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What Is A Pre Dominant Music Theory What Is A Pre Dominant Music Theory

Music Theory

What Is A Pre Dominant Music Theory

Written by: Cinnamon Ralph

Learn about the basics of music theory and its significance in understanding and creating music. Discover the meaning and importance of pre-dominant chords and their role in composition.

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Table of Contents


Welcome to the fascinating world of pre-dominant music theory! Whether you’re a music enthusiast, a budding composer, or an aspiring musician, understanding the concepts and principles of music theory is essential in unlocking the full potential of your musical abilities. In this informative article, we will delve into the intricate realm of pre-dominant music theory, exploring its definition, historical background, characteristics, as well as its importance and function in composition.

Music theory is the study of the fundamental elements and structures of music, providing a framework for understanding how melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and other musical components work together to create a cohesive and expressive piece of music. It is through the application of these principles that composers are able to manipulate and shape their musical ideas.

Pre-dominant music theory, also known as sub-dominant music theory, is a crucial element of harmonic progression and chord function in music. It acts as a transitional chord or group of chords that leads to the dominant chord, which in turn resolves to the tonic chord. The pre-dominant chord creates tension and anticipation, setting the stage for resolution and creating a sense of movement and progression within a musical composition.

In the following sections, we will explore the historical background of pre-dominant music theory, the characteristics and components that define it, its importance and function in composition, as well as analyze and provide examples of its application in practice. By the end of this article, you will have a deep understanding of pre-dominant music theory and how to utilize it effectively in your own musical endeavors.

So, let’s dive in and explore the fascinating world of pre-dominant music theory, where harmony and tension meet to create beautiful and captivating musical experiences!


Definition of Pre-Dominant Music Theory

Pre-dominant music theory refers to the concepts, principles, and techniques used to establish tension and create a sense of anticipation in music, leading to resolution and establishing harmonic progression. It involves the use of specific chords or chord progressions that function as intermediaries between the tonic (the main tonal center) and the dominant (the chord that creates the strongest sense of resolution).

The pre-dominant chord or chords play a crucial role in transitioning from one harmonic function to another. They provide a sense of harmonic movement by building tension and setting the stage for resolution. Typically, pre-dominant chords are used in conjunction with the dominant chord, creating a harmonic progression known as the “pre-dominant-to-dominant-to-tonic” progression.

One of the most common pre-dominant chords is the subdominant chord, which is built on the fourth degree of the major scale. For example, in the key of C major, the subdominant chord would be an F major chord. Other chords that can serve as pre-dominants include secondary dominants, borrowed chords from parallel or related keys, and chromatic mediants.

Additionally, pre-dominant music theory also encompasses the use of chord extensions, alterations, and substitutions to further enhance the harmonic tension and create unique tonal colors. These techniques allow composers to craft intricate progressions and evoke specific emotions within their musical compositions.

It’s important to note that pre-dominant music theory is not limited to a specific genre or time period. It is a fundamental aspect of music theory that can be found in various styles of music, from classical to jazz, pop to rock.

By understanding and applying pre-dominant music theory, composers and musicians can effectively manipulate the harmonic structure of their compositions, creating tension, movement, and ultimately, a sense of resolution that captivates the listener’s ear.


Historical Background of Pre-Dominant Music Theory

The roots of pre-dominant music theory can be traced back to the development of Western classical music in the Baroque and Classical eras. During this time, composers began to explore and understand the principles of tonality and harmonic progression, paving the way for the establishment of pre-dominant chords and their function in composition.

In the Baroque period, composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel laid the foundation for pre-dominant music theory through their use of harmonic progressions and cadences. They favored the circle of fifths progression, where the subdominant chord (pre-dominant) served as a crucial link between the tonic and dominant chords.

As music evolved into the Classical era, composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven further developed the concept of pre-dominant chords and their role in creating tension and resolution within a composition. Beethoven, in particular, was known for his innovative use of harmonic progressions and unconventional pre-dominant chords, pushing the boundaries of tonal expression.

