Now we can look at the Triad in more detail. We already know that the Triad is made of 3 tones: the Root, the Major/Minor 3rd, and the Perfect 5th. Let’s look at some of the relationships between these tones.
The Major Triad
The Minor Triad
Notice the Symmetry between Major and Minor! Minor exists within Major, and Major within Minor! There are two other combinations of Major/Minor 3rds possible.
The Diminished Triad
We know the Diminished chord from the vii° chord in the Major Key. It is made of two Minor 3rds, which create a Diminished 5th- the Tritone! This chord has a lot of dissonant tension which makes it very active with a powerful need to resolve.
The Augmented Triad
The Augmented chord is made of two Major 3rds, which create an Augmented 5th (not a Tritone). It is an imperfect 5th however, which makes it a dissonant chord, like the Diminished.
Dissonance should not be confused with a word like Ugly, or Harsh, nor Consonance with terms like Beautiful or Pleasant. These terms are relative, and the musical meaning of Consonance & Dissonance depends on a context of many different factors. Really the idea of Consonance and Dissonance are two poles of Stability & Activity. The more Consonant a sound, the more it wants to stay still. The more Dissonant, the more it wants to move! This is the entire basis for the study of harmony. Everything boils down to a movement from activity towards stability. This musical force of push and pull is what makes interesting, beautiful, fantastic sounds possible in Music!
Inversions of the Triad
F Major Triad in 3 Positions
This might look like 3 “different” chords, but notice that each chord is made of the same 3 notes: F, A, C. Inversion is simply the changing of the order. The note that was on the bottom moves up to the top of the next inversion.
These 3 chords do have a distinct sonority from one another. They are not the same sound, yet they represent the same harmonic unit.
In the time of J.S. Bach, composers had developed a shorthand for writing chords using simple bass notes and numbers. This is called “Figured Bass.” It allowed them to improvise freely over a bass line because it provides most of the important harmonic information. It continues to be a useful way to describe chords and is used often in musical analysis to show the inversions.
The Root position Triad is considered “standard,” so it doesn’t use a numerical Figure. Think of the Root position as a 1,3,5 chord, built upwards from the Bass note.
The Important feature of the 1st Inversion is the interval of the 6th. It is called the “Chord of the Sixth,” by Classical composers (In Jazz, a 6 chord means something different.) Technically it is a chord built from a 3rd and 6th up from the Bass note.* Abbreviated simply: 6.
*Notice that we build the chord up from the Bass note- A, not the “Root”- F.
The 2nd Inversion is built from a 4th and 6th up from the Bass note, hence the name “Chord of the Six-Four” (or Four-Six). Abbreviated: 6/4
Remember that as far as the Figures are concerned, the chords are built up from the note in the Bass, not the “Root” of the chord.
These Examples are all from the F Major Triad, but the same numbered Figures apply to all other Triads as well.
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