• Talk To Jermaine Griggs: “How Do I Apply Diminished And Augmented Triads?”

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    If you’re interested in learning how to apply diminished and augmented triads, then this lesson is for you.

    We get tons of emails on regular basis from musicians (beginners and intermediate players specifically) who although they’re conversant with major and minor chords, are interested in learning the application of diminished and augmented triads.

    It is on that note that I’m responding with this lesson on two known ways diminished and augmented triads can be applied.

    Attention: If you don’t really know what diminished triads and augmented triads are, check out these posts:

    …before you proceed.

    A Quick Review On Diminished Triads

    There are eight degrees in the major key. In the key of C major:

    C is the first (aka – “tonic”)

    D is the second (aka – “supertonic”)

    E is the third (aka – “mediant”)

    F is the fourth (aka – “subdominant”)

    G is the fifth (aka – “dominant”)

    A is the sixth (aka – “submediant”)

    B is the seventh (aka – “subtonic”)

    C is the eighth (aka – “octave”)

    The diminished triad is the chord of the seventh degree. In the key of C major:

    …the seventh degree is B:

    Using the pick-skip technique, we can form the chord of the seventh degree by picking B:

    …skipping C and picking D:

    …skipping E and picking F:

    Altogether, that’s the B diminished triad:

    …the chord of the seventh degree in the key of C major:

    A Breakdown On The Diminished Triad

    All chords (irrespective of their width) can be broken down into intervals. The intervals that make up a chord are known as its intervallic components.

    “Let’s Go Ahead And Breakdown The Diminished Triad Into Its Intervallic Components…”

    The B diminished triad:

    …has the following intervallic components:

    B-D:

    …a minor third interval.

    B-F:

    …a diminished fifth interval.

    Let’s focus on the latter – the diminished fifth interval. In a previous lesson we learned that the diminished fifth interval is an unstable interval that tends towards stable intervals when played.

    Did I mention that the diminished fifth interval is the famous tritone that was called the devil in music in a generation where most trained musicians were church men.

    The diminished triad has the diminished fifth interval as its intervallic component. Consequently, the diminished triad has an unstable and harsh sound that tends to resolve to a more stable chord when played.

    “Here’s The Diminished Triad In All Twelve Keys…”

    C diminished triad:

    C# diminished triad:

    D diminished triad:

    D# diminished triad:

    E diminished triad:

    F diminished triad:

    F# diminished triad:

    G diminished triad:

    G# diminished triad:

    A diminished triad:

    A# diminished triad:

    B diminished triad:

    “What Are Augmented Triads?”

    The augmented triad is the chord of the third degree of the melodic and harmonic minor scales. In the A melodic minor scale:

    …the triad of the third degree (which is C):

    …is the C augmented triad:

    An Intervallic Breakdown Of The Augmented Triad

    The term augmented is derived from one of the intervals the augmented triad is made up of. Therefore, let’s break down the augmented triad into its intervallic components.

    The C augmented triad:

    …can be broken down into the following intervals:

    C-E:

    …a major third interval.

    C-G#:

    …an augmented fifth interval.

    It is the augmented fifth interval that influences the name of the triad – augmented.

    Just like the diminished fifth interval (the intervallic component of the diminished triad we came across earlier), the augmented fifth interval is an unstable interval. Consequently, the augmented triad is an unstable chord.

    “Check Out The Augmented Triad In All Twelve Keys…”

    C augmented triad:

    Db augmented triad:

    D augmented triad:

    Eb augmented triad:

    E augmented triad:

    F augmented triad:

    Gb augmented triad:

    G augmented triad:

    Ab augmented triad:

    A augmented triad:

    Bb augmented triad:

    Cb augmented triad:

    The Application Of Diminished Triads

    In this segment, we’re focusing on the application of diminished triads. Although there are several known ways to apply diminished triads, we’re focusing on two:

    • Diminished triads as passing chords
    • Diminished triads as upper-structure triads

    Let’s get on with it!

