• Introduction To The COLT Concept Of Symmetrical Chords

In this lesson, I’ll be introducing you to the COLT concept of symmetrical chords

A lot of people who are reading this may be familiar with the concept. However, this is a perspective that not so many people know about; especially the use of the acronym “COLT” and if you’re wondering what it means, here you are:

Chords Of Limited Transposition

We’re going to learn about the COLT concept of symmetrical chords but before we do that, let’s dedicate the first segment of this lesson to the study of symmetrical chords.

“What Is A Symmetrical Chord?”

Chords can be broken down into intervals the same way sentences can be broken down into phrases and clauses. For example, the C major chord:

…can be broken down into the following intervals:

C-E:

E-G:

…and you can even go as far as breaking it down to:

C-G:

…but basically, there are two successive intervals in the C major chord and they are the major third interval (C-E) and the minor third interval (E-G.)

“Now, Let’s See Why Some Chords Are Said To Be Symmetrical…”

A chord is said to be symmetrical when it can be broken down into identical intervals. We just broke down the C major chord and we got the major third and minor third interval and that means that the C major chord is NOT symmetrical.

“So, What’s An Example Of A Symmetrical Chord?”

Augmented and diminished triads are symmetrical and for your reference, here is the C augmented:

…and C diminished chord:

If you carefully examine these two chords, you’ll see that they are made up of the same/exact intervals. Starting with the C augmented chord:

…we can break it down into the following intervals:

C-E (major third interval):

E-G# (major third interval):

I’m sure that you can see two identical intervals — the major third intervals. So, the C augmented chord is symmetrical because it consists of (or can be broken down into) identical intervals.

The same thing is applicable to the C diminished chord:

…where you have these intervals:

C-Eb (minor third interval):

Eb-Gb (minor third interval):

…and that’s what makes the diminished chord a symmetrical chord.

“Alright! Now That You Know About Symmetrical Chords…”

Let’s go ahead and learn about chords of limited transposition and what they have to do with symmetrical chords in the next segment.

See you there!

COLT: Chords Of Limited Transposition

The concept of transposition is derived from the TRANSfer of POSITION.

In music, it takes a certain degree of transposition for us to move chords around the keyboard (even if it’s a half-step.) For example, the C major chord:

…can be transposed upwards by a minor second to Db major:

…and that’s transposition.

If you keep transposing the same C major chord upwards by a half-step, you will move the major chord across all the keys on the keyboard.

Now, for chords like the major chord, minor chord, etc., you’ll have twelve transpositions (one for every key).

The COLT Concept

There are other chords that have limited transposition and what this means is that they have fewer than twelve transpositions that a chord should have and they are called chords of limited transposition.

In this introductory lesson, I’ll be showing you two of these chords:

The augmented chord

The diminished seventh chord

Although there are twelve different ways to spell the chords, however, you’ll notice that some of the transpositions are merely inversions of other chords.

Let’s see how it works.

The Augmented Chord

The C augmented chord:

…is a classic example of augmented chords which is a chord of limited transposition. (COLT.)

There are fewer than twelve transpositions of the augmented chord and this is because the inversions of the C augmented chord:

First inversion of the C augmented chord:

Second inversion of the C augmented chord:

…sound practically like the following augmented chords:

E augmented chord:

Ab augmented chord:

…even though they are spelled differently.

So, just one augmented chord and its two inversions (three chords in all) are three different augmented chords. So, there’s no need to transpose the C augmented chord:

…to E:

…or to Ab:

…when you can just invert the C augmented chord.

Attention: This concept of chord transposition by inversion does not work with major chords. You are aware that inverting the C major chord does not create any other major chord. But for symmetrical chords like the augmented chord, this is possible.

“Now, Straight To The Point…”

If you can play the C augmented chord:

…and these three other transpositions:

Db augmented chord:

D augmented chord:

Eb augmented chord:

…you’ve mastered all the augmented chords — because every other augmented chord is an inversion of these four augmented chords:

C augmented chord:

Db augmented chord:

D augmented chord:

Eb augmented chord:

Why do you have to learn the F augmented chord:

…when you’ve learned the Db augmented chord:

…and can play it in first inversion “F-A-Db”?:

…or why do you have to learn the A augmented chord?:

So, you see, there are only four transpositions of the augmented chord and that’s why it’s a COLT.

Just with the Db augmented chord and its inversions:

Root position:

First inversion:

Second inversion:

…you have the F and A augmented figured out:

F augmented chord:

A augmented chord:

Final Words

It’s easier to play chords in all the keys when they are symmetrical.

So, chords of limited transpositions are the easiest of all to learn in all the keys and this is because an inversion of a COLT produces its transposition in another key.

I’m sure this concept

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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.