• Week 3: The Minor Triad + Chord Cheat Sheet

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    Who else wants to know the secrets of the minor triad?

    Read this post carefully because I’m taking you by the hand and showing you, step by step, what a minor triad is. Beyond that, you’re sure to be able to play minor triads in all 12 keys with absolute ease.

    So let’s get started by looking at the definition of the minor triad.

    The Minor Triad – Defined

    The term minor triad is coined from two words, minor and triad. The best way to get started is by looking at the [musical] meaning of these words.

    A triad is a chord of three notes. The prefix tri means “three.”

    While “triad” refers to the number of notes (quantity), the term “minor” refers to the tonal attributes of a chord.

    Tonal attribute simply means the inherent property of a chord in terms of whether it is a major or a minor chord. Remember that there are basically two tonalities – the major tonality and the minor tonality.

    If we stitch both words together, here’s what we come up:

    “The minor triad is a chord of three notes that has a minor tonal attribute.”

    To take it a step further, let’s look at the inherent properties of the minor triad (aka – “tonal attributes”) by considering minor scales and intervals.

    This is because chord formation is a fellowship between scales and intervals.

    Attention: If you’ve made efforts to learn about scales and intervals in the past with little or no success, or you’re familiar with them but desire to know more, then join our early bird list to be the first to know when our upcoming courses on “scales” and “intervals” are available:

    All About ScalesClick here to join the list

    All About IntervalsClick here to join the list

    Minor Scales and Third Intervals

    Below is an image of the natural minor scale in the key of C:

    The natural minor scale consists of: C, D, E♭, F, G, A♭, B♭, C, and is the principal scale we’ll be using in the formation of the minor chord.

    Chords don’t just happen! Like I said earlier, this process is a fellowship between scales and intervals.

    Now that we know the scale, the next step is to stack notes in thirds. This is one of the easiest things to do in chord formation because three scale steps from any note will be the next choice.

    So from C:

    …three scale steps means we’re going to skip D and pick Eb:

    …and also skip F and pick G:

    This is called “tertian harmony.”

    There is a comprehensive post on tertian harmony that you must read. I’m speaking highly of it because you will stop skipping and picking after reading it.

    (Written by our president and founder Jermaine Griggs. You will do well to check it out.)

    Here’s the C minor triad:

    …resulting from stacking notes in thirds using the C natural minor scale.

    “Who Can Tell Me What Stuff Minor Triads Are Made Of?”

    All chords (no matter how “phat”), can be broken down into intervals and the minor triad is no exception.

    C minor triad:

    …can be broken down into two intervals.


    …and C-G:

    C-E is a minor third.

    The C major scale consists of C D E F G A B C. The first three scale steps are C, D and, E.

    Therefore, C-E:

    …is a major third (because it is derived from the major scale). However, lowering the E by a half step will produce:

    …a minor third interval. C-E is a semitone lower than the C-E (the major third).

    C-G is a perfect fifth. The first and fifth tone of the major or minor scale will produce a perfect fifth (whether sounded together or separately).

    In the C minor scale:

    …the first and fifth tones are C and G, respectively. The interval C-G (aka – “perfect fifth”):

    …is said to be a universally consonant interval. Consequently, it offers a lot of stability to the minor triad. The minor chord is used a lot in music because its fifth is consonant (and therefore more stable).

    Knowledge of the major third and perfect fifth in all keys is important in the chord formation of minor triads.

    “Here’s a quick tip that will help you in the formation of the minor third in all keys…”

    From any given note, let’s use C:

    …a minor third is just three half steps.

    1st half step – C to D:

    2nd half step – D to D:

    3rd half step – D to E:

    From C:

    …to the third half step (E):

    …is a minor third.

    Caution: It’s very easy to count three half steps, arrive at the right finger key, but spell it wrongly.

