Memorizing Dominant Chords for Beginners

C7 3rd fret guitar chordIf you have listened to any music, you have definitely heard dominant chords played.  They are very common in jazz music and other genres.

A dominant chord contains a number after it, such as “7” (example C7).  Identify the dominant chord by the following:  7, 7th, other numbers such as 9 or 13.  The “dom7” symbol is also used.

In essence it can be remembered as the chord that has just a number after it; no minor or major.  

Well ok, that’s all fine, but what’s this have to do with memorizing a couple of dominant chords?

Well, for a lot of people when first learning some new chords it helps them to know in general why and what the dominant chord is.  

The dominant chord has a flatted seventh.  That’s all there is to it.  A dominant chord construction consists of the 1, 3, 5 and b7 (flat 7) scale degrees.  So, in the C7 chord, the note B is flatted versus in a major C chord the B is natural.  The note “Bb” is the seventh note of the C dominant scale, hence the name dominant 7th.

Let’s get to it.

The Dominant Chord

C7 Chord

Play the above C7 on the eighth fret.  Hint: the b7th (flat 7) is the note Bb played by the second finger.  That’s the note that gives it the flavour.  (But, mute the other strings!)  This shell voicing is a great place to start.

Practice this one.  You can move this one around the fret board in the exact same shape.  Go back two frets and you have Bb7 and so on.  

Here is one for you on the third fret.  

C7 3rd fret guitar chord

Try this C9 (dominant) chord below.

Notice that the 7th is still present with the addition of the 9th added (the note D).

C9 , 3rd fret guitar chord

Below is a common way to play a 13th chord.

C13 guitar chord, 8th fret

Alter a dominant chord to get even more interesting sounds.  They are identified by a bracket after the chord, such as C7 (b9) showing that the 9th is flat, but save this for a later time once you are comfortable with a few of the basic dominant chords.  

There are several more ways to play dominant chords but start with memorizing just a few to get the sound under your fingers so to speak.  We’ll get to some tips on how to memorize chords and get them ingrained into your playing.

Coming to Grips with the Dominant

It’s one thing to see some chord diagrams and put your fingers around that chord on the guitar a couple of times but it is a totally different matter to really ingrain that chord sound and feel into your guitar vocabulary and play it without even thinking about it.

Here are a couple of tips to help get you there.

  1. First of all, be completely aware of what chord you are playing.  Keep it in your mind or look at the chord symbol on paper as you play it.  
  2. Move the chord up and down the neck if it is a movable shape, all the while saying what chord it is you are now playing.  After a while, take your hand off the fretboard between each move up or down the neck.
  3. One of my favorite ways to practice dominant chords is to cycle through all twelve keys in increments of fourths (check out the circle of fourths/fifths on my site or others).  This way you will not only be practicing your new chord but you will be learning its’ sound in all 12 keys.  It is way easier than it sounds.
  4. Next time you pick up your guitar, warm-up a bit and then see how your new chord feels and how long it takes to get your fingers around it, then improve on that.

A good practice regime is of great value when trying to memorize chords.  

There is a lot more information on dominant chords out there and on my site if you want to delve a little deeper into those sounds.


Thank you for reading this post.  I hope that you have learned a little bit about dominant chords and maybe how to ingrain chords in general into your hands and ears.

Playing guitar is a fantastic journey and there is always something new to learn or review.

Enjoy your journey!

About the Author

Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

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