Substitute Dominant Patterns | Hub Guitar

Substitute Dominant Patterns

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Substitute dominant chords offer a nice way to make your chord progression resolve downwards. Basically, you just use a dominant 7th chord a half-step above the target chord, and resolve down. Often times, the substitute dominant chord will have a flat 5th, as the flat fifth of the substitute dominant chord will usually be a note that is also in the target chord, and this allows for smoother chord progressions.

For example, if I want to resolve to C maj7, I can put Db7b5 in front of it. The flat 5, Abb is actually G, which is the fifth of the target chord C maj7 target chord.

We're going to do an example using substitute dominants in E major, walking down from the tonic chord, passing through each chord in the key, and resolving again on the tonic chord.

So whenever you have a chord progression moving down by whole steps, you can consider putting a substitute dominant chord in between. This will help create a nice smooth progression. But keep in mind this does make the chord progression sound pretty jazzy. It works best in styles of music that have a lot of colorful chords. If you're trying to stay within the pop genre or style with more simple chords, you can still experiment with this, but you'll probably want to use it sparingly, and maybe you'll use a triad instead of a dominant 7 flat 5 chord.


What is a Substitute Dominant chord?

Before beginning this lesson, you will need some background. You will really not get much value from this lesson without a few prerequisites:

Applied Substitute Dominant Chords

Study these patterns to learn how to apply substitute dominant chords. This progression consists of a series of chords, descending (cycle 7 motion). In between there is a substitute dominant chord, where applicable.

Example Audio

Listen to the full exercise before beginning.

Emaj7

There is no chromatic root connecting E to its lower neighber, B-7♭5, so there is no substitute dominant to use here.

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b natural
e natural
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g sharp, a flat
d sharp, e flat
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D♯-7♭5

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a natural
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f sharp, g flat
c sharp, d flat
d sharp, e flat
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D7♯11

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g sharp, a flat
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c natural
d natural
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f sharp, g flat
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C♯-7

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g sharp, a flat
e natural
b natural
c sharp, d flat
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(Optional) C♯-11

Optionally, we can anticipate the coming chord by altering the C♯-7 into a C♯-11.

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f sharp, g flat
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e natural
b natural
c sharp, d flat
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C7♯11

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f sharp, g flat
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a sharp, b flat
c natural
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e natural
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B7

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f sharp, g flat
a natural
b natural
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d sharp, e flat
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B♭7♯11

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e natural
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g sharp, a flat
a sharp, b flat
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d natural
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Amaj7

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e natural
a natural
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c sharp, d flat
g sharp, a flat
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A7♭5

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d sharp, e flat
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g natural
a natural
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c sharp, d flat
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G♯-7

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d sharp, e flat
b natural
f sharp, g flat
g sharp, a flat
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G7♭5

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c sharp, d flat
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f natural
g natural
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b natural
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F♯-7

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c sharp, d flat
a natural
e natural
f sharp, g flat
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B7

d sharp, e flat
f natural
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a natural
b natural
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Emaj7

The exercise can start again at the top, or it can resolve to the Emaj7 one octave lower than shown below.

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e natural
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g sharp, a flat
d sharp, e flat
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b natural
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Key Exercises

  • Learn, memorize, and apply the patterns.
  • Create a chord progression that supports the substitute dominant chord, and play it using these voicings.

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