• Three Chord Qualities Every Pianist Needs To Take Seriously

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    What are the three chord qualities every pianist needs to take seriously?

    As musicians, we come across chords all the time – major, minor, diminished, and augmented chords as well. In today’s lesson, we’ll be highlighting three chord qualities you need to take seriously and you’ll also learn why they are important.

    To get you started in this study is an overview on what the term chord quality means.

    “What Is ‘Chord Quality’ All About?”

    There are so many definitions of the term “chord” out there, however according to Jermaine Griggs, “A chord is a collection of related notes [pleasant or unpleasant] that are played or heard at the same time.”

    To the layman, a chord can either sound pleasant or unpleasant. But to the music and musicians, there are certain properties that chords have beyond sounding pleasant or unpleasant.

    One of the properties that distinguishes one chord from another chord is quality. Although the quality of a chord depends on several factors, here are two notable ones…

    • The intervals it contains (aka – “intervallic constituents”)
    • The interval between its first and third tones

    Let’s look at these two factors.

    Factor #1 – Intervallic Constituents

    There are five classes of intervals – perfect, major, minor, augmented, and diminished intervals. The class of intervals a chord is made up of (aka – “intervallic constituents”) determines the overall quality of a chord.

    Example #1 – “Take a look at the C major triad…”

    The C major triad:

    …has the following intervallic constituents…

    C and E:

    …a major third interval.

    C and G:

    …a perfect fifth interval.

    The quality of the C major triad is major because of the major third interval (which is its intervallic constituent.)

    Attention: Don’t let the perfect fifth interval bother you. In terms of chord quality determination, only four classes of intervals are used as benchmarks and they are major, minor, augmented, and diminished.

    Example #2 – “The C minor triad…”

    The C minor triad:

    …has the following intervallic constituents…

    C and Eb:

    …a minor third interval.

    C and G:

    …a perfect fifth interval.

    The quality of the C minor triad is minor because of the minor third interval (which is its intervallic constituent.)

    Example #3 – “The C augmented triad…”

    The C augmented triad:

    …has the following intervallic constituents…

    C and E:

    …a major third interval.

    C and G#:

    …an augmented fifth interval.

    The quality of the C augmented triad is augmented because of the augmented fifth interval (which is its intervallic constituent.)

    Example #4 – “The C diminished triad…”

    The C diminished triad:

    …has the following intervallic constituents…

    C and Eb:

    …a minor third interval.

    C and Gb:

    …a diminished fifth interval.

    The quality of the C diminished triad is diminished because of the diminished fifth interval (which is its intervallic constituent.)

    Factor #2 – The Interval Between Its First And Third Tones

    The quality of a chord can also be determined by the interval between its first and third tones.

    In the C major triad:

    …for example, the interval between the first and the third tones (C and E):

    …is a major third interval and that’s why the C major triad is considered a major triad.

    However, there are occasions where you’ll need to go beyond the third [to other tones] to determine the quality of a chord.

    “Here’s one of those occasions…”

    If you’re given C-E-G#:

    You shouldn’t Conclude that C-E-G# is a major triad simply because the interval between C and E:

    …is a major third. The chord given (C-E-G#):

    …has an augmented fifth, consequently, it’s an augmented chord.

    Although the quality of a chord can be determined by the interval between the root and the third, however, it’s advisable to always look beyond the root and third, to the fifth and seventh.

    In a nutshell, chord qualities are described using the following terms:

    • Major
    • Minor
    • Diminished
    • Augmented
    • Dominant

    Take note that the term dominant is used to describe chords that are formed on the fifth degree of the key (whether major or minor.)

    Three Chord Qualities You Should Pay Attention To And Why

    In the classification of chords according to quality, there are major chords, minor chords, diminished chords, augmented chords, and dominant chords. However, there are three chord qualities that are an everyday option for you and I.

    Here they are…

    Major chords

    Minor chords

    Dominant chords

    Submission: I’m not saying all chord qualities are not important; far from that. All chord qualities have their place in music, however, we singled out these three because of a variety of reasons. But in this lesson, I’ll be giving you just two reasons why you need to pay attention to these three chord qualities.