During the Romantic era, composers like Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt expanded the harmonic palette even further, incorporating chromaticism and dissonance in their compositions. This period saw a heightened emphasis on emotional expression and the use of pre-dominant chords to evoke certain moods or sentiments.

In the 20th century, with the rise of atonal and experimental music, the traditional notions of tonality and harmonic progression were challenged. Composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky pushed the boundaries of pre-dominant music theory, exploring new harmonies and harmonic progressions that defied conventional tonal expectations.

Today, pre-dominant music theory continues to evolve as composers and musicians draw inspiration from a wide range of musical styles and genres. The incorporation of pre-dominant chords and harmonic progressions can be found in contemporary classical compositions, jazz improvisations, pop ballads, and more, showcasing the richness and versatility of this fundamental element of music theory.

By understanding the historical development of pre-dominant music theory, we gain insights into the creative decisions made by past composers and can apply these principles in our own musical endeavors, whether it be composing, arranging, or improvising.


Characteristics and Components of Pre-Dominant Music Theory

Characterized by its ability to create tension and anticipation, pre-dominant music theory incorporates specific chords and progressions that serve as intermediaries between the tonic and dominant chords. Understanding the components and characteristics of pre-dominant music theory is essential in utilizing it effectively in composition and improvisation.

One of the key components of pre-dominant music theory is the use of the subdominant chord. In major keys, the subdominant chord is built on the fourth scale degree, while in minor keys, it is built on the flattened seventh scale degree. For example, in the key of C major, the subdominant chord would be an F major chord, while in the key of A minor, it would be an E-flat major chord.

Another component of pre-dominant music theory is the utilization of secondary dominants. These are chords that are borrowed from other keys to create tension and lead to the dominant chord. For example, in the key of C major, a secondary dominant could be an A major chord, which serves as the pre-dominant of the D major chord (the dominant). This borrowing of chords from other keys adds complexity and richness to the harmonic progression.

Furthermore, pre-dominant music theory encompasses the concept of modal mixture or borrowing chords from the parallel minor or major key. By introducing chords from the parallel key, composers can create unique harmonic colors and unexpected tonalities. For example, in the key of C major, borrowing the minor iv chord (F minor) from the parallel key of C minor can add a touch of melancholy and richness to the harmonic progression.

Chromatic mediants are another characteristic of pre-dominant music theory. Chromatic mediants involve moving to a chord that is a third away and has at least one different pitch. These chords add a sense of contrast and evoke a variety of emotions. They can be used to enhance tension and create surprising harmonic shifts.

Additionally, pre-dominant music theory often utilizes chord extensions and alterations to further enhance the harmonic tension. These include adding extra notes to the chords, such as sevenths, ninths, or suspensions, as well as altering certain notes to create dissonance and resolution.

Overall, the characteristics and components of pre-dominant music theory provide the tools and techniques to effectively create tension, anticipation, and harmonic movement within a musical composition. By understanding and incorporating these elements, composers and musicians can craft compelling and emotionally engaging music.


Importance and Function of Pre-Dominant Music Theory in Composition

Pre-dominant music theory plays a vital role in composition, providing a crucial element of tension, anticipation, and harmonic progression. Understanding its importance and function allows composers to create engaging and dynamic musical compositions.

One of the primary functions of pre-dominant music theory is to establish tension and anticipation within a composition. By using pre-dominant chords and progressions, composers can create a sense of expectation, leading the listener’s ear towards the eventual resolution. This tension-release cycle is what keeps the listener engaged and invested in the music.

The pre-dominant chord acts as a transitional element, connecting the tonic and dominant chords. It creates a pathway for harmonic movement and helps maintain the overall structural integrity of the composition. Without the pre-dominant chord, the transition from one chord to another would feel abrupt and lacking in fluidity.

