• A Lesson On The Sophistication And Stability Of Triads, Seventh Chords, And Extended Chords

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

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    Triads, seventh chords, and extended chords and their sophistication and stability is our focus in this lesson.

    A lot of musicians want to know when to use triads and when to use other chords like sevenths, ninths, elevenths, and thirteenth chords and the key to understanding this is knowing the relationship between sophistication and stability.

    I guarantee that at the end of this lesson, you’ll know the right situation for each of these chords (be it a triad, seventh chord, or extended chord.)

    Alright! Let’s get into the first segment on sophistication.

    Sophistication — Explained

    Harmonically complex chords are generally considered to be sophisticated for a variety of reasons and I may not necessarily dedicate another lesson where we’ll cover “Why Complex Chords Are Considered To Be More Sophisticated.”

    Generally, the sophistication of a chord is determined by the number of notes it’s made up of and the number of intervals as well. So, the more the number of notes in a chord, the more sophisticated it becomes.

    Let’s take a closer look at the how sophisticated triads, seventh chords, and extended chords are.

    “How Sophisticated Are Triads?”

    Triads are three-toned chords and are the least sophisticated chords in music theory.

    Triads literally sound like a three-part choir where you have the Soprano, Alto, and Tenor voices and they are pretty basic when compared to seventh chords and extended chords.

    So, if you are looking for very basic chords to harmonize or accompany your songs with, I’ll recommend you stick to triads because they have all what you’re looking for in basic harmony.

    “Then What About Seventh Chords?”

    Seventh chords are four-toned chords and a classic example of a seventh chord is the G dominant seventh chord:

    …which is the 5-chord in the key of C major:

    Seventh chords are in-between triads and extended chords in terms of sophistication. So, if you’re looking for chords that are neither too basic nor too sophisticated, then I’ll recommend seventh chords.

    A lot of popular music styles use seventh chords because they are moderately sophisticated; unlike triads that are super basic and extended chords that are way too complicated.

    Extended Chords: The Most Sophisticated Chord Types

    Extended chords are the most sophisticated chords. I’m talking about ninth chords, eleventh chords, and thirteenth chords.

    Apart from ninth chords (that have five voices), it’s impossible to play other extended chords using one hand; except you’ve figured a way of playing six to seven voices using five fingers.

    Thirteenth chords are so sophisticated that they contain all the notes of the scale they’re derived from. For example, the thirteenth chord below:

    …consists of all the notes of the C major scale:

    So, if you really want to sound advanced and turn heads, then you really have to consider learning tons of extended chords and voicings.

    Quick Insights On The Stability Of Chords

    The stability of a chord talks about the pleasantness and completeness that comes with playing that particular chord.

    Stable chords sound pleasant and complete while active or tension chords sound incomplete and unpleasant and tend to move to more stable chords when played.

    We’ll be looking at the stability of triads, seventh chords, and extended chords in this segment and the goal is to open your eyes to another important attribute that most musicians play down on.

    I believe a musician should consider the stability of a chord before playing it and this is because music is dynamic and one may not always be in a position where stable chords are needed — there would also be situations where active chords are needed and vice-versa.

    “Stability Is Inversely Proportional To Sophistication…”

    As sophistication increases from triads to seventh chords, and extended chords (like ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths), stability decreases.

    Triads are the most stable chords because they are exclusively made up of stable tones. For example, in the key of C major:

    …the stable tones are the first, third, and fifth tones (which are C, E, and G):

    …and every other tone is active.

    So, using the C major scale (as a reference):

    …the C major triad consists of all the stable tones in the key.

    Adding the seventh tone (which is B):

    …to produce the C major seventh chord:

    would introduce an active tone and decrease the stability of the chord. This explains why the C major triad:

    …is more stable than the C major seventh chord:

    “Think About It…”

    Triads are made up of stable tones and whatever chord tones we’re adding to form seventh and extended chords are active tones and they decrease the stability of the chord.

    So, the most stable 1-chord to play is the C major triad:

    …adding B to form the C major seventh:

    …or B and D (which are active tones) to form the C major ninth chord:

    …etc., will end up giving us unstable chords.

    So, the more sophisticated a chord gets, the less stable it becomes and vice-versa.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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