Chord Qualities - Triads

I think we can all agree that now more than ever we need to create harmony, so let’s talk harmony!

Harmony is 2 or more notes played at the same time.

Chords are 3 or more notes played at the same time.

The simplest chords, 3 note chords, are called Triads

There are 4 types of triads, 2 of which are the most common in modern music: The Major Triad & The Minor Triad.

With the exception of modern jazz-influenced music, the rest of music that we listen to from classical music, to country, to reggae, to rap, to blues, probably 95% of music we listen to is based on “tertial harmony” which is a fancy way of saying:

Chords are built by stacking 3rds

If you don’t know what a 3rd is, check out my thread on intervals.

There are 2 kinds of 3rds:

1.) Minor 3rds, made up of 3 half-steps

2.) Major 3rds, made up of 4 half-steps

To build a MINOR chord = Root + Minor 3rd + Major 3rd

The intervals of a MINOR TRIAD are: ROOT, MAJOR 3RD, PERFECT 5TH

To build a MAJOR chord = Root + Major 3rd + Minor 3rd

The intervals of a MAJOR TRIAD are: ROOT, MAJOR 3RD, PERFECT 5TH

So you see both triads share the perfect 5th, and all the color of the chord comes from the 3rd degree either being raised to the major (happy) sound or lowered to the minor (pensive, somber, sad) sound.

There are 2 other types of triads that are less common in most popular music, but very common in jazz, contemporary classical, and other improvisational forms.

They are called the diminished triad and the augmented triad, and I bet you can guess how they’re constructed…

Diminished = Root + Minor 3rd + Minor 3rd

The intervals of a DIMINISHED TRIAD are: ROOT, MINOR 3RD, DIMINISHED 5TH

Augmented = Root + Major 3rd + Major 3rd

The intervals of aN AUGMENTED TRIAD are: ROOT, MAJOR 3RD, AUGMENTED 5TH

Note: an Augmented 5th consists of 8 half-steps, which is the same as a Minor 6th. So the Augmented 5th and the Minor 6th are two different names for the same sound, depending on the harmonic function in context.

Here’s a reminder of all the intervals:

Unison: 0 half-steps
Minor 2nd: 1 half-step
Major 2nd: 2 half-steps
Minor 3rd: 3 half-steps
Major 3rd: 4 half-steps
Perfect 4th: 5 half-steps
Augmented 4th / Diminished 5th / Tritone: 6 half-steps
Perfect 5th: 7 half-steps
Augmented 5th / Minor 6th: 8 half-steps
Major 6th: 9 half-steps
Minor 7th: 10 half-steps
Major 7th: 11 half-steps
Perfect Octave: 12 half-steps

Diminished chords are used a lot in be-bop, Bossa Nova, gypsy jazz, and other improvisational genres, and they also are used for “spooky” sounds scores and classical music.

Augmented chords are also very unstable sounding harmonically, they are a good sound to use to create an unsettling feeling.

And that should be everything you ever wanted to know about triads and then some. LMK if you have any questions…

Aloha,
Luke

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