Triads - The First Chords
(10 Aug 02)
As a prerequisite for this article I suggest that you have a good knowledge about intervals. It would be fatal to skip them because the theory of triads is based on relationships between notes and therefore a good understanding of intervals is essential. Refer to the article "Intervals or The Key to Harmonic Understanding" for detailed information.
If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or complaints post them in the forums. I hope that this article is helpful and that you have fun studying it.
Let's jump right into our topic:
Four Basic Triads
Triads are constructed by stacking 2 intervals of a third on top of each other. We know that there are two possibilities of thirds: minor and major. If we check out all combinations we end up with 4 possible types of triads. We can stack a major third followed by a minor third. This is known as a major triad. A minor third followed by a major third is called a minor triad. Two minor thirds is called a diminished triad and two major thirds is called an augmented triad.
Don't worry if this sounds like jibberish. We'll go into detail in just a sec. Here's an overview of the above combinations of thirds based on the note c.
Now, let's dig deeper and examine, disect and memorize the individual triads.
A major triad consists of a major third followed by a minor third. As an example lets build a C major triad. To the Root c we add the major third e, and from e we measure the distance of a minor third. We end up at the note g, which is also the perfect fifth of c. So the whole C major triad consists of the notes c, e, g or to translate it into our intervalic number system 1, M3, P5.
Lets repeat the same procedure with the D major triad. We already know its formula 1, M3 and P5. Now we just have to name the correct notes. Root = d; M3 = f# and P5 = a. D major triad consists of the notes d, f#, a.
The 12 Major Triads
The following table contains all practical major triads. Print out this chart (or make your own) and fill in the blank spots. You can find a completed version of the table at the end of this article in the section "Solution of Exercises", although you shouldn't have any problems with filling this out (If you do, review your intervals!!!)
I encourage you to learn all major triads by heart. Repeat them until you can spell each triad immediately. Think about them as new vocabulary you have to learn and repeat them before you turn out the lights when going to bed. (But be sure to be alone otherwise I wont accept responsibility for any broken relationships.)
It is important to understand that with knowing the above table, you can easily create any other major triad from any root not mentioned above. Say for example C# major triad. We very well know how to spell out the C major triad: c e g. Now the only thing we have to do is add sharps to all of the notes, ie c# e# g# and we get our C# major triad.
Another example: F# major triad. First we think about the triad without the #, ie F major triad is f a c. Now let's add the sharps. F# major triad is f# a# c#.
And another one: Cb major triad; C = c e g; Cb = cb eb gb;
And to really get that out of the way, here's a not so common double flat example:
Ebb major triad; Eb = eb g bb; Ebb = ebb gb bbb