• Harmonic Upgrades: Graduating From Triads To Sevenths

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

    triads to sevenths

    For anyone who’s serious about upgrading their chordal vocabulary and sound, this post is for you. 

    If your scale degree chords in the key of C look like this:

    Chord 1

    Chord 2

    Chord 3

    Chord 4

    Chord 5

    Chord 6

    Chord 7

    …then, this blog post will be of tremendous value to you.

    If you’re tired of these boring triads, you’re the reason I wrote this post: To show you in three specific and helpful ways, how to tap into the power of seventh chords.

    This post is easy to understand. However, it will be easier for pianists who have mastered all qualities of triads and inversions in every key.

    From Triads to Sevenths: What are Seventh Chords?

    Seventh chords are called seventh chords because they encompass seven diatonic degrees.

    There are tertian and non-tertian seventh chords. However, our focus in this post will be on tertian seventh chords (which I’ll in a second).

    Hopefully, we’ll consider non-tertian seventh chords in subsequent posts.

    As the word “tertian” implies, these chords are built off thirds. C to E and E to G are both third intervals.

    The same way C major is built with thirds, if you add another third, it will extend its width to encompass seven diatonic degrees.

    From C to B are seven diatonic (or scale) degrees – C, D, E, F, G, A and B.

    If we add the seventh degree from each scale degree chord of C major, we’ll form scale-degree seventh chords.

    Chord 2 (D minor) can be upgraded to a minor seventh by adding the seventh scale step from D.

    Using the notes of the C major scale, a seventh from D is C. Therefore, adding C to the D minor triad will yield D minor seventh.

    Chord 3 (E minor) can be upgraded to a minor seventh by adding the seventh scale step from E.

    A seventh from E is D. Therefore, adding D to the E minor triad will yield E minor seventh.

    Chord 4 (F major) can be upgraded to a major seventh by adding the seventh scale step from F.

    A seventh from F is E. Therefore, adding E to the F major triad will yield F major seventh:

    Having done chords 1 to 4 for you, with a little effort on your side and pursuant to the examples, you can derive chords 5, 6 and 7 (Hint: Just skip every other note until you’re holding down 4 notes. I’ve already given you: C+E+G+B, D+F+A+C, E+G+B+D, F+A+C+E… you try the rest!)

    We’ll go on to cover a three-dimensional approach to this process of harmonically upgrading triads to seventh chords (aka – “harmonic upgrade”).

    Root Deduplication

    Traditionally, the C major seventh is played as:

    We’ve come to that point where duplicates are not needed. Therefore, all duplicate Cs will be removed to yield:

    “My goodness! This is pretty much an E minor triad” Yes it is! But with C on the bass, it’s a C major seventh (containing the same notes as the regular C major seventh chord [C-E-G-B]):

    What do you prefer? The 3 repeated root notes (C) or E minor / C?

    …I’ll take the latter.

    This voicing involves JUST a triad on the right hand, meanwhile the overall sound will be that of a seventh chord.

    You’re literally upgrading your chord by doing less instead of more!

    This is a common misconception among a vast number of upcoming musicians – I used to be there. I used to think that graduating from triads to seventh chords would perpetually keep me away from triads (probably because I’d be busy with seventh and extended chords). As things unfolded, I discovered that there’s no musician who has ever outgrown the use of triads.

    This post does not take you away from triads – not at all! It actually brings you closer to triads because you’ll be able to use less to achieve more.

    Root Displacement in 3d

    Similar to the approach of root deduplication is root displacement. In this harmonic upgrade plan, seventh chords are easier to come up with. Our assignments are simple here.

    Assignment #1 – Play the scale degree triad you want to upgrade:

    Assignment #2 – Displace the root of the triad by lowering it to the nearest diatonic option. In the major scale of C, the nearest diatonic option below C is B. Lowering C (the root) to B (the nearest diatonic option) will yield:

    Using this root displacement technique, you’re good to go with all seventh chords.

