• A Lesson On The Structure Of The Minor Triad

    in Beginners,Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    I’m happy to share with you on the structure of the minor triad.

    At the end of this lesson, you should be able to see the minor triad in a different light because we’re approaching its breakdown in a unique way.

    But before we get into all what we have today, permit me to give you a note on triads, and I’ll advise you go through this review, even if you’re familiar with what triads are.

    A Short Note On Triads

    There are so many ways to define a triad. According to Jermaine Griggs, “a triad is a collection of three related notes that are played or heard together.“Although a triad is a chord, there’s emphasis on “three” which is the minimum and maximum number of notes in a chord.

    The relationship between the notes of a triad is usually in third intervals and this produces what music scholars call the tertian harmony – which simply means harmony in third intervals.

    Take a look at tertian harmony here

    We can form an A triad starting from A:

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

    …is C:

    …and another third from A-C:

    ..is E:

    …which gives us three notes altogether – a triad:

    That’s not all! There are tons of similar triads on the piano and here are a few of them…

    C triad:

    B triad:

    G triad:

    D triad:


    Although there are four different classes of triad:

    …which you can actually call the fantastic four, we’re dwelling extensively on the minor triad in this lesson.

    “What Is A Minor Triad?”

    We have four classes of triads and each triad has its quality, which is determined by what the chord is made up of (aka – “intervallic components”.)

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

    The minor triad is basically a triad that is built off the natural minor scale (and any other minor scale – melodic or harmonic) which is basically a traditional scale in the minor key.

    The A triad below:

    …derives its minor quality from its intervallic component (which we’ll discuss shortly) and the key of A minor. It has the first, third, and fifth tones of the A natural minor scale:

    …and is the tonic chord in the key of A minor.

    From what we’ve learned so far, a minor triad is the tonic chord in the minor key, and consists of the first, third, and fifth tones of traditional minor scales.

    “Check out the minor triad in all twelve keys…”

    C minor triad:

    C# minor triad:

    D minor triad:

    Eb minor triad:

    E minor triad:

    F minor triad:

    F# minor triad:

    G minor triad:

    G# minor triad:

    A minor triad:

    Bb minor triad:

    B minor triad:

    “Back To What I Said Earlier”

    The quality of a triad is determined by the intervals that makes it up (aka – “its intervallic components”.) Let’s proceed to the next segment to find out what intervallic components are.

    The Intervallic Components Of The Minor Triad

    All chords, no matter how big or small, can be broken down into intervals, and the minor triad is no exception. The intervals that a chord can be broken down into are known as its intervallic components.

    In this segment, we’ll be breaking down the minor triad into its intervallic components using the A minor triad:

    …as a reference.

    “Attention please”

    The A minor triad:

    …can be broken down into the following intervallic constituents…

    A and C:

    …a minor third.

    C and E:

    …a major third.

    A and E:

    …a perfect fifth:

    Altogether, the A minor triad [just like every other known minor triad] has three intervallic components…

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

    Take note of these intervallic components – especially the minor and major third intervals.

    Exposed: The Structure Of The Minor Triad

    The easiest third interval to see in the minor triad is the minor third interval. In the A minor triad, it’s easy to spot A and C:

    …a minor third interval. However, a closer look shows another quality of third – the major third interval – C and E:

    The minor and major third intervals are the key components in the structure of the minor triad and every minor triad has both of them. In the A minor triad:

    …there’s A-C:

    …and C-E:

    Attention: The minor triad is structured in such a way that the minor third interval comes before the major third interval. Consequently, if you stack minor and major third intervals together in a way I’ll show you, you’ll form a minor triad.

    Let’s proceed by exploring these two third intervals – the minor and major third interval.

    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 C and E:

    …if the higher pitch (E):

    …is lowered by a half step (to Eb):

    …this produces C and Eb:

    …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:

    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 A major scale:

    …has A and C#:

    ….as its first and third tones, therefore A-C#:

    …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:

    Final Thoughts

    I’m doubly sure that you can breakdown any given minor triad into its structural third intervals. For example, the C# minor triad:

    …can be broken down into two third intervals – the C# minor third interval:

    …and the E major third interval:

    It’s as simple as that…and yes, you can apply that to the formation of other minor triads.

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

    …and C-Eb:

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

    …which is Eb-G:

    Altogether, these third intervals – C-Eb:

    …and Eb-G:

    …are the structural components of the C minor triad:

    In a subsequent post, we’ll apply the knowledge of the structure of the minor triad in the formation and voicing of extended minor chords.

    See you then.

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    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.

    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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