• Exposed: The Structure Of The Major Triad

    in Beginners,Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

    The structure of the major triad is our focus in today’s lesson.

    In a previous post, we explored the functions of the major triad which is arguably the oldest and most important chords used in music.

    Triads know no boundaries in style, genre, era, etc. Whether you’re a classically trained player or you play by the ear, you know how often triads are used in all eras (or periods) in classical and popular music.

    The goal of this study [on the structure of the major triad] is to enhance your perception of the major triad.

    Attention: Before we get on with this study, let’s get started by reviewing triads and the major triad. I will recommend that you read through this review, even if you’re familiar with what triads are.

    “What Is A Triad?”

    A triad is a collection of three related notes that are played or heard together. To all intents and purposes, a triad is a chord, however, there’s emphasis on “three” which is the total number of notes that make up a triad.

    Even though a triad is chord of three notes, the term triad according to orthodox principles refers to chords that are built in intervals of thirds.

    By saying “in intervals of thirds”, this simply means that the distance between two successive notes in a triad [played in root position] is a third.

    We can form an F triad starting from F:

    …and adding other notes in intervals of a third. A third from F:

    …is A:

    …and another third from F-A:

    ..is C:

    …which gives us three notes altogether – a triad

    Just like the F triad:

    …here are other triads that you can form on the piano following the steps used above…

    D triad:

    G triad:

    B triad:

    …and the list goes on and on.

    There are four different classes of triad:

    • Major triads
    • Minor triads
    • Augmented Triads
    • Diminished Triads

    …known to Jermaine Griggs and HearandPlay students as the fantastic four, with each having its distinct harmonic property.

    But in this lesson, we’re focusing on the structure of the major triad.

    A Short Note On The Major Triad

    Every triad has its function, which depends on the intervals it is made of (aka – “intervallic constituents”.) But before we get to the point where we apply triads, there’s need for us to understand the harmonic attributes of triads.

    The attributes of triads differ from major to minor triads, and from augmented to diminished triads. The term “major” is used to qualify triads that have attributes that are congruent with the major key.

    According to Jermaine Griggs, “the term major when used in music depicts the attribute of a musical idea (be it a scale, interval, chord, or chord progression.) in relationship with the major key.

    The C triad below:

    …is a major triad because it fits into the key of C major. It has the first, third, and fifth tones of the C major scale:

    …and is the tonic chord of the key.

    Here’s the major triad in all twelve keys on the keyboard…

    C major triad:

    Db major triad:

    D major triad:

    Eb major triad:

    E major triad:

    F major triad:

    Gb major triad:

    G major triad:

    Ab major triad:

    A major triad:

    Bb major triad:

    B major triad:

    Attention: Always remember that the notes of a given major triad are the first, third, and fifth tones of the major scale in that key.

    Having done a thorough review on what the term “triad” means, let’s take this study to another level by looking at the intervallic structure of the major triad.

    Intervallic Constituents Of The Major Triad

    The major triad [just like any other chord] can be broken down into intervals. This goal of this breakdown is to give you an in-depth understanding of its structure.

    In this segment, we’ll be breaking down the major triad into intervals and we’ll be using the C major triad:

    …as an example.

    You’ll do well to pay attention to this.

    The C major triad:

    …can be broken down into the following intervallic constituents…

    C and E:

    …a major third.

    E and G:

    …a minor third.

    C and G:

    …a perfect fifth:

    Altogether, the C major triad [just like every other known major triad] has three intervallic constituents…

    • The major third
    • The minor third
    • The perfect fifth

    It is not all the time that the minor third intervallic constituent of the major triad is highlighted, however, due to the nature of this study, it is important that we explore it too.

    The Intervallic Structure Of The Major Triad

    Although the major triad has three intervallic constituents, we are basically concerned with two of them in this segment – the major and minor third intervals.

    It’s common to see just the major third interval in the major triad. In the C major triad, it’s common to see C and E:

    …a major third interval. However, there’s also a minor third interval – E and G:

    These two third intervals gives us the structure of the major triad. Therefore, it’s not wrong to say that the major triad is made up of the major third and the minor third. In the case of the C major triad:

    …we have C-E:

    …and E-G:

    “Please don’t forget this…”

    The intervallic structure of the major triad consists of a minor third interval above a major third interval. Let’s take a look at major and minor third intervals.

    Major and Minor Third Intervals

    The major and minor third intervals differ in size, however, they share one thing in common; they encompass three scale degrees.

    Major Third Intervals

    A major third interval is the relationship between the first and third tones of any given major scale. Using any major scale, you can form the major third interval. The D major scale:

    …has D and F#:

    ….as its first and third tones, therefore D-F#:

    …is a major third interval.

    Here are the major third intervals in all twelve keys…

    C major third interval:

    Db major third interval:

    D major third interval:

    Eb major third interval:

    E major third interval:

    F major third interval:

    Gb major third interval:

    G major third interval:

    Ab major third interval:

    A major third interval:

    Bb major third interval:

    B major third interval:

    Now we’re done with major third intervals, let’s proceed to minor third intervals.

    Minor Third Intervals

    A minor third interval is the relationship between the first and third tones of any given minor scale.

    The minor third interval is a half step smaller than the major third interval. Therefore, lowering the higher pitch in any known major third interval by a half step produces the minor third interval. In the major interval G and B:

    …if the higher pitch (B):

    …is lowered by a half step to Bb:

    …this produces G and Bb:

    ,,,a minor third interval.

    Check out the minor third interval in all twelve keys…

    C minor third interval:

    C# minor third interval:

    D minor third interval:

    Eb minor third interval:

    E minor third interval:

    F minor third interval:

    F# minor third interval:

    G minor third interval:

    G# minor third interval:

    A minor third interval:

    Bb minor third interval:

    B minor third interval:

    Final Words

    At this point, you’re equipped with what it takes to break down any given major triad. Let’s take the E major triad:

    …as an example. The E major chord structure can be broken down into two intervals – the E major third interval:

    …and the G# minor third interval:

    With this knowledge, formation of major triads just got easier as well.

    To form the A major triad, we’ll need two third intervals – a minor third interval on top of a major third interval. Our root in this case is A:

    …and A-C#:

    …is the A major third interval. At this point, we’ll be needing a minor third interval on C#:

    …which is C#-E:

    Altogether, these third intervals – A-C#:

    …and C#-E:

    …give us the A major triad:

    Thank you for the time you invested in today’s lesson, see you in another lesson.

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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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