In terms of function, pre-dominant music theory sets up the dominant chord, which is the chord of resolution. The tension built by the pre-dominant chord is released when it resolves to the dominant chord, providing a satisfying and conclusive feeling. This function is crucial in creating a sense of closure and satisfying the listener’s expectations.

Beyond its structural influence, pre-dominant music theory also plays a role in creating emotional depth and evoking specific moods in a composition. Different types of pre-dominant chords and progressions can elicit various emotions, ranging from anticipation and excitement to contemplation and introspection. Composers can use these emotional qualities to enhance the narrative or convey a specific aesthetic vision.

Furthermore, pre-dominant music theory allows for harmonic variety and complexity within a composition. By incorporating different types of pre-dominant chords, such as secondary dominants, borrowed chords, and chromatic mediants, composers can add richness and color to their harmonies. This variety prevents the music from becoming predictable and monotonous, keeping the listener engaged and intrigued.

Overall, pre-dominant music theory is essential in composition as it provides the tools to create tension, anticipation, and harmonic movement. It ensures a smoother transition between chords, establishes a sense of expectation, and contributes to the emotional depth of the composition. By understanding and utilizing pre-dominant music theory, composers can create compelling and impactful musical works that resonate with their audience.


Analysis and Application of Pre-Dominant Chords in Music

The analysis and application of pre-dominant chords in music involve understanding their role in creating tension, their harmonic function, and their relationship to other chords within a composition. By analyzing and applying pre-dominant chords effectively, composers can enhance the richness and depth of their musical creations.

When analyzing a piece of music, identifying pre-dominant chords can provide insights into the harmonic structure and progression. Pay attention to chords that create tension and lead to a dominant or tonic chord. Common pre-dominant chords include the subdominant chord (built on the fourth degree of the scale) and secondary dominants (chords borrowed from other keys).

Understanding the harmonic function of pre-dominant chords is essential in their application. Pre-dominant chords act as intermediaries between the tonic and dominant chords, establishing tension and anticipation. They serve to create motion and drive within a composition, propelling the listener towards the resolution provided by the dominant chord.

In application, pre-dominant chords can be used in various ways to enhance the musical composition. They can be used as standalone chords or as part of chord progressions. For example, a common progression is the “ii-V-I” progression, where the pre-dominant chord (ii) leads to the dominant chord (V) and then resolves to the tonic chord (I). This progression is prevalent in jazz and popular music and creates a satisfying sense of resolution.

Secondary dominants are another valuable application of pre-dominant chords. These chords are borrowed from other keys and used to create tension and lead to a particular chord in the composition. For instance, in the key of C major, a secondary dominant of the dominant chord would be an A7 chord leading to the D major chord.

Pre-dominant chords can also be used to create contrasting harmonic colors and tonalities within a composition. By borrowing chords from the parallel minor or major key, composers can introduce unexpected harmonic colors and add depth to their compositions. This technique is known as modal mixture or modal interchange.

Furthermore, the analysis and application of pre-dominant chords allow composers to experiment with chord extensions and alterations. Adding sevenths, ninths, or other chord extensions to pre-dominant chords can create additional tension and complexity. Altering certain notes within the chords can introduce dissonance and further enhance the sense of anticipation before resolution.

Ultimately, the analysis and application of pre-dominant chords provide composers with a versatile toolkit for creating tension, harmony, and musical progression. By understanding their function and relationship to other chords, composers can construct compelling and well-structured compositions that captivate listeners and evoke a range of emotions.


Examples and Case Studies of Pre-Dominant Music Theory in Practice

Examining real-world examples can provide concrete illustrations of how pre-dominant music theory is applied in practice. Let’s explore some well-known compositions and case studies that highlight the use of pre-dominant chords and progressions:

Example 1: Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor

In the first movement of this iconic symphony, Mozart employs a prominent pre-dominant chord progression. The use of the subdominant chord (C major) in combination with the dominant chord (D major) creates tension and sets up the resolution back to the tonic (G minor). This progression is heard throughout the movement, establishing a sense of harmonic depth and driving the emotional intensity of the piece.

