as "C seven" and "A flat seven" when communicating to other musicians.

The Sound of the Dominant Seventh Chord

The sound of the dominant 7th chord is often described as tense, dissonant, and maybe even harsh. It’s this sound that makes it especially useful in blues, jazz, rock, and funk. Again, you will come across this chord everywhere.

The tense sound of this chord comes from the discordant relationship between the third and seventh.

You may recognize the sound of the riff to the song Pretty Woman as outlining the notes of the dominant 7th chord. [Play: Root-Root-3-5-b7] Notice the tension produced by the sound of the flat 7.

The Power of the Dominant 7th Chord

In the world of chords the dominant 7th chord commands a lot of power. As you study more about harmony you will recognize this chord creates a lot of tension that has a tendency to drive the music in certain directions. The dominant 7th strongly directs the music towards other chords. Other times this tension is used to produce a constant unresolved state as is common in funk. Many funk songs stick to one dominant 7th chord all the way through.

Since a big part of music is about taking the listener somewhere, knowing how to use this chord well and understanding its place in music is a critical part of playing and creating music and playing the bass.

Applying the Dominant 7th Chord Pattern

The sound of the dominant seventh’s flatted 7th is a very strong sound. It is very common for basslines to emphasize the sound of the flatted 7th when the band is playing this chord.

Similar to the other chord patterns we’ve looked at, you can practice the dominant 7th pattern up and down each fret and all over the fretboard of your bass.

In the dominant 7th bass exercises and examples, I’ll show you some familiar sounding basslines that apply the dominant 7th chord pattern. You can do a lot with just the notes of the chord.

Dominant 7th Details
Chord symbol notation: C7
C dominant 7th spelling: C, E, G, Bb
Intervallic construction: Root, M3, P5, m7
Thirds construction: M3, m3, m3