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Lesson #33: An Introduction to Chords: Triads

by Tyler de Witt posted on 1999-10-18
Topic: Theory Subtopic: General
Level: Beginner Number of Readers: 73795

An Introduction to Chords:Triads

A chord is two or more notes played at the same time. While scales are horizontal arrangements of notes...


-------> horizontal

... a chord is a vertical arrangement of notes.

G  ^ 
E  |
C  | vertical

Really, you could just choose any notes you wanted and played them together, and that would be a chord. But you'd have no clue about what kind of chord it was unless you knew some chord theory. If you read the lesson on scales, you'll know that scales are classified according to the interval structure. The same goes for chords. Consider this chord:


The interval between C and E is a major third. The interval between E and G is a minor third. This classifies it as a major chord. How do I know that? Because I've memorized the interval structure of the major chord. Remember, the interval structure of all major chords will always be the same: a major third between the first two notes, and a minor third between the second two notes. Since this chord begins with the note C, it is called the C major chord.

This is a special type of chord. It is called a triad. A triad consists of three notes, each separated by thirds. Remember, these thirds can be either major thirds or minor thirds. Triads are very important, because they form the basis for many other chords.

The degrees of a triad have names. The first note of a triad is called the 'root'. In the example above, the root is C. The second note is called the 'third'. It is still called a third, regardless of whether it is major or minor. In the example, E is the third. The last note is called the 'fifth'. It's called the fifth because it is a fifth above the root. In the example, G is the fifth.

Consider this one more time:


This is called the C major triad, because it's root is C, and it's interval structure is that of a major triad. If we wanted to build a major triad on a different note, all we would have to do is use the interval structure that we've been given, and our knowledge of intervals to successfully build the chord. Let's take A as the root:

A  x  x
 M3 m3

A major third about A is C#, and a minor third about C# is E, so we end up with this:

A C# E

It is also important to know the interval between the root and the fifth. In this case, the interval between A and E is a perfect fifth. This interval will be the same for all major triads.


There. I'm glad I could get that off my chest. It's very important to understand that.

For this introductory lesson, only the interval structure of the major triad has been given, but don't worry, there will be more in the lessons to come, and there are of course charts located on this site that will give you the interval structure of almost any chord imaginable.

Things to remember from this lesson:

1. A chord is two or more notes played at the same time.
2. Just like scales, chords are named according to the note they start on, and their interval structure.
3. A triad is a three note chord, each note being separated by an interval of a third(regardless of the quality of the third)
4. The names of the degrees of a triad are the root, the third and the fifth.
5. The interval structure of a major triad is M3, m3.
6. If the interval structure of a chord is known, that chord can be built on any of the twelve notes using the interval structure, and a knowledge of intervals. THE NOTE NAMES MAY CHANGE, BUT THE INTERVAL STRUCTURE WILL NOT.


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