    Dimension #1 – Root Displacement for Scale Degree Triads in Root Position

    The first dimension in this harmonic upgrade features the root displacement of root position triads. The triad below is chord 1 in the key of C:

    Displacement of its root (C) to the nearest diatonic note (B) will yield C major seventh:

    Following the same procedure, we can upgrade chord 2 (D minor):

    Similar to what we did for chord 1, we can displace the root (D) of D minor by lowering it to the nearest diatonic alternative (C). This process will upgrade D minor to D minor seventh.

    We can also upgrade chord 3 (the regular E minor triad):

    Displacement of the root (E) to the nearest diatonic note below it (D):

    Using the same procedure, we can upgrade all other root position triads to seventh chords.

    Chord 4. The root (F) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (E).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 5. The root (G) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (F).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 6. The root (A) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (G).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 7. The root (B) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (A).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Dimension #2 – Root Displacement for Scale Degree Triads in First Inversion

    When the third of a triad is the bass note, such a triad is said to be in its first inversion.

    F major above, if played either by choice or happenstance in such a way that its third (A) is the lowest note, then F major is inverted. Such an inversion is called the first inversion.

    When triads are in their first inversion, the root typically becomes the highest tone. In the case of the first inversion of F major above, the root is on top. Therefore, upgrading first inversion triads will require us to focus on the root in its new position (on top of the chord). The C major chord below (which is our tonic chord in the key of C) can be upgraded by root displacement.

    However, it is important to focus on the new position of the root (on top of the chord). Therefore , if C is lowered to the nearest diatonic note (B), we’ll have the major triad above upgraded to a major seventh chord.

    D minor triad below is chord 2 in C major:

    If subjected to root displacement, the root of the chord (which is the highest note in the first inversion triad can be lowered to yield D minor seventh):

    Using the same procedure, we can upgrade all other first inversion triads to seventh chords:

    Chord 3. The root (E) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (D).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 4. The root (F) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (E).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 5. The root (G) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (F).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 6. The root (A) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (G).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 7. The root (B) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (A).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Dimension #3 – Root Displacement for Scale Degree Triads in Second Inversion

    C major triad can also be played as:

    The C major triad above is in its second inversion and the bass note is the fifth. When triads are played in second inversion, the root becomes the middle note. Therefore, upgrading second inversion triads will require us to focus on the root in its new position (in the middle of the chord). The C major chord below (which is our tonic chord in the key of C) can be upgraded by root displacement.

    If C is lowered to the nearest diatonic note (B), we’ll have the major triad above upgraded to a major seventh chord.

    D minor triad below is chord 2 in C major.

    If subjected to root displacement, the root of the chord (which is the middle note in the second inversion triad) can be lowered to yield D minor seventh:

    Using the same procedure, we can upgrade all other second inversion triads to seventh chords:

    Chord 3. The root (E) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (D).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 4. The root (F) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (E).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 5. The root (G) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (F).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 6. The root (A) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (G).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    Chord 7. The root (B) is lowered to the nearest diatonic note below it (A).

    Triad:

    Seventh (Upgraded):

    There you have it. My official process to upgrade triads to seventh chords, in all inversions.

    Until next time.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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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    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Laura

    Hello, dear Mr. Onyemachi:

    Thank you very much for this lesson. It has been a significant eye opener and is beginning to fill in some blanks in my musical foundation.

    Please if you can, tell me what and where are the practical applications for this
    “harmonic upgrade”.

    Thank you.

    Reply

    2 Chuku Onyemachi

    Hey Laura,
    Thanks for the feedback. This post is written with anyone who wants to graduate from triads to seventh chords.
    Application of the concepts is as simple as incorporating a seventh chord where a triad is used.
    Instead of CEG/C, play BEG/C.

    Reply

    3 zino

    good

    Reply

    4 Go Johnson

    Thanks a lot

    Reply

    5 Brian

    thanks for this post

    Reply

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