• A Lesson On The Diminished And Augmented Triads

    in Beginners,Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Theory

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    In this lesson, we’re focusing on the diminished and augmented triads.

    If you’re interested in learning the definition, formation, and other properties of the diminished and augmented triads, then you’ve arrived at the right page.

    A vast majority of pianists at the beginners level tend to shy away from diminished and augmented triads for a variety of reasons – the most common being that they sound harsh and unpleasant. Hence, there’s a constant request from students here on this blog for a lesson on diminished and augmented triads.

    In this introductory lesson, we’re taking the first step by exposing you to the ins and outs of these triads.

    The Diminished Triad

    The diminished triad is the chord of the seventh degree in the major and minor key.

    In the key of C major:

    …the scale degree triad of the seventh degree (which is B):

    …is the B diminished triad:

    In the key of C minor (using the C harmonic minor scale):

    …the scale degree triad of the seventh degree (which is also B):

    …is the B diminished triad:

    Due to the fact that the technical name of the seventh degree of the scale is the leading note, the diminished triad (which is the chord of the seventh degree) can be referred to as the leading note chord.

    In a nutshell, the diminished triad is the chord of the seventh degree (aka – “the leading note chord”.)

    The Formation Of The Diminished Triad

    Understanding the intervals that make up a diminished triad (aka – “its intervallic components”) can help in the formation of the diminished seventh chord. The B diminished triad:

    …can be broken down into the following intervals…

    B-D:

    …a minor third interval.

    B-F:

    …a diminished fifth interval.

    The diminished triad can be broken down into two intervallic components – the minor third interval, and the diminished fifth interval. Consequently, it can also be formed by the relationship between these intervals.

    For example, a diminished triad can be formed on E:

    …by determining the tones that are a minor third and a diminished fifth above E.

    A minor third above E is G:

    …while a diminished fifth above E is Bb:

    Altogether, we have E-G-Bb:

    …the E diminished triad (which is a product of E-G:

    …and E-Bb):

    Following the same procedures, the diminished seventh chord can be formed in all the twelve notes.

    C diminished triad:

    C# diminished triad:

    D diminished triad:

    D# diminished triad:

    E diminished triad:

    F diminished triad:

    F# diminished triad:

    G diminished triad:

    G# diminished triad:

    A diminished triad:

    A# diminished triad:

    B diminished triad:

    The Symmetry Of The Diminished Triad

    The diminished chord is made of up two similar parts. As a result, it is said to be symmetrical. The B diminished triad:

    …has two similar parts – B-D:

    …and D-F:

    …and each of the parts is a minor third interval.

    Every known diminished triad can be broken down into two minor third parts.

    The Instability Of The Diminished Triad

    In our breakdown of the diminished triad, we discovered its intervallic components – the minor third and the diminished fifth interval.

    The diminished fifth interval (which is an intervallic component of the diminished triad) is also known as the tritone and is arguably the most unpleasant interval. Therefore, it was labelled the devil in music several centuries ago.

    The diminished triad derives its instability from the diminished fifth interval (aka – “tritone”) and this explains why the diminished triad has the tendency to move to other triads (like the major and minor triads) when played.

    We can therefore say that the diminished triad (just like every other chord that contains the tritone) is a tritonic chord, and is an unstable chord quality. Consequently, diminished triads are good as passing chords to stable chords.

    Resolution

    The diminished triad is a leading note chord, and the leading note is the seventh degree of the scale.

    In the key of C:

    …the leading note (which is B):

    …has affinity for the first degree of the scale (which is C):

    The same thing is obtainable in the resolution of the leading note chord. The B diminished triad:

    …which is the chord of the seventh degree either in the key of C major:

    …or C minor:

    …resolves to the chord of the first degree – which is either the C major triad:

    …or the C minor triad:

    “In A Nutshell…”

    Due to the fact that the leading note is a half step below the first degree of the scale (for example, the case of B:

    …that is a half step below C):

    …leading note chords usually resolve by moving up a half step.

    “Here Are Some Random Examples…”

    The D diminished triad:

    …resolves by rising up by a half step to the Eb major triad:

    …or Eb minor triad:

    The F# diminished triad:

    …resolves by rising up by a half step to the G major triad:

    …or G minor triad:

    The A# diminished triad:

    …resolves by rising up by a half step to the B major triad:

    …or B minor triad:

    The Augmented Triad

    The augmented triad is the chord of the third degree in the melodic minor scale.

    I’m aware that a vast majority of musicians are not really acquainted with the melodic minor scale. Consequently, it is usually challenging to cite examples from the melodic minor scale. That notwithstanding, we’ll give it a try.

    In the A melodic minor scale:

    …starting from the third degree of the scale (which is C):

    …we can form a triad thus:

    A third above C:

    …is E:

    …another third above C-E:

    …is G#:

    Altogether, we have C-E-G#:

    …the C augmented triad.

    The Formation Of The Augmented Triad

    Before we talk about the formation of the augmented triad, let’s break it down into its intervallic components. The C augmented triad:

    …can be broken down into the following intervals…

    C-E:

    …a major third interval.

    C-G#:

    …a augmented fifth interval.

    There are two intervallic components that make up the augmented triad – the major third interval and the augmented fifth interval. As a result, it can also be formed by the relationship between these intervals.

    An augmented triad can be formed on A:

    …by determining the tones that are a major third and an augmented fifth above A.

    A major third above A is C#:

    …while an augmented fifth above A is E#:

    Altogether, we have A-C#-E#:

    …the A augmented triad, which is a product of A-C#:

    …and A-E#:

    Using these two intervallic components, the augmented triad can be formed in all the twelve notes on the keyboard.

    C augmented triad:

    Db augmented triad:

    D augmented triad:

    Eb augmented triad:

    E augmented triad:

    F augmented triad:

    Gb augmented triad:

    G augmented triad:

    Ab augmented triad:

    A augmented triad:

    Bb augmented triad:

    Cb augmented triad:

    The Symmetry Of The Augmented Triad

    Just like the diminished triad, the augmented triad is symmetrical. For example, The C augmented triad:

    …has two similar parts – C-E:

    …and E-G#:

    …a major third interval each.

    Every known diminished triad can be broken down into two major third parts.

    The Instability Of Augmented Triads

    The augmented triad has the augmented fifth interval as its intervallic component, and studies have shown that all augmented and diminished triads sound harsh and unpleasant.

    Due to the fact that the augmented triad is made up of an augmented interval, it sounds unstable, and has the tendency to move to a stable interval when played.

    Playing the C major:

    …and C augmented triad:

    …successively shows how stable the former is and how unstable the latter is.

    Final Words

    The augmented and diminished chords are related in ways more than one – especially in terms of symmetry and instability. Due to the fact that both chords are unstable, they are not commonly used like major and minor triads.

    In another post, we’d continue our discussion with these two amazing triad qualities.

    Thank you for your time.

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 ZINO

    GREAT

    Reply

    2 Jaime

    Hi, Chuku:
    D diminished is D – F – Ab
    D# diminished is D# – F# – A,
    I guess…
    Jaime

    Reply

    3 Chuku Onyemachi

    Absolutely!

    Reply

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