AskDefine | Define subdominant

Dictionary Definition

subdominant n : (music) the fourth note of the diatonic scale

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The fourth tone of a scale.
  2. The triad built on the subdominant tone.

Extensive Definition

In music, the subdominant is the technical name for the fourth tonal degree of the diatonic scale. It is so called because it is the same distance "below" the tonic as the dominant is above the tonic - in other words, the tonic is the dominant of the subdominant. It is also the note immediately "below" the dominant In the C major scale (white keys on a piano, starting on C), the subdominant is the note F; and the subdominant chord uses the notes F, A, and C. In music theory, the subdominant chord is symbolized by the Roman numeral IV if it is within the major mode (because it is a major triad, for example F-A-C in C major) or iv if it is within the minor mode (because it is a minor triad, for example F-Amusic b-C in C minor).
A cadential subdominant chord followed by a tonic chord (the chord of the key of the piece) produces the so-called "plagal" (or "Amen") cadence.
"Subdominant" also refers to a relationship of musical keys. For example, relative to the key of C major, the key of F major is the subdominant. Music which modulates (changes key) often modulates into the subdominant when the leading tone is lowered by half step to the subtonic (B to Bmusic b in the key of C). Modulation into the subdominant key often creates a sense of musical relaxation; as opposed to modulation into dominant (fifth note of the scale), which increases tension.
In sonata form, the subdominant key plays a subordinate though still crucial role: typically, in the recapitulation, there is a section written in the subdominant key, occurring at the point corresponding to the location in the exposition where the music modulated into the dominant key. The use of the subdominant in this location often serves as a way of keeping the rest of recapitulation in the tonic.
The subdominant diatonic function acts as a dominant preparation and in theories after Hugo Riemann is considered to balance the dominant around the tonic.
subdominant in Catalan: Subdominant
subdominant in Czech: Subdominanta
subdominant in Danish: Subdominant
subdominant in German: Subdominante
subdominant in Spanish: Subdominante
subdominant in Estonian: Subdominant
subdominant in French: Sous-dominante
subdominant in Italian: Sottodominante
subdominant in Hebrew: סובדומיננטה
subdominant in Dutch: Subdominant
subdominant in Norwegian: Submediant
subdominant in Polish: Subdominanta
subdominant in Russian: Субдоминанта
subdominant in Finnish: Subdominantti
subdominant in Swedish: Subdominant
subdominant in Turkish: Subdominant
subdominant in Ukrainian: Субдомінанта
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