No Such Thing as a Dominant Seventh

The term, ‘dominant-seventh’ (V7) is universally regarded as a chord identity, which is totally and egregiously false. It is a compound symbol containing two functional elements; ‘V’ denoting the 5th note of a scale, and ‘7’ denoting the presence of a 7th above the root. Nothing in this symbol points to a chord quality, or identity. The dominant, ‘V’ may be of any identity. In addition, there is no symbol for the dominant as a sound identity with characteristic intervals of a major 3rdand minor 7th.  It just isn’t there.  The only definition for ‘dominant’ is the ‘fifth note of a scale’.  There are no other definitions within a musical context. Look it up.

Since there are no other definitions for ‘dominant’ as a unique sound identity with no identifier, theorists resort to calling it a ‘dominant-seventh’ which is completely wrong.  Every note or chord is ‘five’ of the next number in the Circle.  For example, ‘V’ is five of ‘I’, ‘I’ is five of ‘IV’, etc. But these in no way are these ‘fives’ indicative of unique harmonic sound identity.

The lack of a second definition for ‘dominant’ and an identifying symbol has created an enigma of the entire subject of music theory.

Compound symbols such as ‘V7’ are functional symbols with an unfortunate effort to denote it as a chord identity. The lower case Roman numeral is another issue.  ‘ii’ is a functional symbol with an effort to denote it as a minor identity.  Upper case then would seem to indicate a major identity, but ‘V7’ is not major. ‘Dominant seventh’ is not indicative of a unique chord with characteristic intervals of a major 3rdand minor 7th.  ‘Dominant seventh’ is merely the fifth note of any scale, and may be of any identity.  There is no symbol for the dominant other than ‘M’ (major), or ‘m’ (minor). Where is the symbol for dominant, the unique chord identity?  It isn’t there.

The basic difficulty is the lack of definitions; concise, to-the-point, useable definitions.  These include the dominant as a function, and conversely as a unique identity. There must be definitions of ‘function’ and ‘identity’.  They aren’t there.  So, here they are…

  1. Function; position.  A note, or chord function is indicated with numbers; 1, 2, 3, etc. and I, II, III, etc. ‘C’ functions as the fifth note of the ‘F’ major scale, i.e. its position.
  2. Identity; the thing itself without reference to a function. Identity is indicated with letters or symbols; M, m, o, x.  ‘x’ is used by several theorists but without explanation or definition.
  3. Dominant; 1.the fifth note of any scale.  2. A unique sound identity with characteristic intervals of a major 3rd and a minor 7th, and with an identifying symbol, ‘x’.

Any analysis must keep symbols simple. Compound symbols confuse beyond comprehensibility and are not reliable.  In addition, functional indications should be on one line, and chord identities on another, each given the level of hierarchy.  They must not be combined into a compound symbol, but kept in their own area without an intrusion of another agent.

Ralph Carroll Hedges B.Ed., B.M., M.M.

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