• Here’s How Chords Are Classified According To The Good, The Bad, And Ugly

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    If you want to learn how chords are classified according to the good, the bad and the ugly, then this lesson is for you.

    From a scholarly perspective, there’s no good or bad chord. There are several adjectives that are used to qualify chords – like major, minor, dominant, diminished, augmented and so on.

    “Before We Proceed, Here’s What Inspired The Title Of This Lesson…”

    I watched an interesting movie in the early 90s. Although I can’t really remember all that happened in the movie, I can still recall its title – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Therefore, I’ll be showing you how all the known chords can be classified according to the good, the bad and the ugly in this lesson.

    Let’s get started by doing a review on chords.

    “What Is A Chord?”

    There are so many ways to define a chord and there are various comprehensive definitions out there. These definitions vary from the simplest to the most advanced. However, according to Jermaine Griggs, “…a chord is a collection of three or more related notes (agreeable or not) that are played/heard together…”

    If we expound briefly on some of the keywords in this chord definition:

    • “…three or more…”
    • “…related notes…”
    • “…agreeable or not…”
    • “…together…”

    …we’ll have a clearer definition of a chord.

    “…three or more…”

    There are twelve musical notes:

    …and the process of music making involves the relationship between these tones. The relationship between notes that are heard at the same time is known as harmony.

    A chord is harmonic in nature because at least three notes are played or heard together. Therefore, the keyword three or more notes reveals the harmonic nature of chords.

    “…related notes…”

    Before a collection of notes can be considered as a chord, there must be a relationship between them. Usually, the relationship between the notes of a chord is based on a given scale and class of harmony. For example, the notes of the C major triad:

    …are related by the C major scale:

    …and tertian harmony.

    This explains why the distance between C and E:

    …or E and G:

    …is a third interval.

    “…agreeable or not…”

    When a chord is played, the combination of notes can either sound pleasant or unpleasant. Chords that sound pleasant are said to be consonant while chords that are unpleasant are said to be dissonant.

    “…together…”

    This is arguably the most important keyword in the definition of a chord. The old English word accord, which means together, is the root word for the term chord.

    Although (the notes of) a chord can be broken up into arpeggios and broken chords, it is important to note that a chord is a product of the relationship between related notes that are heard together and that’s why it’s suitable for harmonic purposes like harmonization and accompaniment.

    “Alright…”

    Now that we’re done with what a chord is, let’s look at how they can be classified according to the good, the bad and the ugly.

    “The Good…”

    The triad (a three note chord) belongs to the class of good chords. A triad consists of a root, third and fifth tone and there are four known triad qualities – the major, minor, augmented and diminished triads.

    Triads are the most basic chords in harmony because the least number of notes a chord can have is three.

    Triads are considered to be good in this context because of their three-note texture. Texture [in music] refers to the layers of notes heard at once.

    Triads have a three-note aggregate  and that’s one of the reasons why they are considered to be good. Hence, it’s usually the most suitable chord class that beginners can start out with.

    The width of a triad encompasses a fifth when played in root position and a sixth when inverted. Consequently, it lies within the compass of even the smallest human hand.

    “Here Are Two More Reasons Why Triads Are Good…”

    Triads are not harmonically sophisticated: Unlike other classes of chords (like sevenths and ninths)  that are quite sophisticated, triads are simple.

    They are appreciated almost by musicians of all class and creed: Triads are used in a wide variety of music styles. Triads are generally accepted by classical and jazz musicians alike.

    “…The Bad…”

    Attention: According to the Urban Dictionary, the word ‘bad‘ does not necessarily mean a person, object, or thing is bad. It can also mean dope, good, or tight. As a result, I ask that you permit me to use the urban dictionary meaning of the word bad.

    If anyone is tired of playing good chords (triads) and is interested in a harmonic upgrade, one of the first steps to take is to graduate from triads to seventh chords.

    “Seventh Chords Are Bad For A Variety Of Reasons…”

    Seventh chords are harmonically ahead of triads: All seventh chords can be broken down into two exclusive triads. For example, the C major seventh chord:

    …can be broken down into two exclusive triads – the C major triad:

    …and the E minor triad:

    Seventh chords have a bigger width: Seventh chords are bigger than triads in width – encompassing seven degrees of its underlying scale.

    Seventh chords are thicker in texture: Seventh chords are bad because of their four-note texture, which is thicker than the three-note texture of triads.

    More harmonic sophistication comes with more harmonic responsibility. Although seventh chords can be inverted, the application of seventh chords requires the knowledge of a variety of voicing techniques.

    Voicing techniques like the A & B voicing, part-over-root voicing, skeleton voicing, and so on, are important tools that can help anyone explore the harmonic possibilities of seventh chords.

    “Treat As Important…”

    Although bad chords are dope and tight, they are not perfect for every harmonic situation. There are songs and situations where good chords can get the job done.

    There are various classes of seventh chords, which include (but isn’t limited to):

    “…And The Ugly”

    If you’re interested in learning those ugly-sounding, sophisticated and harmonically advanced chords that can turn heads, then you made the right stop!

    Beyond the realm of the good (triads) and the bad (seventh chords), lies the ugly – which are extended chords.

    Extended chords are chords that exceed the compass of an eighth (aka – “octave“.) Ninths, elevenths and thirteenth chords fall under this category.

    An extended chord can have all the tones of the scale – both the stable and the active – and a good example is the major thirteenth chord. The C major thirteenth chord:

    …has all the tones of the C major scale:

    Extended chords are the most harmonically sophisticated chords and can be broken down to 4 to 6 triads or 2 to 4 seventh chords.

    Final Words

    Now you know the good, the bad and the ugly chords are triads, sevenths and extended chords respectively.

    I’m aware that we didn’t talk about sixth chords and other classes of chords. However, the goal of this lesson is to underscore the classification of triads, sevenths and extended chords.

    I’ll see you in another lesson.

    P.S.

    Kindly remember that the words good, bad and ugly should not be taken in the literal way.

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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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