Piano Passing Chords

How to Play Passing Chords on the Piano


Passing Chords

Passing chords are chords we use in between two other chords in a chord progression to create a smooth transition. We use passing chords to produce harmonic intrigue and to build a sense of motion in our arrangement. We can use dominant chords, secondary or substitutes, along with their relative minor as passing chords. We will cover the 12 Dominant Chords of the Tonality in this piano lesson.

The 12 Dominant Passing Chords​

We can turn any chord into a dominant chord. We can make any diatonic chord of the major scale a dominant chord.
C7 – D7 – E7 – F7 – G7 – A7 – B7

And we can also make any of the chromatic notes (black piano keys) a dominant chord.
Db7 – Eb7 – Gb7 – Ab7 – Bb7

That means we have 12 dominant chords, one for each note of the chromatic scale, that we can use as passing chords. All we need to do is to understand their function and their relationship to tonality.

The Main Dominant Chord of the Major Mode

IMaj7 – IIm7 – IIIm7 – IVMaj7 – V7 – VIm7 – VIIm7b5

The main dominant chord of the tonality forms over the 5th degree of the major scale, and it resolves to a 5th below its root. G7 resolves to IMaj7.

The Secondary Dominants

The secondary dominant chords or dominant relatives of the tonality are the ones that form over the diatonic notes of the major scale, except for the V degree G7 which is the 'main dominant of the tonality,' and the 4th degree F7 which is the 'subdominant of the blues.' Like the main dominant, the secondary dominants resolve to a 5th below their root. I7 (C7) (Root of the Blues).

I7 (C7) (Root of the Blues). Dominant Relative V7/IV

The I7 is the Tonic of the Blues which we use along with the IV7 and the V7. But also, the I7 is the secondary dominant of the 4th degree (V7/IV). In the key of C, that is C7. C7 resolves to FMaj7.

II7 (D7) Dominant Relative V7/V

The II7 is the secondary dominant of the 5th degree (V7/V). D7 resolves to G7.

​III7 (E7) Dominant Relative V7/VI

The III7 is the secondary dominant of the 6th degree (V7/VI). E7 resolves to Am.

VI7 (A7) Dominant Relative V7/II

The VI7 is the secondary dominant of the 2nd degree (V7/II). A7 resolves to Dm.

​VII7 (B7) Dominant Relative V7/III

The VII7 is the secondary dominant of the 3rd degree (V7/III). B7 resolves to Em.

The Dominant Substitutes

We can substitute any dominant chord with another dominant one tritone away from its root. For example, we can replace G7 with a Db7. Therefore Db7 is the dominant substitute of G7, Sub V7/I. The 'dominant substitutes' resolve a half-step down.

​bII7 (Db7) Dominant Substitute SubV7/I

The bII7 is the dominant substitute of the main dominant G7 and resolves to the root. Db7 'resolves' to C.

bIII7 (Eb7) Dominant Substitute SubV7/II

The bIII7 is the dominant substitute of the dominant A7 and resolves to the 2nd-degree Dm. Eb7 resolves to Dm..

bV7 (Gb7) Dominant Substitute SubV7/IV

The bV7 is the dominant substitute of the dominant C7 and resolves to the 4th-degree F. Gb7 resolves to FMaj7.

bVI7 (Ab7) Dominant Substitute SubV7/V

The bVI7 is the dominant substitute of the dominant D7 and resolves to the 5th-degree G7. Ab7 resolves to G7.

bVII7 (Bb7) Dominant Substitute SubV7/VI

The bVII7 is the subdominant minor, but we can also use it as the dominant substitute of the 6th-degree E7. Bb7 resolves to Am.