    Reason #1 – Tonality

    One of the reasons why these three chord qualities are important is because of tonality. In the concept of tonality, the idea is to make a particular tone a key (aka – “tonal center”.) The note C:

    …becomes a key if made a tonal center. Due to the fact that there are two types of tonality (aka – “key”), the note C:

    ….can either be a major or a minor key.

    For a tonality to be established or contradicted, it requires the harmonic force of the fifth degree (aka – “dominant”) of the scale. In the key of C major:

    …and C minor:

    …the fifth degree (aka – “dominant”) is G:

    …and is the harmonic force that establishes the keys of C major and C minor.

    At this point, let me highlight the three most important terms in the concept of tonality – major, minor, and dominant. The terms major and minor are the two types of tonality, while the dominant is the harmonic force that establishes them.

    “Here’s the relationship between these three terms and our subject”

    The chord of the first degree (aka – “tonic chord“) in the major key is a major chord, while the tonic chord in the minor key is a minor chord. There are no diminished and augmented keys right? Therefore, major and minor chords function as the tonic chords of the major and minor keys.

    Dominant chords due to their function as the harmonic force that can establish or contradict tonality, can be used as passing chords to major and minor chords.

    In a nutshell, major, minor, and dominant chords are in direct relationship with the concept of tonality and any pianist who is serious must learn them.

    Reason #2 – Chord Progression

    The movement of chords from one degree of the scale to another is called a chord progression. In classical music and jazz music, the strongest chord progression is in fifths.

    Remember that the harmonic force that establishes tonality is the fifth degree.

    Due to the dominant’s affinity for the tonic, chord progressions are usually made in fifths. In the key of C major:

    …where the dominant is G:

    …the strongest option of what comes before G is D:

    This is because D lies a fifth above G:

    Altogether, from D:

    …to G:

    …to C:

    …produces the 2-5-1 chord progression – one of the most important chord progression in jazz and popular music styles.

    In the key of C major:

    …here are the chords of the 2-5-1 chord progression…

    Chord 2:

    …the D minor seventh chord.

    Chord 5:

    …the G dominant seventh chord.

    Chord 1:

    …the C major seventh chord.

    There are three chord qualities in the 2-5-1 chord progression to the major key, the major, minor, and dominant chord qualities and this makes them important once again.

    Final Words

    Although this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn other chord qualities, but the major, minor, and dominant chords are three important chord qualities that every pianist should be serious about learning.

    Major and minor chords are common chords because they are the primary chords in the major and minor keys. If you don’t mind, kindly check this lesson on Keyboard Harmony 101: The Fundamental Precepts Of Harmony, where we covered the importance and application of primary chords in the major key.

    If you desire to learn more about major, minor, and dominant chord qualities, join our free 16 week chord revival program.

    Thanks for your time and see you in another 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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    { 10 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 David Aldolf

    Thanks a lot for the lessons

    Reply

    2 Obinna P. Nnadi

    All I can say here is; all I have ever learned, known musically and otherwise, is GOD using Jermaine Griggs and hearandplay.com alone and I mean just Alone.

    Thank You JG my great Mentor!

    Reply

    3 Aisha

    Thanks for a great lesson! It might be a little hard for a beginner but anyone with a little bit of theory should get it. Well keep on keepin’on!

    Reply

    4 Sheila Mukarye

    Hi thanks for the help. I have a question though, why do you mostly refer to the 2-5-1 progression in the sevenths when u give an example? Is it mandatory to play it in sevenths or I can do triads. Why the sevenths? Thanks.

    Reply

    5 Kim Beers

    You are a dedicated teacher and you have inspired me not to give up learning how to play music by ear (I am a classical pianist.) Thank you, Jermaine.

    Reply

    6 David

    This team is diong great stuff ! I truly ,truly appreciate , pls don’t relent at all in ensuring that u keep up with the business impacting lives with piano lessons , personal i’m trilled.

    Reply

    7 Chuku Onyemachi

    Indeed David! Special thanks to Jermaine Griggs, the president and founder of HearandPlay Music Group

    Reply

    8 Fashio

    this learson has ben a great surcces to me, generally hearandplay.com thanks a lot to JG.

    Reply

    9 Cornelia S Mathis

    The lesson was good for me I enjoyed and I learn something .

    Reply

    10 Andre

    It is this type of lesson that should be thought first along with scales. I believe this would help all musicians that really wants to learn would understand how cords work. Thanks for the lesson.

    Reply

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