Triads Are The Simplest Chords

Welcome to Music Theory Fourth Floor Page Two 

Triads have three pitches. Like a tricycle has three wheels and a tripod has three legs. It just means three notes. Anything less than three notes is really just a harmony. Chords are often implied with two notes of (different pitch) but a true chord harmony will be in the "triadic" form. 

The Triadic Structure

The easiest way to think of this is simply as every other letter of the alphabet (Ring a bell?).  Whatever letter you choose from our seven-letter system (A B C D E F G) as the lowest pitch or “root note” you then add the third note away above that root and then the fifth note away above that root. For example if we choose A as the lowest pitch as our root note, then C would be a third away going up in pitch away from the A and E would be a fifth away when going up in pitch away from the A. Quite often in speech the root is referred to as the “one”. Spoken as “one, three, five” as well as “root, third, fifth”.  This can often be seen written as R 3 5. We’ve seen this type of representation before in the Major Scale Video Part One at 2min20 seconds in on the Music Theory Second Floor page

The Four Qualities

There are four types of sound "qualities" that we can get with our triadic root third fifth structure. We name them as Major, Minor, Diminished and Augmented. (also see Music Theory Rules of Behaviour Third Floor Page Two)


R  is the Root (also called the Tonic or One)

3   is the Third (also called Major Third)

b3 is the Flat Third (also called Minor Third )

5   is the Fifth (also called Perfect Fifth)

b5 is the Flat Fifth (also called Diminished Fifth)

#5 is the Sharp Fifth (also called the Augmented Fifth)

The Major          Sound    is    R    3     5    of a Major Scale

The Minor          Sound    is    R   b3    5     of a Major Scale

The Diminished Sound    is    R    b3   b5   of a Major Scale

The Augmented Sound   is     R   3    #5    of a Major Scale

Notice the chords in the above notation image. Even if you don’t understand notation yet you can still see the connection in the pattern. The bottom note is the root. The next note above it, “the third” skips over the next available position in the space in between the lines and takes the third place above on the next available line. Above that is the highest note “the fifth” so called because if you count the positions of lines and spaces on the stave it is five notes/places away from our lowest note, “the root”.

Here is the same idea represented below with columns more like the notational version. The natural  sign next to the third of the augmented chord is to show that it is no longer flat and has been restored to a natural  note. This is a type of "courtesy accidental". 

        Major                        Minor                Diminished         Augmented

             5                            5                          ♭5                         #5

             3                           ♭3                          ♭3                        ♮3

             R                             R                           R                          R


It is also interesting to note that just like in any spoken language we also encounter dialect differences in musical language. You may have noticed above that I mentioned you may hear people refer to the "one three five" of a scale as opposed to the "root third and fifth". Don't let this language variation confuse you. You may do it all the time without realising when you speak. You might say: "how's to going" = "how're you doing" = "how are you". Or even more accurately "eight fifteen" or "quarter past eight" for the time "20:15"  or "8:15pm". Who cares? if we all have they same vocabulary of the language used for labelling patterns then we can understand and communicate with each other! So, "diminished" triad or "minor flat five" triad ...nobody cares! :-)

Prepare Yourself

To get the most out of all this music theory stuff you have to have a way of applying it. Go back to this exercise regularly to prepare for the punchline that is coming ! 

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