Jazz Theory 5
Triad Chord Qualities

  1. Definition and Function
  2. The Major Triad Chord
  3. The Minor Triad Chord
  4. The Diminished Triad Chord
  5. The Augmented Triad Chord
  6. The four Chord Qualities
  7. The Triad Chords Ruler
  8. Quiz and Quiz Answers
  9. Ear Tests 10 & 11 and Answers
  10. Lesson Material - General files

    Jazz Theory lessons online

Rhythm Class - In Focus - Learn to Read Music - Jazclass Links

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JT 5.1 - Definition and Function

When two notes are sounded simultaneously they form a harmonic interval (Lesson 1).

When three or more notes are sounded simultaneously (or almost simultaneously) they form a chord.

When the chord tones are sounded together they form a solid chord.

When the chord tones are sounded one after another they form a broken chord or arpeggio.

For example :


Chords have two vital functions in music :

  1. to provide colour and mood

  2. to provide forward movement.

Compare a piece of music with a painting.

The melody represents the shapes of the objects in the painting.

The chords represent the colour that fill and surround the shapes.

Many melody notes are also chord tones. This strengthens the melody and enhances the sparkle of the colours.

Forward Motion
A chord on its own produces a colour or a mood.

A succession of chords, a chord progression, provides forward motion to a song.

This is achieved through the repeated process of tension and release.
Some chords provide tension to the music, other chords provide the release.

In a good chord progression these two elements are balanced in an extended motion of ebb and flow, dark and light. (More about chord progressions in Lesson 13)

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JT 5.2 - The Major Triad Chord

A triad chord is a stack of 3 tones.

The notes in the stack are either :

  • on successive lines of the music stave,

  • or they occupy successive spaces in between the lines of the music stave.
The bottom note of such a stack is called the root of the chord.

Besides a letter (identifying the chord root) each chord name also includes a chord quality.

The most important chord quality is the major triad.

A major triad can easily be constructed by selecting the 1st (tonic) 3rd and 5th note of any major scale :

Audio 1

The quality of the major triad is 'understood' and usually not shown in the chord symbol.
The chord symbols are usually written above the stave.

Note that the major triad consists of a major 3rd (M3) and a perfect 5th (P5) interval, as measured from the chord root.

The major 3rd interval gives this triad its name : 'C major'.

The D major triad is constructed in the same way using the D major scale.

When there is no quality symbol behind the chord letter name the major triad quality is understood.
For example C stands for the C major triad, F stands for the F major triad etc..

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JT 5.3 - The Minor Triad Chord

The minor triad quality can be formed by lowering the 3rd of the major triad.

For example :

Audio 2

The minor triad chord combines a minor 3rd (m3) with a perfect 5th (P5).

The minor 3rd is the characteristic interval that gives the minor triad its name.

The chord symbol for a minor triad is m or min, for example : Cm or Cmin.

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JT 5.4 - The Diminished Triad Chord

The diminished triad can be formed by lowering the 5th of the minor triad (or by lowering the 3rd and 5th of the major triad) :

For example :

Audio 3

The diminished triad chord combines a minor 3rd (m3) with a diminished 5th (o5).

The diminished 5th is the characteristic interval that gives the diminished triad its name.

The chord symbol for a diminished triad is o or dim, for example: Co or Cdim.

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JT 5.5 - The Augmented Triad Chord

The augmented triad can be formed by raising the 5th of the major triad.

For example :

Audio 4

The augmented triad chord combines a major 3rd (M3) with an augmented 5th (+5) interval.

The augmented 5th is the characteristic interval that gives the augmented triad its name.

The chord symbol for an augmented triad is + or aug, for example: C+ or Caug.

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JT 5.6 - The four Triad Chord Qualities

We now have met the four triad chord qualities.

This is how they interrelate for the C triads :

Audio 5

For the D triads :


When playing the four chord qualities in this order on the keyboard only one finger moves from one chord to the next :

major   >   aug   >   major (again)   >   minor   >   dim

The four triad chord qualities in all keys are included in the
Lesson Material, both as solid chords and as arpeggios (broken chords).

All solid chords throughout this Course are notated on the stave in an easy to read range.

Keyboard players always play the chords in the recommended range.

When practising chords with both hands together :

  1. Play the left hand chord in the recommended range for the left hand.

  2. Play the right hand chord in the same voicing one octave higher.
    (This way both hands cover exactly 2 octaves on the keyboard.)

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JT 5.7 - The Triad Chords Ruler

The Triad Chords Ruler is a simple device that helps you to determine any chord quality in any key.


  1. Simply align the chord root name on the letter strip with the line labelled '1' on the chord interval strip.

  2. Then read the letter names that make up the chord you want.

For example to find the triad chords for E align 1 on the bottom strip with E on the upper strip.


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JT 5.8 - Quiz

Identify the following chords.


Name the missing note for these chords.


How many chord tones do you count in this melody segment of 'Silent Night' ?
And how many non-chord tones are there ?


(The chord written above the stave remains in force until a new chord name appears.)

1. What do the C+ and D+ chords form when combined ?
2. What do the F+ and G+ chords form when combined ?

Mark the major triads in all keys on the Keyboard Diagrams.
Like this for the E major triad :


Mark the minor triads in all keys on the Keyboard Diagrams.

Mark the diminished triads in all keys on the Keyboard Diagrams.

Mark the augmented triads in all keys on the Keyboard Diagrams.

Write the four triad qualities in all keys on the
Chord Letters Diagrams as shown here for the C chords.


Quiz Answers

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JT 5.9 - Ear tests 10 & 11

Start work on singing and identifying the four qualities of triad chords.
Practise singing arpeggios (broken chords) :

In C :

  1. C E G E C
  2. C Eb G Eb C
  3. C Eb Gb Eb C
  4. C E G# E C

The chords on all Demos and Ear tests are played three times :

  1. chord-tones played one after another, lowest note first.

  2. repeat of the above

  3. chord tones played simultaneously

Audio Demo 1 - Triad Chords, played in the following order :

major - minor - diminished - augmented

Before doing Ear test 10 listen to Audio Demo 2.

  • Michael row the Boat Ashore begins with a major triad.

  • Midnight in Moscow ('Moscow Nights') begins with a minor triad.

This will help you to identify major and minor triads.

Ear test 10 - 12 triad chords : major and minor chords only

Ear test 11 - 12 triad chords : major - minor - dim - aug

Single Items test
Audio Demos of the four C triad chords :

Each number plays one of the above triad chords :

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 |

Ear test Answers

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JT 5.10 - Lesson Material

File Name Contents


Jazz Theory 5 - Facts sheet

Triad Chords Ruler




Keyboard Diagrams

Manuscript paper

Chord Letters Diagrams





Triad Chords 1 (p.4)

Triad Chords 2 (p.5)

Triad Arpeggios 1 (p.6)

Triad Arpeggios 2 (p.7)

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© 1998 - 2008 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)