    Three half steps from C can also be D#:

    However, C to D# is an augmented interval (and outside the scope of this lesson). But suffice it to say that minor chords (as well as major chords and most others) will always skip alphabet letters when in root position. That means C to D# would break this rule because D should be skipped. Therefore, C to Eb is the correct interval.

    Our new course titled “All About Intervals” will show you, step by step, everything about intervals and how to spell correctly.

    Let’s continue with chord formation of the minor triad.

    Chord Formation of the Minor Triad

    The goal of this post is to equip you with what you need to construct minor triads in every key.

    There are many ways to form a minor triad. However, I’ll be revealing three approaches in this lesson.

    Formation #1 – Scale Method

    The very first approach uses the natural minor scale. With the natural minor scale, we can form the minor triad by stacking notes in thirds.

    So using any given natural minor scale in any key, you can stack thirds from the root of the chord to produce a minor triad. For example, given C:

    …a third from C is Eb:

    This is because from C to Eb (using the natural minor scale as a reference):

    …encompasses three scale steps C, D, and Eb:

    Even though we are not playing three of them, C-Eb is considered a third because it encompasses three scale steps.

    The same thing is obtainable between Eb and G:

    We may not be playing Eb, F, and G:

    …but from Eb to G:

    …encompasses three scale steps.

    So, using any given natural minor scale, you can form minor triads by connecting notes in thirds. And this is what we covered earlier as tertian harmony.

    Using the 1st, 3rd, and 5th tones of the minor scale is a shortcut to playing any minor triad.

    Formation #2 – Interval Method

    Earlier in this post, when I was showing you what stuff minor triads are made of, I broke down two intervallic components of the minor triad – the minor third and the perfect fifth.

    It is the understanding of the minor third and the perfect fifth intervals in all keys that puts the minor triad within your grasp.

    The minor third is usually associated with lowering the third scale step of any given major scale and is the basic denomination in the formation of the minor triad. I said that to say that the quality of a triad is determined by the interval between the first and the third tones.

    The tonal attribute of the triad is derived from the quality of third.

    Before we proceed to the next approach, let’s look at the perfect fifth.

    The perfect fifth is an interval formed by stacking the first and the fifth scale step of either a major or minor scale. However, because we associated the minor third with the major scale, you’ll have to permit me to associate the perfect fifth with the major scale as well.

    Using any given major scale (C major for example), stacking the first and the fifth tones together (which are C and G, respectively):

    …will produce a perfect fifth interval.

    The combination of the minor third and the perfect fifth intervals will produce a minor triad.

    Let’s take an example…

    A minor third from C is Eb:

    …and a perfect fifth (from C) is G:

    If C, Eb, and G are stacked together, this will produce a minor triad:

    Great job so far. Let’s end by looking at one more approach to chord formation of the minor triad.

    Formation #3 – Chord Method

    A minor triad can be formed from the major triad. If you are familiar with major triads in all keys, then you can derive the minor triad. If you’re not, read this lesson.

    It’s a simple process. All you need to do is lower the third by a half step.

    The C major triad consist of C E G:

    Deriving the C minor triad is as easy as lowering the third degree from a major third (E) to a minor third (Eb). By doing so, the tonal attribute of the triad changes from major to something entirely different – minor.

    A major triad inherits its tonal attribute from the major third, while a minor triad inherits its attributes from the minor third.

    Because the fifth of both chords share the same quality of fifth (“perfect fifth,” which is considered a universally consonant interval), they both have stability.

    From my explanation, you can see that the only difference between the two triads is the quality of third (aka – “tonal attribute”) each one has.

    Therefore, knowing all the major triads will put minor triads within your grasp. Below is a derivation of all minor triads from major triads.

    C major vs C minor

    Db major vs Db minor

    D major vs D minor

    Eb major vs Eb minor

    E major vs E minor

    F major vs F minor

    F# major vs F# minor

    G major vs G minor

    Ab major vs Ab minor

    A major vs A minor

    Bb major vs Bb minor

    B major vs B minor

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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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