• What are Subsidiary Chords?

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    subsidiary chords

    Subsidiary chords are chords that are related to a given chord in terms of harmonic function.

    We began our discussion previously on the harmonic function of minor triads where I showed you three functions of the minor triad.

    In this post, we are looking at chords that are related to the harmonic function of any given triad (aka – “subsidiary chords”).

    But before we do that, let’s breakdown the term harmonic function.

    “Harmonic Function? What Does That Mean?”

    Jermaine Griggs, long before now, has taught us that in music, you’ll always see one idea take up multiple functions.

    He convinced me when he used himself as an example. He’s a father, a son, a husband, a CEO, to name a few. This means that who Jermaine Griggs is to you depends on who you are, too. In my case, he’s a role model.

    The award-winning C major triad:

    …is chord 1 in the key of C, chord 4 in the key of G, and also chord 5 in the key of F.

    “Let’s be sure we’re on track. Check this out…”

    Chord 1 in the key of C

    In the major scale of C:

    …the first scale tone is C.

    Chord formation in thirds from C using the C major scale will produce the C major triad:

    …(aka “chord 1.”)

    Chord 4 in the key of G

    In the G major scale:

    C is the fourth scale tone.

    If we go ahead and form chords in thirds starting from C using the G major scale, this will also produce the C major triad:

    …(aka “chord 4.”)

    Chord 5 in the key of F

    In the major scale of F:

    …the fifth scale tone is C.

    Chord formation in thirds from C using the F major scale will produce the C major triad:

    …(aka “chord 5.”)

    “Welcome back from review.”

    Notice in all three cases, nothing changed about the C major triad. It was pretty much C, E, and G stacked together.

    However, the C major that is chord 1 in the key of C, has a different function in the keys of G and F where it functions as chords 4 and 5, respectively.

    We can’t play in the key of C major forever right?

    If we move (or modulate) from C major to F major, we’ll still have a C major triad but with a different harmonic function. The C major triad in this new key (F major) would function as chord 5.

    With all I’ve said so far, I hope you can understand that the harmonic function of a chord is simply what it’s used for and that largely depends on the key we’re in.

    Subsidiary Chords – Defined

    Subsidiary chords are chords that [share two pitches or more but most importantly] are related by harmonic function. – Jermaine Griggs

    Any chord that can take the place of another and perform its harmonic function is known as a subsidiary chord. I want you to notice that the emphasis is on the term harmonic function.

    So, when we’re thinking of a subsidiary chord, we’re probably thinking of a chord that can take the place of a given chord.

    Here’s a direct question [to you]:

    “If we are in the key of C, where the harmonic function of the C major triad is chord 1, what other triads can take up that harmonic function of being chord 1 and why?”

    Here’s my answer…

    “A minor triad can do the harmonic function of the C major triad as chord 1. Reason is, both triads have two notes in common”

    C major triad:

    …consists of C, E, and G while the A minor triad:

    …consists of A, C, and E.

    The common notes between both triads are C and E:

    If you’re wondering how I arrived at A minor, don’t worry. In the next segment, I’ll enlighten you more by showing you the chord formation of the subsidiary chord using the given chord.

    Chord Formation of the Subsidiary Chord

    Even though there are four classes of triads – major, minor, augmented, and diminished, two are commonly used because of their stability.

    If you’re following our FREE 16-Week Chord Revival Program, you should already be familiar with the term, “stability.”

    In this post, we’ll be looking at the subsidiary chords of two stable triads – the major and minor triads and how to derive their subsidiary chords.

    Subsidiary Chords For Major Triads

    A major triad is built off the first, third, and fifth tones of the major scale.

    If the fifth tone of a major triad is raised by a whole step, this would produce its subsidiary chord. Using the C major triad as an example, if the fifth of the C major triad (G):

    …is raised by a whole step:

    This would produce the first inversion of the A minor triad:

    The A minor triad is the subsidiary of the C major triad.

    Just in case it escaped your notice, we only raised the fifth tone of the C major triad (G). The first and third chord tones are the tones that the C major triad shares in common with its subsidiary chord.

    Check out the major triads vs subsidiary triads in all 12 keys below:

    C major vs A minor:

    Db major vs Bb minor:

    Here are the rest of them…


    D major vs B minor:

    Eb major vs C minor:

    E major vs C# minor:

    F major vs D minor:

    F# major vs D# minor:

    G major vs E minor:

    Ab major vs F minor:

    A major vs F# minor:

    Bb major vs G minor:

    B major vs G# minor:


    Let’s look at minor triads and their subsidiary chords.

    Subsidiary Chords For Minor Triads

    The minor triad is built off the first, third, and fifth tones of the minor scale.

    Lowering the first tone (aka – “root”) of the minor triad would produce its subsidiary chord. Using the A minor triad as an example:

    …if the root of the A minor triad (A):

    …is lowered by a whole step:

    This would produce the second inversion of the C major triad:

    The C major triad is the subsidiary chord of the A minor triad.

    Only the root of the A minor triad (A) is lowered. The third and fifth chord tones are the tones that the A minor triad shares in common with its subsidiary chord.

    Check out the minor triads vs subsidiary triads below:

    A minor vs C major:

    Bb minor vs Db major:

    B minor vs D major:

    C minor vs Eb major:

    C# minor vs E major:

    D minor vs F major:

    D# minor vs F# major:

    E minor vs G major:

    F minor vs Ab major:

    F# minor vs A major:

    G minor vs Bb major:

    G# minor vs B major:

    Let’s begin to round up…

    The Circle of Fourths/Fifths

    There are references and there are references.

