In this lesson, we’ll be looking at four-note triads.

If you are interested in learning yet another way to reinforce a triad and make it sound better, then this lesson is for you.

Some of the efforts we’ve made in the past in this regard include how to strengthen a triad, the mu chord voicing of the major triad, and the use of the second inversion.

Today, there’s a new perspective to it – the four note triad concept. But before we get into that, let’s review the triad.

The triad can be defined as a chord of three notes.

The notes of a triad can be in intervals of seconds:

…thirds:

…and even in fourths.

However, for the purpose of our study, I’ll limit the term triad to tertian chords, which are three note chords that are built in intervals of thirds.

Here’s an example of how tertian triads are formed. Let’s start on C…

From C:

…the next chord tone is a third above C, and that’s E:

The next third from E is G:

Stacking thirds together produces a triad. In this case, we just formed the C major triad:

Adding another third to a triad would produce a four-note chord. For example, if we add another third to the C major triad, this would produce the C major seventh chord:

…which is no doubt a four-note chord, but certainly not a triad.

Having established it in the previous segment that a triad is a chord of three notes, then what do we mean by four-note triads? Heck, we just added an extra note to the triad and we formed a seventh chord.

But in this segment, I’m going to show you how you can form a four-note chord and still not change or alter the triad or end up playing seventh chords.

It is amazing you can make a triad to have four notes and it is still a triad you didn’t alter the triad. One of the way to achieve this is by duplicating any of the chord tones. However, we’ll focus on duplicating the root for now.

Duplication of the root note of a triad would produce a four-note triad, which is pretty much a triad but it has four notes.

…for an example, we can duplicate its root (C):

…to produce the same C major triad:

…with four notes versus the regular three.

It’s the same triad, however it’s increased in texture by a whooping 33% (and by the way, texture refers to the number of notes that are heard at once.)

“Where Are Four-Note Triads Coming From?”

Four-note triads have come a long way in music. Its use dates back to vocal music. In a classical choir, there are usually four main voice parts – soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

Even though there are four voice parts, they are arranged to sing triads (three notes). To make four voices sing three notes can only be possible of one note is duplicated – which is usually the root note.

Here’s how the notes of the C major triad:

…can be distributed among the four voice parts…

C:

…bass voice.

E:

…tenor voice.

G:

…alto voice.

C:

…soprano voice.

Here’s how it looks like:

…when put together.

Did you notice that the C note is in soprano and bass voice? That’s the idea – duplication.

Four-note triads have been there long before now. They’ve been used several centuries before now by classical musicians.

Inverted triads are not left out. I trust you’re familiar with the inversion of triads.

Inversion rearranges the order of the notes of a triad. Instead of having the C major triad:

…arranged in a root, third, and fifth manner, we can have it arranged like this:

…in such a way that the third is the lowest. This is called the first inversion.

We can also have the notes of the C major triad:

…arranged in such a way that its fifth chord tone is the lowest. This is called the second inversion.

Suggested reading: The Basics To Chord Inversion.

The lowest note in the first inversion of the C major triad:

…is the third chord tone (E):

When we duplicate this third tone (E), we’ll have a four-note triad:

Check out the four-note triad of a few major triads played in first inversion…

“The same thing is obtainable in second inversion triads…”

The lowest note in the second inversion of the C major triad:

…is the fifth chord tone (G):

When we duplicate this fifth tone, we’ll also have a four note triad:

Here are the four note triads of a few minor triads played in first inversion…

Although playing a four note triad doesn’t change a triad to a seventh chord, however, there are two key changes that are noteworthy.

The four note triad sounds reinforced. Doubling one of the notes of a triad reinforces its sound because the notes are octaves apart. When notes are played octaves apart, even though the notes are not in the same pitch level, but we’re hearing the same pitch class. Think of this as having tenor and soprano singers singing the same note, but each voice part singing on different pitch levels. This has a way of reinforcing the overall harmony produced.

The four note triad has a thicker texture. Texture in music talks about the layers of notes that are heard together. To have a thicker layer of notes that graduates from three notes to four notes without running into seventh chords suggests the use of four note triads.

“Can You Show Me One Application Of Four Note Triads?”

In the previous lesson we covered the part over root voicing where we were able to breakdown the C major seventh chord:

…over the C on the bass:

With C on the bass, the upper part which is a triad (three notes) can be played as a four note triad. Here’s what it looks like…

The E minor four note triad:

…over C on the bass:

Wow! The “part over root” voicing of seventh chords just got better right? You can check this out:

…for yourself and tell me if it sounds reinforced or not.

If you’re looking for a way to make your triad sound full, search no further, you just found it and it’s as simple as duplicating one of the tones of the chord to produce a four note triad.

Final Words

I’ve always stressed it that there is nothing wrong with triads. However, if you love would love to stick to triads, you should find subtle ways of making them sound better, stronger, have more texture, and sound warmer.

I hope this adds to the tons of stuff you already know about making triads sound better. This is where we’ll drawing the curtains for today.

I’ll see you in other post.

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Chuku Onyemachi

Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group
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.

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1 king solomon

hi mr, griggs and his teachers are the best music teachers on earth, god bless u all . the world listening to u. ur names are all over the world, especially, MR. GRIGGS.