• Exposed! How Triads Can Form Altered Chords

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    In the next 15 minutes or so, I’ll be showing you step-by-step, how to form altered chords using triads.

    Altered chords are extended dominant chords that are commonly used by intermediate and advanced players and they’re effective in harmony especially when resolving to minor chords.

    There are endless benefits of knowing altered chords and for this reason, I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to share with you one more easier way to form altered chords (which are bigger chords) using major and minor triads (which are smaller chords).

    Let’s get started with this lesson by taking a look at triads.

    “What Are Triads?”

    A triad is simply a chord of three notes. A chord is a collection of three or more related pitches. This means that in music, whatever is going to be called a chord must have at least three notes. Triads are chords of three notes meaning that triads are the least in the class of chords.

    There are bigger chords like sevenths, ninths and all the rest of them, but triads are the primitive chords – the basic chord structures. A triad can be formed by stacking three notes. However, in this lesson the distance between the triads that we are talking about is thirds.

    So even though you can stack notes in seconds, in the case of C D E:

    …in fourths, in the case of B G C:

    ….and even in fifths, in the case of C G D:

    …our interest in this lesson is on triads that the distance between successive tones are in thirds (aka – “tertian harmony”.)

    So we’ll be looking at triads in this lesson and we’ll be using major and minor triads. So in a moment, let’s take a look at major and minor triads.

    A major triad is a triad of a major quality. In music, the terms ‘major’ or ‘minor’ and sometimes ‘augmented’ and ‘diminished‘ are used to qualify ideas, be it scales, intervals, chords or chord progressions.

    The term major triad is used to quality a chord whose notes are related to the first, third and fifth tones of any given major scale. This means that if I play the the first, third and fifth tones of any given major scale in the keyboard, I will be forming the major triad.

    For example, in the key of C:

    …where there is C E and G:

    …are the first, third and fifth tones of the C major scale:

    …C E G:

    …is the C major triad.

    So using any other given major scale you can form the major triad by stacking the first, third and fifth tones.

    For your reference, here are the major triads in other keys…

    C major triad:

    D flat major triad:

    D major triad:

    E flat major triad:

    E major triad:

    F major triad:

    G flat major triad:

    G major triad:

    A flat major triad:

    A major triad:

    B flat major triad:

    B major triad:

    Having covered major triads, let’s take a look at minor triads…

    Minor triads are triads that have a minor quality. They are pretty much the triad formed from the first, third and fifth tones of a natural minor scale. Using any natural minor scale, you can form the minor triad by stacking the first, third and fifth tones.

    In the D minor scale:

    …where the first, third and fifth tones are D F A:

    …stacking D F A together:

    …produces the D minor triad.

    Here are the minor triads in all twelve keys…

    C minor triad:

    C sharp minor triad:

    D minor triad:

    D sharp minor triad:

    E minor triad:

    F minor triad:

    F sharp minor triad:

    G minor triad:

    G sharp minor triad:

    A minor triad:

    B flat minor triad:

    B minor triad:

    Now that you know the triads, we are good to go, we are ready to explore altered chords, we are ready to form altered chords with these major and minor triads that we’ve covered.

    But before we do that, let’s take a look at meaning of altered chords. So “what are altered chords?”.

    A Short Note On Altered Chords

    Altered chords are chords that belong to the dominant chord family – chords that are formed on the fifth degree. They are known to sound dissonant and discordant, and they are also known to have a sense of resolution. So when chords of the dominant family are played, they tend to resolve to more stable chords

    Altered chords are chords of the dominant family but they are said to be altered because a few chord tones are raised or lowered. So in simple terms, altered chords are chords that its pitches or chord tones are modified to make them adaptable to a related or foreign key.

    For instance, the C dominant chord:

    …which consists of the C E G and Bb tones…

    …can be altered by raising the fifth:

    …or lowering the fifth:

    …and also by raising the ninth:

    …or lowering the ninth:

    Altered chords are dominant chords that contain chromatic tones. So there’s a little twist in the fifth which can be raised or lowered, and also on the ninth which can be raised or lowered.

    So there is no particular altered chord, even though the common altered chord that can be used is the…


    …but there other classes of altered chords.

    Check them out…



    …and so on.

    Altered chords are useful in music because they resolve to minor chords.

    The Cdom7 chord:

    …resolves to the F major:

    …or minor chord:

    But for a stronger resolution to the F minor chord:

    …using a C altered chord:

    …sounds a whole lot better.

    Take a look at this progression…

    A 3-6 chord progression in the key of Ab:

    …the third and the sixth tones are C:

    …and F:


    So using the C altered chord:

    …which is the Cdom7#5#9…

    …and resolving to Fmin11 chord:

    …”do you see how that sounded?”

    It sounded very beautiful. Rather going to the Fmin11 chord with the Cdom7 chord.

    Now that we’ve talked about altered chord, let’s take this study to the next level by taking a look at the formation of altered chord using triads.

    The Formation Of Altered Chords Using Triads

    One of the most important things in tones of a chord are its thirds and sevenths. This is not just for altered chords, but chords of all classes; major chords, minor chords, dominant chords, diminished chords. Thirds and sevenths because according to Jermaine Griggs, they give us an idea of the overall quality of the chord.

    Now taking a look at the C dominant chord:

    …its third and seventh which are C and Bb:

    …underscores its basic quality which is a dominant chord.

    If this skeleton which is a third and a seventh is played on the left hand, this gives us room to play upper structure chords on the right hand.

    These chords are called upper structure because they are played over the basic dominant structure which is the skeleton. So we are having the upper structure triads, and in this case, we’ll be using major and minor triads.

    So let’s take a look at upper structure major triads.

    Upper Structure Major Triads

    Upper structure major triads are major triads that can be played over a dominant seventh skeleton to form an altered chord, and I’ll be giving you two of them in this lesson…

    #1 The major triad built over the flat five.

    In the key of C:

    …your b5 is Gb:

    …so playing a Gb major triad:

    …over C:

    …produces an altered chord.

    Specifically this altered chord is the dom7b5b9.


    #2 The major triad built up the flat six.

    The flat six degree in the key of C:

    …is Ab:

    ..so playing an Ab major triad:

    …over the C dom7 skeleton voicing:

    …this produces C dom7#5#9 chord.

    You can as well transpose this voicing to other twelve keys.

    Upper Structure Minor Triads

    Final Words


    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") 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.

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


    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Samiyonki

    Is been so wonderful having you on planet earth, thanks….


    2 Joe

    I agree 100% I have learn so much from Dr. Pokey. Both him and the legendary, Jermaine Griggs, are the best teachers on earth. Just my opinion.


    3 Jaime

    Hi, Chuku:
    Lots of thanks for the “Upper Structure of Major Triads”, but…. will it come the Upper Structure of Minor Triads”? And When..?
    Thanks again.


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