    In posts like this, rounding up without making reference to the musical clock is inappropriate. Therefore, permit me to show you in two minutes or less, how the musical clock can help you remember subsidiary chords.

    circleoffiths1

    Using the musical clock, you can determine the subsidiary chords of any given major or minor chord.

    Triads and their subsidiary chords are located in the same sector of this musical clock. For example, the C major and A minor triads are in the same sector in the 12 o’clock position.

    Check these out:

    12 o’clock position – C major is the subsidiary triad of A minor triad and vice versa.

    1 o’clock position – G major is the subsidiary triad of E minor triad and vice versa.

    2 o’clock position – D major is the subsidiary triad of B minor triad and vice versa.

    If you keep going clockwise, you’ll encounter all major and minor triads and their subsidiary chords.

    Final Words

    The importance of knowing subsidiary chords cannot be overemphasized.

    Let me point out to you that the subsidiary chord of a given major triad is a minor triad while the subsidiary chord of a given minor triad is a major triad.

    A given triad and its subsidiary may differ in quality, but the relationship between them is too close. They belong to the same sector of the musical clock and even share two notes in common.

    Heck, one can even say that a given triad and it’s subsidiary are 66% identical. If you increase the quality of the chords to sevenths, the major 7th and subsidiary minor 7th are 75% identical (3 out of 4 matching notes).

    Now that we’ve understood triads and their subsidiaries, we’ll meet again in a subsequent post where our focus will be on the application of subsidiary triads.

    All the best!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    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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    { 26 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Ini

    Mr onyemachi doesn’t this subsidiary chords have something to do with relative minors?

    Reply

    2 Jermaine Griggs

    Relative minor/major …yes.

    But the term relative minor has to do with the key while subsidiary chords don’t necessarily have to have a relationship with the prevalent key.

    In the key of F major, A minor triad is the subsidiary chord of C major.

    In the key of G major, A minor triad is also the subsidiary chord of C major.

    It’s wrong to call the A minor triad the relative minor chord of C major triad.

    It’s more appropriate to call the A minor triad the subsidiary chord of C major triad.

    Reply

    3 matthew

    Nice write up! My name is matthew and am inform that hear and play is now in nigeria,pls how can I purchase the company product online I have tried hearandplay.com.ng and I saw no provision for buying online. Pls reply me through my email(mcmatthewsocool@gmail.com)

    Reply

    4 Peter LaFosse

    I can say I learned something today, Thanks

    Reply

    5 appiah stephen

    Ini is right. I think its the same as RELATIVE MINORS

    Reply

    6 Olajide Adetunji

    This right up is very expository and clear

    Reply

    7 Ekundayo Peter

    wow, I am blessed today, thumbs up for you hear and play.

    Reply

    8 israel

    sir pokey my dreams is to become your student pls sir help and couch me sir,,,my number is 07081923594 I’m ready to learn

    Reply

    9 Mayeso

    easy to understand, I got something new today. Thumbs up!

    Reply

    10 Richard Blocher

    You really got through to me today.I feel like learning something new, and you just shown me the way.

    Reply

    11 David Brakes

    I love this

    Reply

    12 Abasiakan

    👍

    Reply

    13 Mayowa

    Pls, if hear and play is here in Nigeria, where can I purchase there product? Mostly hard copy! Thanks

    Reply

    14 Kemi

    Am blessed today! Thanks for the added knowledge….You’re God’s sent sir

    Reply

    15 Anayo

    Chords made easy

    Reply

    16 Nelson

    Been following Sir Griggs and his team for sometime now… always love your teachings.

    May God bless you and strengthen you in grace Sir.

    Will love to be a part of this team of musicians…

    thank God for hearandplay Nig.

    nice work Chuku… we’ll learn faster and more professionally now.

    Reply

    17 Nelson

    A question sir…

    how exactly does A minor triad perform the harmonic function of C major triad…how does Amin take the place of Cmaj as chord 1 in the key of Cmaj?

    Is a chord a subsidiary to a given major chord simply because it is minor and share some notes with the major chord?

    For example,
    E minor is E G B and
    C major is C E G

    they both have E and G in common and are minor and major chords.

    Can I say E minor is subsidiary to C major? if not, why?

    bless you Sir

    Reply

    18 BARNETTE ROMANY

    I think B makes it CMAJ 7 subsidiary

    Reply

    19 Mike

    C# minor is the subsidiary to E Major.

    C minor is the subsidiary to Eb Major

    E minor is the subsidiary to G Major

    G minor is the subsidiary to Sib Major

    Reply

    20 Simon

    My name is Simon thank you for the tutorial thank you for the lessons I have been playing for a while but your tutorials are really opening up things to me why we hold what chord or do what we do when we play. Where can i get your materials in Nigeria I stay in Abuja.

    Regards.
    Simon Kachi

    Reply

    21 krishnakumar kumar

    i am thankful to you concerned with the tutorial posted

    Reply

    22 success I M

    Gr8.pls can u do smth on passing chords n notes

    Reply

    23 Aromzee

    Pls sir i need to know more abut key c minor and major chord

    Reply

    24 Paul

    Wow! What an eye opener

    Reply

    25 Ariwa Godwin

    I really appreciate your effort Sir in educating us though I find it very difficult to assimilate because am not into music but I guess with I will.More grease to your elbow..

    Reply

    26 Uyammadu chidubem

    thank. sir your amazing

    Reply

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