• Week 1: The Major Triad + Chord Cheat Sheet

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

    A triad is a chord of three notes.

    What is a chord? A chord is an aggregate or collection of three or more pitches that are sounded together which may be pleasant or unpleasant. The choice of the collection of pitches is determined by an underlying scale and a class of harmony.

    I highlighted texture, relationship, and outcome in the definition above. Here’s what i mean:

    Texture: (aggregate [collection] of three or more pitches)

    Texture here refers to the number of notes that are heard at once. In music, the more the number of notes, the thicker the texture and vice-versa.

    By saying that a chord is an aggregate (collection) of three or more pitches means that it takes at least three or more pitches (thicker texture) to form a chord. A chord of three notes is called a triad.

    The triad is the thinnest texture of chords, especially when compared, side-by-side, to seventh and other extended chords:

    C maj 7:

    …and extended chords:

    D min 11:

    Relationship: (sounded together).

    The relationship between notes that are heard together is known as harmony (as opposed to notes sounded successively or one after the other, called “melody”). Chords are harmonic structures.

    I choose to call them structures because they are a product of notes that are stacked together (one on top of the other like a building). Even though the notes are stacked together, that doesn’t mean that you can stack notes together at random – No!

    The choice of notes to be stacked and played together depends on a given scale. It is from this scale that notes are chosen. Notes outside the scale are considered foreign (chromatic). If C major is your underlying scale, the following notes will be considered chromatic (foreign):

    The choice of notes also depends on class of harmony. This is simply talking about the distance between one chord tone and another.

    In traditional practice, tertian harmony is used. In this class of harmony, the distance between successive chord tones are in thirds.

    In this post, we’ll limit our scope to tertian harmony (chords based on third intervals).

    Outcome: (pleasant or unpleasant)

    When notes are combined, they can sound pleasant or unpleasant. When a chord sounds pleasant, its notes are said to be in concord as opposed to discord, where a chord sounds unpleasant as a result of the dissonance between chord tones.

    The chord tones of the major triad are in concord, and this is because a breakdown of its intervallic components (the intervals that makes it up) shows the following consonant intervals:

    • Major third
    • Perfect fifth

    We’ll talk more about intervals before the end of this post.

    Major Triad

    The term major is used to describe a triad that is a product of the major scale.

    Using any know major scale, let’s say C major, a major triad can be formed by stacking thirds. From C,

    …a third above C will add an E note:

    This has given us two notes.

    Considering that two notes cannot make a triad, we’ll go ahead and add another third to it:

    These notes, C-E-G, are the first, third, and fifth tones of C major scale.

    Simply put, a major triad consists of the first, third and fifth tones of the major scale.

    Deriving the Major Triad from the Major Scale

    With our knowledge of the relationship between a triad and the first, third and fifth tones of the major scale, we can derive major triads from all major scales.

    Considering that there are twelve major scales, it’s not wrong to say that there are twelve major chords – with due respect to enharmonic chords (that sound the same but are spelled differently). For example, the triads below are spelled differently but sound alike:
    C major

    D major

    “Pick a note, skip a note…”

    Here’s another trick to figure out major triads in every key.

    If you can “pick a note, skip a note, pick a note, skip a note and pick a note,” then you can form a major triad.

    Using the C major scale:

    Pick C:

    Skip D.

    Pick E:

    Skip F.

    Pick G:

    So far we skipped D and F:

    …and picked C, E, and G:

    …and that’s the C major triad. It doesn’t get any simpler than that!

    Let’s take one more example using the A major scale:

    Pick A:

    Skip B.

    Pick C:

    Skip D.

    Pick E:

    So far we skipped B and D:

    …and picked A, C, and E:

    …and that’s the A major triad.

    In the same vein, you can derive every other major triad in all keys using my “pick ‘n’ skip” technique. Below are ALL major triads:

    C major scale vs triad:

    D major scale vs triad:

    D major scale vs triad:

    E major scale vs triad:

    E major scale vs triad:

    F major scale vs triad:

    G major scale vs triad:

    G major scale vs triad:

    A major scale vs triad:

    A major scale vs triad:

    B major scale vs triad:

    B major scale vs triad:

    The major triads on the right hand side are derived from the major scales on the left hand side.

    Breakdown of the Intervallic Components of the Major Triad

    C major triad (C-E-G):

    …can be broken down into its intervallic components. Using C as a reference, this will produce:


    …and C-G:

    The former is a major third, while the latter is a perfect fifth.

    We are introducing a course solely on Intervals this year (2016).

    If you really want to know “All About Intervals” (major third, minor third, perfect fifth, augmented fourths etc.), HearandPlay 130 is for you.

    Join our early bird list so that we can notify you when the course is available.

    Major Third

    The major third is the interval between the first and third tone of the MAJOR scale.

    If the first and third chord tones of a triad are a major third apart, then the triad will have a major quality. It is from this quality of third (major) that major triads inherit their quality.

    Perfect Fifth

    Perfect fifth is termed perfect because of its universal consonance (aka – “perfect consonance”).

    It is the interval between the first and fifth tone of the MAJOR scale.

    Perfect intervals are the only class of intervals that retain their quality even after they are inverted. I’ll talk more about this in a future post.

    If the interval between the first and fifth tones of a triad are a perfect fifth apart, the triad sounds stable. To that person out there asking, “Dr. Pokey! Does that mean that the fifth is the tone of stability?” My answer is “Yes!”

    Final Words

    The major triad inherits its quality from the quality of third (major third) and its stability from the quality of fifth (perfect fifth).

    Putting all what I’ve shared with you together, here’s the major triad:

    Underlying Scale Major Scale
    Class of Harmony Tertian
    Quality Major
    Texture Three notes
    Relationship Harmonic
    Outcome Concord
    Chord tones First, Third and Fifth
    Intervallic components Major third (quality) and Perfect fifth (stability)

    With the consent of our president and founder – Jermaine Griggs, I’m pleased to give you a chord cheat sheet below that can help you learn major triads in ALL keys at the speed of sight.

    In addition to the highlighted notes, the chords are properly spelled so you can benefit from the accurate spelling as well (not much of a big deal in this major triad lesson but in future lessons, where we’ll have to use double sharps and double flats in order to spell the chords correctly [most musicians would informally say E rather than D##, for example]).

    One good thing about knowing major triads is this:

    Every major triad learned puts 3 out of 7 scale tones in your grasp, and that’s (pretty much) 43% of the major scale.

    My knowledge of the G major triad:

    …will improve my knowledge of the G major scale:

    This is because, while playing the scale, the chord tones will still appear as the first, third and fifth scale tones and these tones (three of them) can act as landmarks to help you figure out the rest.

    We’ll be talking about this in another post.

    Until then.

    Screenshot 2015-12-31 19.44.24P.S.

    Our president and founder – Jermaine Griggs, will be offering a Quick Reference on Major Triads with more information on this subject and 126 exercises that will drill you to perfection. You can get this in addition to the Major Triad Cheat Sheet at no cost by entering your first name and email below:

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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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