Example 2: The Beatles’ “Let It Be”

In this beloved classic, the use of pre-dominant chords can be observed in the bridge section. The progression moves from the subdominant chord (F major) to the dominant chord (G major) before resolving back to the tonic chord (C major). This progression adds a sense of anticipation and contrasts with the overall gentleness of the song, creating a compelling musical moment.

Case Study: Jazz Standards

In the world of jazz, pre-dominant chords play a crucial role in the harmonic language. Take, for example, the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves.” The familiar progression of ii-V-I (Dm7-G7-Cmaj7) showcases the pre-dominant (ii) leading to the dominant (V), which then resolves to the tonic (I). This chord progression is a staple in jazz improvisation and provides ample opportunities for musicians to create tension and showcase their harmonic expertise.

Case Study: Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”

In this impressionistic piano piece, Debussy demonstrates the subtle application of pre-dominant chords. The subdominant chord (F#7) appears before the dominant (B7) and provides a momentary tension before the serene resolution back to the tonic chord (E major). This use of pre-dominant chords creates a sense of musical journey and heightens the emotional impact of the piece.

These examples and case studies demonstrate the versatility and significance of pre-dominant music theory in practical application. Whether in classical symphonies, pop ballads, jazz standards, or impressionistic compositions, pre-dominant chords and progressions shape the harmonic landscape, create tension and anticipation, and enrich the overall musical experience.


Common Misconceptions and Pitfalls in Understanding Pre-Dominant Music Theory

While pre-dominant music theory is a fundamental aspect of composition, there are common misconceptions and pitfalls that can hinder a clear understanding of its concepts. Let’s explore some of these misconceptions and pitfalls:

Misconception 1: Pre-dominant chords are only found in classical music.

One common misconception is that pre-dominant chords are exclusive to classical music. In reality, pre-dominant chords can be found in a wide range of musical genres, including jazz, pop, rock, and beyond. Understanding this broad application allows for greater creativity and exploration in musical composition.

Misconception 2: The only pre-dominant chord is the subdominant.

While the subdominant chord is a commonly used pre-dominant chord, it is not the only option. Secondary dominants, borrowed chords, and chromatic mediants can all serve as pre-dominants. Neglecting these other possibilities limits the harmonic palette and stifles creative possibilities in composition.

Pitfall 1: Overusing pre-dominant chords can lead to predictability.

Using pre-dominant chords excessively can result in a predictable harmonic structure. While pre-dominant chords are vital for creating tension and anticipation, it’s crucial to balance their usage with other harmonic elements. Varying the progressions and exploring different chord qualities can maintain interest and ensure a dynamic musical experience.

Pitfall 2: Failing to properly resolve pre-dominant chords.

One common pitfall is neglecting to resolve pre-dominant chords effectively. Pre-dominant chords are intended to lead to a dominant or tonic resolution, and it’s essential to follow through with this resolution to provide a satisfying musical experience. Leaving a pre-dominant chord unresolved can leave listeners feeling unsatisfied and disrupt the harmonic structure.

Pitfall 3: Ignoring the emotional impact of pre-dominant chords.

While pre-dominant chords have a functional role in harmonic progression, it’s important not to overlook their emotional impact. Each pre-dominant chord and progression can evoke different feelings and moods. Failing to consider the emotional context of pre-dominant chords can result in an emotionally disconnected composition.

Misconception 3: Pre-dominant chords are rigid and must follow strict rules.

Another misconception is that pre-dominant chords must adhere to strict rules and conventions. While there are certain guidelines to follow, pre-dominant chords provide ample room for experimentation and creativity. Composers should feel empowered to explore different chord voicings, extensions, and alterations to create unique and innovative harmonic progressions.

