Chord Functions
Understanding Chord Progressions

The subject of chord functions can get extremely involved. I have attempted to keep this lesson on a fairly basic level with a discussion of these types of chords: Major Seventh, Dominant Seventh, Minor Seventh, Minor-Major Seventh and Half-Diminished. (Diminished Seventh chords will be dealt with separately in a lesson all their own. As soon as I finish the lessons, I will put a link on this page.)

The functions of the major seventh chord are two: It can function as a I chord or tonic chord built on the root of the current key. It may also function as a IV chord (also called the subdominant. The IV chord is used to provide a temporary "resting point" and tends to want to go back to the I chord.

NOTE: If you want to extend this chord and you are using it as a IV chord, the eleventh must be sharp.



Minor-Major Seventh

This chord functions the same as the major seventh only it is used in a minor key. The eleventh may or may not be sharp, depending upon which scale you are using.

Dominant Seventh

The "7th" functions as a V chord. It wants to go back to the I chord. The dominant seventh chord is also an indicator of "key" in that it occurs ONLY as a V chord. in other words, if you see a "G7" chord, you immediately know that you are in the key of "C" (major or minor). T

The exception to this is the Blues Progression in which all of the chords can be dominant seventh.


Minor Seventh

This one functions as a ii, a iii, or a vi chord. These three chords all have a tendency to want to go to a chord a FOURTH HIGHER. For example, in the key of C, "Dm7" (ii chord) would go up a fourth to "G7" (V chord) which then would go back to "C" (I chord). This well-known chord progression is called a"ii V I" progression.

Half Diminished

The "minor seven flat five" chord functions most commonly as a ii chord in a minor key.

And there you have it--or at least the basics of it. Are you ready to try composing something of your own?


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