In today’s lesson, I’ll be providing you with the answer to the question, “what are triads?”

The very first level of harmony that musicians are usually exposed to while learning how to accompany songs on the piano are triads.

We’ll be taking an in depth look at triads in this course, by considering its definition, and we’ll also be looking at several qualities of triads and also their intervallic constituents. If you don’t understand all what I just said, don’t worry because I’ll be breaking them down in this lesson.

So let’s get started with the definition of triads.

According to Jermaine Griggs, “…a triad is a collection of three related notes (agreeable or not) that maybe played together or separately.

Permit me at this point to breakdown this definition of a triad so that you can have a better understanding.

The first part of the definition says, ‘…a collection of three…’

### “…a collection of three…”

It takes three notes to form a triad. Although there are four note triads, more of less than three notes cannot form a triad. Considering the fact that a chord can be defined as a collection of three or more notes, a triad fits into the description of what is known as a chord.

Let’s take a look at the second part of the definition which says, ‘related notes

### “…related notes…”

The notes of a triad must be related, in other words, they must be in relationship.

Inasmuch as triads can be formed using three notes, not every set or collection of three note can be called a triad. Before a set of three notes can be called a triad, they must have a scale and intervallic relationship.

“Let me explain this relationship…”

We’ll be using a known triad:

…the C major triad (which consists of C E and G.)

There is a scale relationship between C, E, and G:

They are the first, third and fifth tones of the C major scale:

…therefore what the notes of the C major triad:

…share in common is that they are scale tones of the C major scale:

There is also intervallic relationship between the notes of the triad.

In a triad, the distance between successive chord tones is based on a stipulated interval.

In this case of the C major triad:

…take note that C to E:

…is a third, and E to G:

…is also a third, therefore, the intervallic relationship between the notes of the C major triad:

…is in thirds, and this is known to music scholars as tertian harmony.

Attention: Tertian harmony is the outcome of creating a relationship between notes in intervals of thirds.

With all what we’ve covered in this segment, I suppose you’re acquainted with triads, therefore, let’s proceed in this study by taking a look at the individual tones of a triad (aka – “chord tones”.)

## The Chord Tones Of A Triad

The notes of a triad are known as chord tones and every triad has three chord tones because a triad is basically a product of the relationship between three notes.

The chord tones are described according to their interval from the root of the chord. Using the C major triad:

…as a reference, C, E, and G are the first, third, and fifth tones of the C major scale. Consequently, the tones of a triad are individually known as…

• The first chord tone
• The third chord tone
• The fifth chord tone

…check them out.

### The First Chord Tone

The first tone of a triad, which is usually the lowest (especially when a triad is played in its root position), is the root.

In the case of the C major triad which consists of C, E, and G:

…C:

…which is the first chord tone, is the root.

It is considered as the root because it is the first tone of the triad that the scale relationship of the chord tones of a triad is determined. The scale relationship between the chord tones of a triad is based on a major or minor scale/mode in the key of the first chord tone.

In the case of the C major triad:

…the scale relationship between C, E, and G is based on the major scale:

…in the key of C:

…the first chord tone.

### The Third Chord Tone

The quality of a triad is determined by the third chord tone.

In music, quality is usually described using these two adjectives – major and minor. The term major and minor are basically used to classify musical ideas according to the two principal key types – the major and minor key.

While the term major refers to scales, intervals, chords, and chord progressions that are in the major key, the term minor is used to refer to ideas that are related to the minor key – be it scales, intervals, chords, and chord progressions.

In a nutshell, the quality of a triad (and other chords) in terms of being a major and minor chord is determine by the distance between the root and the third.

If the third chord tone is a major third above the root, the triad formed would be a major triad. Conversely, if the third chord tone is a minor third above the root, then the triad formed would be a minor triad.

The third chord tone of the C major triad:

…which is E:

…is a major third above its root (C):

This explains why it has a major quality.

### The Fifth Chord Tone

The last chord tone of a triad is the fifth. The fifth (as it name implies) is five scale degrees away from the root of the triad.

In the case of the C major triad:

…G:

..is the fifth chord tone.

The stability of a chord depends on the quality of the interval between the fifth chord tone and the root. There are three known fifth intervals…

• Perfect fifth
• Diminished fifth
• Augmented Fifth

Triads that contain the perfect fifth interval are said to be more stable than triads that contain the augmented and diminished fifth intervals which are considered to be harsh and unpleasant (dissonant.)

In a subsequent lesson, we’ll delve into the relationship between the fifth chord tone and the stability of triads.

For now, let’s proceed by taking a look at the classes of triads.

## The Fantastic Four

There are four known classes of triads:

These triads are named the way they are because of specific harmonic traits they have and we’re going to be considering them in this segment.

“On the top of my list is the major triad…”

### #1 – The Major Triad

If you know the scale relationship between the notes of a major triad, you can form it in all twelve keys.

The major triad is built off the first, third and fifth tones of the major scale. Therefore, playing the first, third and fifth tones of any major scale produces the major triad. The first, third, and fifth tones of the D major scale:

…are D, F#, and A:

…and are the tones of the D major triad.

…as a reference, here are the intervallic constituents of a major triad.

D-F#:

…a major third, and D-A:

…a perfect fifth.

Summarily, the major triad has two intervallic constituents – the major third and perfect fifth intervals.

### #2 – The Minor Triad

The notes of the minor triad have a scale relationship with the natural minor scale. The first, third and fifth tones of any natural minor scale produces the minor triad.

What are the first, third, and fifth tones of the A natural minor scale?:

The answer is A, C, and E:

…and those are the tones of the A minor triad.

…as a reference, here are the intervallic constituents of a minor triad.

A-C:

…a minor third, and A-E:

…a perfect fifth.

In a nutshell, the minor third and perfect fifth intervals are the intervallic constituents of the minor triad.

### #3 – The Augmented Triad

Although the chord tones of the augmented triad are related to the melodic and harmonic minor scales, we’ll be relating them with the whole tone scale. The first, third and fifth tones of any whole tone scale produces the augmented triad.

In the C whole tone scale:

…the first, third, and fifth tones are C, E, and G#:

…and those are the tones of the C augmented triad.

…as a reference, here are the intervallic constituents of an augmented triad.

C-E:

…a major third, and C-G#:

…an augmented fifth.

Attention: The major third and augmented fifth intervals are the intervallic constituents of the augmented triad. Due to the quality of fifth (augmented fifth interval) in the augmented triad, the augmented triad has a degree of harshness and unpleasantness.

### #4 – The Diminished Triad

The chord tones of the diminished triad are related to the major, melodic and harmonic minor scales, however, we’ll be relating them with the octatonic scale. Using any octatonic scale, you can form a diminished triad by playing its first, third and fifth tones.

In the C octatonic whole-half scale:

…the first, third, and fifth tones are C, Eb, and Gb:

…and those are the tones of the C diminished triad.

…as a reference, here are the intervallic constituents of a diminished triad.

C-Eb:

…a minor third, and C-Gb:

…a diminished fifth.

Attention: Due to the quality of fifth (the diminished fifth interval) in the diminished triad, the diminished triad sounds harsh (dissonant.)

## Final Words

I hope you found what we’ve covered in today’s lesson informative. Well, this is just a tip of the iceberg, because we’ll be taking this discussion to another level in another lesson. Before we call it a day, kindly check out this “Complete Guide To Piano Chords.”

All the best, and see you in another lesson.

The following two tabs change content below.

#### Chuku Onyemachi

Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group
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.