By being aware of these misconceptions and pitfalls, composers can navigate pre-dominant music theory with a clearer understanding and take advantage of its rich possibilities in composition. Embracing the versatility of pre-dominant chords and avoiding these pitfalls allows for greater musical expression and the creation of compelling and captivating compositions.


Future Perspectives and Developments in Pre-Dominant Music Theory

The field of pre-dominant music theory continues to evolve, offering exciting perspectives and future developments. As composers and musicians explore new genres, push the boundaries of tonality, and embrace innovative approaches to composition, there are several areas that hold promise for the development of pre-dominant music theory.

Exploration of Non-Western Music Traditions: One intriguing avenue for future development is the incorporation of pre-dominant concepts from non-Western music traditions. Traditional music from cultures around the world often employs unique forms of harmonic tension and resolution that differ from Western tonal practices. By studying and integrating these concepts, pre-dominant music theory can expand and embrace a broader range of musical expression.

Integration of Technology: With advancements in technology, composers now have access to a vast array of digital tools and software. These tools can aid in the analysis, composition, and exploration of pre-dominant music theory. Developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning may even lead to new insights and discoveries in the field of music theory, including pre-dominant techniques and applications.

Interdisciplinary Approaches: The field of music theory can benefit greatly from interdisciplinary collaborations. By incorporating concepts and methodologies from fields such as psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the cognitive and emotional aspects of pre-dominant music theory. This interdisciplinary approach may lead to new discoveries about how pre-dominant chords and progressions impact listeners’ perceptions and experiences.

Expansion of Harmonic Vocabulary: As music evolves, so does its harmonic vocabulary. Composers continue to experiment with new chord progressions, unconventional harmonies, and innovative pre-dominant techniques. The future of pre-dominant music theory may see the incorporation of new chord structures, alternative tuning systems, and expanded harmonic possibilities, resulting in a diverse range of musical expressions.

Incorporation of Improvisation and Spontaneity: Pre-dominant music theory is not limited to written compositions but also plays a significant role in improvisation. Future developments may focus on understanding and analyzing the application of pre-dominant concepts in spontaneous musical contexts. Exploring improvisatory approaches to pre-dominant chords and progressions can lead to new insights into the creative and expressive potential of these harmonic elements.

These future perspectives and developments in pre-dominant music theory open up exciting possibilities for composers, performers, and theorists. By embracing diverse musical traditions, leveraging technology, fostering interdisciplinary collaborations, expanding harmonic vocabulary, and exploring improvisation, pre-dominant music theory will continue to evolve, enriching the musical landscape and inspiring future generations of musicians.



Pre-dominant music theory is a captivating and essential aspect of musical composition. By understanding its definition, historical background, characteristics, and components, composers and musicians gain valuable insights into crafting harmonically rich and engaging music.

Throughout this article, we explored the importance and function of pre-dominant music theory in composition, highlighting its role in establishing tension, creating anticipation, and guiding harmonic progression. We examined examples and case studies that showcased the practical application of pre-dominant chords, from classical symphonies to jazz standards and popular songs.

We also debunked common misconceptions and pitfalls surrounding pre-dominant music theory, emphasizing the need for balance, emotional consideration, and experimentation when incorporating pre-dominant chords in compositions.

Looking towards the future, we anticipate exciting developments in pre-dominant music theory. Explorations of non-Western music traditions, advancements in technology, interdisciplinary collaborations, expansion of harmonic vocabulary, and the integration of improvisation and spontaneity all contribute to the evolving landscape of pre-dominant music theory.

As musicians and composers continue to push boundaries, embrace innovation, and draw inspiration from diverse sources, pre-dominant music theory will remain a powerful tool for creating tension, anticipation, and expressive musical journeys.

In conclusion, pre-dominant music theory is a dynamic and vital aspect of music composition. By understanding its principles, analyzing its application in practice, and embracing future perspectives and developments, composers can unlock new creative possibilities and captivate audiences with their harmonic mastery.

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