    “As A Passing Chord…”

    Due to the fact that diminished triads are unstable chords, it’s appropriate to use them as passing chords to other stable chords like major and minor chords. However, a knowledge of the resolution of the diminished triad is required.

    Diminished triads are triads of the seventh degree – which are usually a half-step below the first degree of the scale. The B diminished triad (the triad of the seventh degree in the key of C):

    …is a half step below C (the first degree):

    …and resolves by progressing to the chord of first degree – the C major triad:

    Consequently, diminished triads resolve to a major [or minor] triad that’s a half step above its root.

    The C diminished triad:

    …resolves to the Db major triad:

    …which is a half step above its root (C):

    The E diminished triad:

    …resolves to the F major triad:

    …which is a half step above its root (E):

    “Conversely…”

    If you’re given a particular major or minor chord, you can create a passing chord for the given chord by forming a diminished triad a half step below its root.

    Given the G major triad:

    …the passing chord for the given major triad lies a half step below its root (G.) Due to the fact that a half step below G:

    …is F#:

    …the F# diminished triad:

    …can be used as a passing chord to the G major triad:

    “As An Upper-Structure Triad…”

    The diminished triad can be used in the formation of the dominant seventh and diminished seventh chords.

    Playing a diminished triad a major third (or major tenth) above a given root note produces the dominant seventh chord. Given C:

    …as a root note, the C dominant seventh chord can be formed by playing a diminished triad that’s a major third above C:

    …and that’s the E diminished triad:

    The E diminished triad played over C:

    …is the part-over-root voicing of the C dominant seventh chord.

    “In The Same Vein…”

    Playing a diminished triad that is a minor third (or minor tenth) above a given root note produces the diminished seventh chord. Given D:

    …as a root note, the D diminished seventh chord can be formed by playing a diminished triad that’s a minor third above D:

    …and that’s the F diminished triad:

    The F diminished triad played over D on the bass:

    …produces the part-over-root voicing of the C dominant seventh chord.

    The Application Of Augmented Triads

    Let’s also take a look at how augmented triads can be applied.

    “As A Passing Chord…”

    Augmented triads are great passing chords that can be used to connect two scale degree chords. However, before we delve into the application of augmented triads as passing chords, let’s take a look at the resolution of the augmented triad.

    Just like diminished triads, augmented triads resolve to a major [or minor] chord a half step above its root. The D augmented triad:

    …resolves to the Eb major triad:

    …which is a half step above its root (D):

    The A augmented triad:

    …resolves to the Bb major triad:

    …which is a half step above its root (A):

    “In The Same Vein…”

    If you’re given a particular major or minor chord, you can create a passing chord to the given chord by forming an augmented triad a half step below its root.

    For example, given the Bb major triad:

    …the passing chord for the given major triad lies a half step below its root (Bb.) Due to the fact that a half step below Bb:

    …is A:

    …the A augmented triad:

    …can be used as a passing chord to the Bb major triad:

    “As An Upper-Structure Triad…”

    The augmented triad can be used in the formation of the dominant ninth [sharp eleventh] chord. Playing a D augmented triad:

    …over the C dominant seventh chord (with an omitted fifth):

    …produces the Cdom9[#11] chord:

    …which can function as chord 5 in the key of F:

    Following the same procedure, you can form the dominant ninth [sharp eleventh] chord in all 12 keys.

    Final Words

    Here’s a basic way of playing the hymn Amazing Grace in the key of C:

    A-ma:

    …zing grace:

    …how sweet:

    …the sound:

    “Let’s apply the diminished triad to the hymn…”

    A-ma:

    …zing grace [diminished triad]:

    …how sweet:

    …the sound:

    “Let’s apply the augmented triad to the hymn…”

    A-ma:

    …zing grace [augmented triad]:

    …how sweet:

    …the sound:

    Did you see how the E diminished triad:

    …and E augmented triad:

    …were used as passing chords to the F major triad?

    This is were we’ll draw the curtains today – see you in another lesson and thank you for your time.

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    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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