• Here’s Another Reason Why Seventh Chords Are Harmonically Ahead Of Triads

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

    Seventh chords are harmonically ahead of triads for a variety of reasons.

    This lesson is sequel to what we covered in a previous lesson where we compared and contrasted between triads and seventh chords. Today, we’re focusing on one of the several reasons why seventh chords are considered to be harmonically advanced more than triads.

    If you’re probably saying “Well, I don’t need to be told that seventh chords are harmonically advanced more than triads – I already know that.” I’ll still want to recommend this lesson for you, especially if you want to find out little known reasons why seventh chords are ahead of triads.

    Let’s get started by reviewing triads and seventh chords.

    “What Is A Triad?”

    According to Jermaine Griggs, a triad is a collection of three related notes [agreeable or not] that are played or heard together.

    Breaking down some of the keywords in the definition of a chord like:

    • Three
    • Related Notes
    • Agreeable or Not
    • Together

    …will give you a bolder relief to the definition of a chord.


    The prefix tri in the term triad suggests three. Although a chord can consist of four, five, six notes, and more, the number of notes in a triad is limited to three, which is usually made up of the first, third, and seventh tones of the scale.

    “…Related Notes…”

    Before any collection of three notes can be labeled as a triad, there must be a scale and intervallic relationship between them.

    The notes of a triad can be said to have a scale relationship if they belong to the same scale. For example, the notes of the C major triad:

    …which are C, E, and G are the first, third, and fifth tones of the C natural major scale:

    In terms of intervallic relationship, the distance between successive chord tones must be based on a fixed interval. In the case of the C major triad:

    …the distance between C and E:

    …or E and G:

    …is a third interval.

    In a nutshell, every collection of three notes must have scale and intervallic relationship before they can be considered as a triad.

    “…Agreeable Or Not…”

    A triad is a collection of notes, and the relationship between these notes when they are heard together [as a chord] is known as harmony. Due to the fact that harmony can either sound agreeable (aka – “consonant”) or not (aka – “dissonant”), a triad can either be consonant or dissonant.


    One of the most important words in the definition of a triad is together. The old English word for together (which is accord) is the root word for the term chord.

    In standard practice, a collection of three notes can only be considered as a chord if they are played or heard together – in accord.

    A Short Note On Triad Qualities

    There are four known triad qualities:

    • The major triad
    • The minor triad
    • The diminished triad
    • The augmented triad

    …and Jermaine Griggs (our founder) has long before now introduced them to us as the fantastic four!

    “Here Are The Four Known Triad Qualities Starting From The Note C…”

    The C major triad:

    The C minor triad:

    The C diminished triad:

    The C augmented triad:

    Now that we’ve covered triads, let’s proceed to seventh chords.

    A Quick Review On Seventh Chords

    Looking at term seventh chord literally, a beginner can think of it as a chord of seven notes. :)

    However, a seventh chord is a chord that encompasses seven degrees of a given scale when played in root position.

    A triad when played in root position encompasses a fifth. Extending the width of a triad by a third produces a seventh chord. A typical example is the C major triad:

    …which encompasses a fifth (from C to G):

    Extending the width of C-E-G:

    …by a third to C-E-G-B:

    …produces a seventh chord – encompassing seven degrees of the C natural major scale (from C to B):

    All the keywords we broke down in the definition of a triad like:

    • Related Notes
    • Agreeable or Not
    • Together

    …are applicable to seventh chords as well.

    Seventh Chord Qualities

    There are tons of seventh chord qualities out there, however, these five seventh chord qualities are commonly used:

    …especially in gospel and jazz styles.

    “Check Out The Five Commonly Used Seventh Chord Qualities Starting From The Note C…”

    The C major seventh chord:

    The C dominant seventh chord:

    The C minor seventh chord:

    The C half-diminished seventh chord:

    The C diminished seventh chord:

    Submission : The appropriate spelling of the C diminished seventh chord is C-Eb-Gb-Bbb. However, I spelled the ‘Bbb’ as ‘A’ because my virtual keyboard tool does not spell double flat notes yet.

    Seventh chords are harmonically ahead of triads in width, note-aggregate, etc.

    In width. The width of a chord is determined by the number of scale degrees it encompasses. Seventh chords encompass a seventh interval while triads encompass a fifth interval.

    In note-aggregate. A triad is made up of three notes while a seventh chord consists of four notes. If you do the math, a triad has just 75% of the note aggregate of a seventh chord.

    Exposed: One More Reason Why Seventh Chords Are Harmonically Ahead of Triads

    Beyond the regular reasons why seventh chords are usually considered to be harmonically ahead of triads, there’s a little known reason I’d want to share with you.

    “Pay Attention…”

    Triads are not harmonically developed like seventh chords. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain.) The orientation of a triad is bound to change when it evolves into a seventh chord.

    When a scale degree chord is a major triad, it can either evolve into a major seventh or a dominant seventh chord. For example, the C major triad:

    …can either become a C major seventh chord:

    …or a C dominant seventh chord:

    The same thing is obtainable in the minor triad. The minor triad can either evolve into a minor seventh chord or a minor [major seventh chord.] The C minor triad:

    …can either evolve into a C minor seventh:

    …or C minor [major seventh] chord:

    At the level of scale degree triads in the key of C major:

    …there are three major triads – the C major triad:

    …the F major triad:

    …and the G major triad:

    However, at the level of scale degree seventh chords, we have two major seventh chords:

    C major seventh chord

    F major seventh chord

    …and one dominant seventh chord:

    G dominant seventh chord

    Here are two (out of the several) questions I ask myself:

    • Why does the orientation of scale degree triads change at the level of scale degree seventh chords?
    • Why can’t all major triads become seventh chords?

    Diminished and augmented triads are not left out too. The B diminished triad:

    …can either evolve into a B half-diminished seventh chord:

    …or a B diminished seventh chord:

    Final Words

    Seventh chords will always be harmonically ahead of triads. I hope you just learned something from this lesson.

    We’ll continue our discussion in another lesson where I’ll also tell you harmonic situations where triads will sound better than seventh chords.

    See you then!

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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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