10 Chord progressions with Secondary Dominant chords

What the hell is a secondary dominant chord?

Lets define dominant first.

Dominant is the 5th chord in a key.

The definition of dominant is –

  • adj.
    Exercising the most influence or control.
  • adj.
    Most prominent, as in position; ascendant.

What a badass chord this is. The dominant chord does just that. Its the most dominating, the most influential chord of a key. It has the STRONGEST RESOLUTION (release of tension) going back to the root chord of the key (the Tonic).


The Chord

A secondary dominant chord is an added dominant chord to a key that is not originally in the key. It is used to change keys momentarily – for the duration the chord is played. It also adds UMPH! to the next chord you play. It causes tension on purpose so that you have more release. Think of it as more tension and release inside your song. You could do this all day long in any song you want.

Most people dont know this. And so there it is…you NEVER hear it in many songs. BUT…you do hear it when the Classical Music and Jazz Masters use it. So why aren’t we using it nowadays?


People got tired of the sound so they eliminated it.

But really musicians just dont know about it because of…..——>>> laziness.

They dont want to learn music theory or how they can improve their songs.

It is what it is.

Im here to tell you that you can spice up your tunes and make them sound badass by implementing Secondary Dominant Chords.

You know those sections in songs that make you sing along every time and cause excitement? Secondary Dominants are just one of the tools you can use to raise the hair on the back of the neck of your listeners EVERY TIME!

Read on for more secondary dominant goodness…


The V7 aka Secondary Dominant Chord

Lets go back and relearn what a Dominant Chord is. (aka Primary dominant) We just dont say primary dominant we only say dominant.) Whats the need right? Well, if you start using them often, you’re going to have to start differentiating them but only in your mind…unless you’re around high level musicians all the time.

Catch my drift?

Dont worry I’ll explain more.

A secondary dominant chord is a chord from another key. It’s used to spice things up and make things interesting. You simply insert the Dominant chord of whatever chord you are moving to.


C Am F G.

I could add an E7 before the Am. (which is the dominant chord of A Minor but we are in C Major).

In C Major you have G7 (the 5th chord from C). The dominant chord in a key is always the 5th chord of the key. ALWAYS!

Here is C Major.

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim.

I could add a secondary dominant to each and every chord in this key except of course the tonic which is C Major (because it already has a primary dominant) and the Bdim because it has a diminished 5th in the chord and it just doesnt work.

Here we go:

Secondary Dominant Heaven

G7 C A7 Dm B7 Em C7 F D7 G E7 Am Bdim G7 C

Hefty progression!

Do you see the possibilities?

Here are 10 Basic Chord Progressions in different keys you can fool around with. Application is key. Use it in a real song of yours. Or add one to a progression and practice improvising over it.

Loads of fun!

One thing:

When you are singing or improvising or simply composing a melody over a secondary dominant chord you are now in the key of the NEXT chord.

E7 to Am. Key of Am.

B7 to Em. Key of Em.

…and so on…

You can even have a secondary dominant chord of a borrowed chord. But thats for another article. Click on the link and you can read about borrowed chords.

When you borrow chords you are not really modulating you are simply borrowing a chord. You are but you aren’t. If a progression continues in the borrowed chord’s key then you have modulated, whether for 1 measure or longer, because it gives you more of a sense of modulation rather than having just one chord which doesn’t give you much of a sense of modulation just kind of an outside sound for a moment.

The length of the modulation can be quick or it can extend over a whole section or piece. This is true for secondary dominants as well.

You can now continue a progression in the new key or simply stay in the same key by determining which chord you use next.

This article is not about modulation, but only about going out of key for a moment so that you give the next cord in the original key more importance.


10 Progressions to get you familiar with secondary dominant chords.

Some of these examples are in the same key for ease of understanding.

Progression 1

E (G#7) C#m B7 B (E7) A B7 E …in this progression here the G#7 chord and the E7 chord are both Secondary Dominants. Try this badass progression out and hear it for yourself.

If you are a rock, hard rock, heavy metal and even black metal player fear not. Use the bottom 3 strings only and you’ll have yourself some Heavy Secondary Domination.

Heavy metal bands and artists use these chords ALL the time. You will hear tons of this in the Instrumental Guitar Shredders of the 80’s.

Listen to George Bellas for one.

It pays to get instruction.

Progression 2

E C F#0 B C#m7 F#m7 E – this progression has a bVI and ii half diminished. It borrows two chords both from the Parallel key of E Minor. The C is part of the key of E minor and so is the F#0.

But I could add secondary dominants to a bunch of these chords. I could also have many variations on this 1 progression.

Check it out:

  • E G7 C F#0 F#7 B G#7 C#m7 C#7 F#m7 B7 E
  • E G#7 C#m C#7 F#m B B7 E
  • E E7 A B B7 E
  • E E7 A F#7 B7 E

I could keep going but try these on for size.

Progression 3

E A D D#o G#m Am B7

The D and Am come from the E minor parallel scale. They are borrowed chords.

Simply add some 2ndary Dominants and we get a SMOKING progression. One that you’ve probably never heard before.

  • E E7 A D D#0 E
  • E A A7 D D#0 G#m Am B7
  • E A A7 D D#0 G#m E7 Am B7

Number 4

C F G Ab G7 C – the Ab came from the parallel key Cm.

…but add a 2ndary Dominant chord and you get…

C F D7 G Ab G7 C

Pretty…$%^&*!@ cool if you ask me.

Remember you can use any chord extensions you want as well.

Cmaj7 Fmaj7 D7 G6 Abmaj7 G7 C

Number 5

C Ab F G Ab7 Db/F G7 C

The Ab above comes from Cm. The Ab7 is the V chord of the Neapolitan chord in first inversion. Notice how the F is in the bass that leads to the G in the next chord. Only one borrowed chord here.

Add 2 secondary dominant chords and you get this:

C Eb7 Ab C7 F G Ab7 Db/F G7 C


Number 6

A F#m B07 E7 A Am

The B07 comes from the parallel key of Am (A Harmonic minor). The Am chord at the end also comes from that the parallel.

Secondary Dominant version:

A C#7 F#m B07 E7 A Am

The C#7 is the 5th chord of F#m. So you could have notes from F#m over that C#7 (aka Spanish Phrygian Scale starting from C#)

Too cool. Not to mention it has 2ndary dominants AND borrowed chords.

Number 7

A E F#m F#m7 E7 A turns into A B7 E F#m F#m7 E7 A or A B7 E C#7 F#m F#m7 E7 A

Number 8

A Dm A E A – Dm is taken from the parallel key of Am.

Could look like A A7 Dm E7 A B7 E7 A.

Number 9

A D E A#4 Bm7 E A E7 A

A#4 is borrowed from Em. I borrowed the A#4 from E Melodic Minor.

But lets throw the 2ndary dominant chord in there a few times.

A A7 D E A#4 B7 E7 A E7 A

Number 10

G D G C Bb Am D7 G

Bb is from Gm.

G A7 D G G7 C F7 Bb E7 Am A7 D7 G. I kept the borrowed Bb and added a 2ndary dominant.

There are  many ways to put a borrowed chord in a progression. I highly suggest you experiment.

There are also many ways to put a secondary dominant chord in a progression. I also highly suggest you keep it simple while experimenting.

Experiment with your own borrowed chords or use some secondary dominants with or without them. They can really cause A LOT of TENSION and spice to a chord progression.

If you don’t know the chords in a key, and would like to… go here.

Signing off.

If you have any questions and would like answers comment below or send me an email here.