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Triads and Chords

David Loberg Code, Western Michigan University

Chords are collections of 3 or more pitches sounding at the same time.  They are usually used to accompany a melody.  If the notes of a chord are played separately (one after another) it is called an arpeggio (or broken chord).   A triad is a special type of chord made of three notes: a root, third, and fifth.  You can form a basic triad from three consecutive lines or spaces on a staff (i.e., stacking 3 doughnuts or a triple scoop of ice cream).   Like intervals, triads come in different qualities (flavors).  A major triad is formed by taking the 1st, 3rd, and 5th scale degrees (Do, Mi, and So) of a major scale.  (That is why it is called a major triad.)

  • Spell a G major triad.
  • The G major scale is: G A B C D E F# G
  • G, B, D spells a G major triad.

A minor triad is formed by taking the 1st, 3rd, and 5th scale degrees of a minor scale (Do, May, and So).

  • Spell a C minor triad.
  • The C minor scale is: C D Eb F G Ab Bb C
  • C, Eb, G spells a C minor triad.

An augmented triad is like a major triad but with an augmented 5th.

A diminished triad is like a minor triad but with a diminished 5th.

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