• Exposed: The Identity, Tonality, And Stability Of A Triad

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    You arrived at this page because you’re interested in learning about the identity, tonality, and stability of a triad.

    Triads are commonly used in a wide spectrum of music styles. Irrespective of a musician’s orientation (whether popular or classical), style (gospel, jazz, rock, blues, etc.), skill level (beginner, learner, intermediate, advanced, etc.) he or she must have something to do with triads.

    Being aware of the importance of triads, we’ll be focusing on their identity, tonality, and stability.

    Attention: Please don’t let the terms confuse you. It’s simpler than it sounds.

    Let’s get started by quickly reviewing triads.

    A Short Note On Triads

    A triad is a collection of three or more related notes (agreeable or not) which are played or heard together. From the definition of a triad, a triad is basically a chord of three notes.

    However, it’s not just any collection of three notes that can be considered as a triad. Before a collection of three notes is considered as a triad, there must be a relationship between those notes.

    “Let’s Check Out The Two Levels Of Relationship Between The Notes Of A Triad…”

    The first relationship between the notes of a triad is the scale relationship, and the second relationship is the intervallic relationship.

    The notes of the C major triad (which is arguably the most popular triad):

    …are related to the C major scale:

    This explains why C:

    …E:

    …and G:

    ..are the first, third, and fifth of the C major scale.

    So, in the scale relationship between the notes of the C major triad:

    …C, E, and G are related to the C natural major scale:

    In terms of intervallic relationship, the distance between the successive notes of the C major triad:

    …is in third intervals. So, it is the intervallic relationship between the notes of the C major triad that explains why the distance between successive notes is in third intervals.

    From C to E:

    …is a third,

    From E to G:

    …is also a third.

    In a nutshell, a triad is basically a three note chord which consists of a root, third, and a fifth tone.

    The Identity Of A Triad – Explained

    The identity of a triad is its distinguishing factor. For example, all the triads below are major triads:

    C major triad:

    A major triad:

    F# major triad

    Db Major triad:

    However, these triads can be distinguished using their identity. The identity of the first triad (which is the C major triad):

    …is derived from its first tone (which is C):

    Therefore, given a collection of major triads, one can be able to identify any major triad and set it apart using its identity.

    When we say Db major triad, the identity of the specific major triad is attached to the name Db:

    …which is the first tone of the Db major triad:

    The First Tone Of The Triad

    The first tone of the triad gives the triad its identity. This identity is derived from the letter name of the first tone of the triad.

    The triad below:

    …has E:

    …as its first tone. Consequently, its an E triad:

    Attention: The identity of a triad can only be determined by the lowest tone of the chord (aka -“the root note”) when the chord is played in root position.

    A Short Note On The Tonality Of A Triad

    The term tonality is used to describe the character of a key and there are two tonality types:

    Major

    Minor

    Hence, there are major and minor keys, major and minor scales, major and minor intervals, etc.

    The character of a triad can either be major or minor and this is determined by the distance (aka – “interval”) between the first and third chord tones.

    Major triads. The tonality of a triad is described using the term major if the interval of the third tone from the first tone is a major third.

    Minor triads. The tonality of a triad is described using the term minor if the interval of the third tone from the first tone is a minor third.

    In a nutshell, here’s the concept of tonality:

    Major third = major triad

    Minor third = minor third

    The interval between the first and third tones of the triad below:

    …which are A and C#:

    …is a major third.

    Consequently, the A, C#, E triad:

    …is a major triad:

    If we put its identity (which is A) and tonality (which is major), we can describe the A, C#, E triad:

    …as an A major triad.

    The Third Tone Of The Triad

    The tonality of a triad — whether it’s major or minor — is determined by the interval formed between the first and third tones.

    Attention: Augmented and diminished triads are major and minor triads respectively.

    For example, tonality of the C augmented triad:

    …can be determined by the distance of its third tone (which is E) from the first tone (which is C). From E:

    …to C:

    …is a major third interval, consequently, the C augmented triad is a major triad.

    The Stability Of A Triad – Described

    When a triad is played, there are two possible outcomes — activity or stability.

    When a triad is played and it has a feeling of repose, such a triad is said to be stable, while triads that have the tendency to move to more stable triads are said to be active.

    The stability of a chord is determined by the interval between the fifth tone and the first tone.

    All stable triads have a perfect fifth interval between their first and fifth tones while active triads have either an augmented or a diminished fifth interval between their first and fifth tones.

    So, it’s easy to determine the stability of a triad. For example, D, F, A:

    …can either be a stable or an active triad and this depends on the interval between its first and fifth tones.

    Due to the fact that the interval from the fifth tone (which is A):

    …to the first tone (which is D):

    …is a perfect fifth, the D, F, A triad:

    …is a stable triad.

    Active Triad Types

    There are two types of active triads:

    Augmented triads

    Diminished triads

    Augmented triads. An interval of an augmented fifth between the fifth and first chord tone produces an augmented triad.

    Diminished triads. An interval of a diminished fifth between the fifth and first chord tone produces a diminished triad.

    The Fifth Tone Of The Triad

    The stability of a triad — whether stable or active — is determined by the interval formed between the first and fifth tones. For example, stability of the E, G, Bb triad:

    …can be determined by the distance of its fifth tone (which is Bb) from the first tone (which is E). From Bb:

    …to E:

    …is a diminished fifth interval, consequently, the E, G, Bb triad:

    …is a diminished triad.

    Final Words

    The key things to look out for in every triad are its identity, tonality, and stability. Every serious musician must understand these attributes and how they affect the overall composition and application of triads.

    See you in the next lesson.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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