Minor dominants

Typical pop and folk songs in the major mode use major chords for the tonic (T), subdominant (S), and dominant (D). Hence, Loui Loui: TTT-SS-DDD-SS-… etc. Minor chords are used for the relative minors. Nevertheless, some pop songs employ a minor dominant, with dramatic effects.

  • Someone’s gonna break your heart, by Fountains of Wayne. Dramatic T-mD-S riff. A-Em-D to be precise (I use bold type for actual notes). (Could be D2, actually.)
  • Looking for Lewis and Clark, by The Long Ryders. This a very mixolydian song, with a strong presence of the subtonic (ST). It goes T-ST-mD. In fact, A-G-Em. Perhaps this is all there is to it: a minor dominant contains the subtonic note (the G note  in this song).
  • Barstool Blues, by Neil Young. Actually, it sounds like T-mD-S when the voice comes in, but it is not, the actual tonic is “D”. In particular, the chords are A-Em-D twice, but then resolves to D, and it’s clear D is the tonic.
  • From Mr. Young: Cinnamon girl. This song also features a minor subdominant in its weird bridge. It is also a candidate for the upcoming list of great one-note solos.
  • The great 60s band The Remains in Why Do I Cry (btw, this video is live from just a month ago!  Good to see these fellas are still rocking.) This is a bit different: a song in the minor mode, with a mT-S-mD. It is the S which is major, and it sounds great. (Major D in a minor mode is really standard.)

This contrasts with the explanation I got some time ago about the necessity of having a strong dominant that should be major, even in minor songs, this leading to the harmonic minor scale (that contains a leading-tone instead of a subtonic).

See also: leading tone and subtonic tone in wikipedia. The leading tone is called “sensible” (sensitive) in Spanish.


Redundant chords

To play a powerful guitar chord one can choose to include as many notes as possible… or double the ones that are played. An example of the former would be (in tablature):

C: 3-3-2-0-1-0  (an unorthodox thumb may be used for the low G

An example of the later:

C: x-3-5-0-5-0 (x means muted)

Notice the “same” G and E is played twice!

(It’s never the same, you know. There’s a nice article about a letter from Richard Feynman partly about this fact. So Feynman knew string theory ha ha.)

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Substitute dominant – an explanation

This is a summary of what I understood about the substitute dominant from a conversation with my colleague Rafael Delgado Buscalioni, who is proficient in music theory. The idea is how to build “another” dominant chord. Say we have a regular, major C chord: C-E-G. The dominant is G major: G-B-D. A typical choice is to include the subdominant in the later, thus adding tension – this leads us to the dominant seventh, G7: G-B-D-F. (this is the way 7th chords entered Western music, it seems!).

By keeping the “tension” notes, we are led to the Secondary dominant, Db7: Db-F-Ab-B.

This is why:

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Band in a Box

The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall.” (Mitch Hedberg) Now, I could say similarly: no matter how good I play an instrument, there’s this computer program that does it better. Seriously, I don’t know what kind of AI they use in Band in a Box, but the program plays incredibly well, in a wild variety of styles.

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Modes of the diatonic scale

Just a reminder to myself of these nice names

(*) To Do: List of songs of Marquee Moon (album) with their tuning and scales.