Triads Music

Do you want to learn about triads and how they impact sound?

Triads are one of the most important aspects of music. They are chords containing three notes that can be major, minor, diminished or augmented. Each type of triad has a unique sound that can be used in different ways to create interesting harmonies.

In this article, we will explore the different types of triads, their construction, and how they can be used in music. By the end of this article, you’ll better understand these important musical elements and how to use them in your own music!

Continue reading our article on Triads and Triad Chords till the end!

What are triads in music?

Triads in music theory are defined as a set or group of either three distinct notes or three pitch classes from a diatonic scale, stacked vertically in thirds. Johannes Lippius, a German music theorist, coined the term harmonic triads in his work titled Synopsis Musicae Novae in 1612.

A pitch class is a set of all the notes or pitches that are the whole numbers apart from each other.

This means if we have a set “S” of note E, [E1, E2, E3, E4,…], where E1 is the note E at the lowest pitch and notes E2, E3, E4, etc have a pitch that is one, two, or any whole number multiple of E1’s pitch, then the set S is said to be a pitch class. All the other notes are one or multiple octaves higher than E1.

A set of all the keys with note E on your keyboard are a good example of a pitch class. Likewise, all the frets on your guitar with note E forms a pitch class.

You would have analyzed that when you play any basic chord, such as E minor, you play notes on all the strings (6 notes). There are only three distinct notes in this chord. Some of the notes are repeated on certain strings to get a fuller-sounding chord. The repeated notes may be octaves apart but in the same pitch class. Hence, what we are playing are three pitch classes.

When you hear the term stacked in thirds, it means that the intervals between the root note & the 2nd note and between the 2nd note & 3rd note are either major 3rd or minor 3rd or simple modifications of these 3rds. In Western music, any chords constructed with the intervals of thirds are also called Tertian chords.

You shall see and understand these in later sections.

What is the difference between Triad and Chord?

As you are already aware, a chord is defined as any sound produced when two or more notes are played simultaneously. The usual formulations contain two, three, or four notes leading to categorizing the chords as dyads, triads, or quadads, out of which triads are the most common. In simpler terms, a three-note or three-pitch-class chord is also known as the triad chord.

You can say that triads are a subset of different types of chords while chords encompass a much larger horizon. Another important characteristic that defines any triad is the notes should be stacked in thirds. Dyads are not governed by any fixed intervals, whereby any chromatic interval can be used. When two notes in dyads are the 5th interval apart, we get power chords.

Don’t get confused if you see a combination of three notes without adhering to the interval of thirds. They don’t qualify as triads and may fall into different categories like “Trichord” or “Quartal Triad.” A quartal triad stacks intervals of fourths like perfect, augmented, or diminished fourths instead of thirds.

Triads are frequently used in pop, rock, and other Western music genres.

How Are Triads Constructed?

Let us now focus on key elements associated with the construction of triads. Consider any diatonic scale and select any note as the root note from it. Generally, this will be the lowest note of the triad and its starting point.

Select the triad’s second or middle note at an interval of a minor third or a major third above the root note. Similarly, the third note is a major or minor third above the second. These three notes have two numbers of 3rds intervals stacked on top of each other and hence form a triad chord.

Representation of a Triad

A triad is shown as three notes stacked vertically over each other on the staff paper. The lowermost note is known as the bottom note, followed by the third and fifth notes, as shown in the diagram of the treble clef below.

Major Triads on Treble Clef

The same chords are also shown on the bass clef but not on the same octave.

Major Triads on Bass Clef

Usually, the bottom note is the root note. But, you can see representations where the root note may be in the middle. Such shuffled notes stacked vertically also form a triad.

How do Triads Impact Sound & Why Are Triads Important?

You might have heard often that chords are harmony’s building blocks. Chords themselves are made from notes that function in many predictable ways. Triad is one of the simplest and most stable chord structures because notes 1 and 5 are the most consonant ones. This is further evident from the fact that these notes form the power chords, known as fifths, that sound very good.

While note 3 is also fairly stable but comparatively less than 1 or 5. It, however, defines the chord quality in terms of major and minor chords.

The extensions of the triads result in seventh and ninth chords and are sometimes referred to as the extended triads by another 3rd interval. A seventh chord is less stable than a normal triad but more stable than the ninth chord. These extensions add color to the chord, and the seventh note determines the chord family – major, minor and dominant.

The functional harmony relies heavily on the primary triads. Primary triads are built on the tonic, subdominant, and dominant scale degrees. The roots of such triads lie on the 1st, 4th, and 5th scale degrees of a diatonic scale.

What are the 4 different types of triads?

You have seen so far that any triad consists of two intervals, each of which can take two values – major and minor thirds. In essence, this gives rise to 4 different types of triads based on a combination of these values, as shown below.

Type I – First Interval is a major 3rd, and the second interval is a minor 3rd.

Type II – First Interval is a minor 3rd, and the second interval is a major 3rd.

Type III – First Interval is a minor 3rd, and the second interval is also a minor 3rd.

Type IV – First Interval is a major 3rd, and the second interval is also a major 3rd.

Each of these four different types of triads is given a specific name depending on the triad quality, as discussed next.

Triad Qualities

Triads and quadads type chords have certain characteristic flavors associated with them that make them sound different. These flavors are known as the triad or chord qualities. This characteristic is not governed by the higher or lower pitch but by the intervals and the mood or effects their produce.

You may already know that all major chords are happy sounding while all minor chords arouse a sad feeling. So, the chord’s quality depends solely on the intervals between its constituent notes. Every chord is derived from a scale by a unique set of intervals leading to a particular chord formula for its derivation.

In the next sections, you will see the merging of these two concepts of chord quality and the four cases derived from different sets of intervals in the previous section. Then all the different types of triad chords and their four qualities will be perfectly clear to you.

Major and Minor Triads

Please observe the first two types of triads (Type I & Type II) in our earlier discussion. You will note that each type has one major 3rd and one minor 3rd interval. These are known as the major or minor triads. One major third interval [4 half steps (HS)] and one minor third interval [3 half steps] equal a perfect fifth interval [7 HS]. Hence the interval between the starting note and the top note in both these types of three-note chords is a “Perfect Fifth.

Let us examine each one in detail.

What are major triads?

Triads classified as Type I in our earlier discussion with a major 3rd interval above the root and a minor 3rd interval above the second note are referred to as the Major triads. The chord formula for a major triad is [1 3 5], represented as [R – M3 – m3] or {0 – 4 – 7} semitones.

What notes are in any major triad?

As an example, consider the C major scale consisting of [C D E F G A B] notes with the scale formula of {T T S T T T S}.

The C major triad will be R – C – M3 – E – m3 – G, or simply C E G.

Where E is a major 3rd (4 ST = C#, D, D#, E) above the root C and G is a minor 3rd (3 ST = F, F#, G) above E.

Let us consider another example of the Eb major chord. The Eb major scale has [Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb] notes. The Eb major triad will be

R – Eb – M3 – G – m3 – Bb, or Eb G Bb. Note that these are also the [1 3 5] in the Eb major scale.

What are minor triads?

Likewise, the Type II triad built with a minor 3rd interval above the root and a major 3rd interval stacked above the second note is known as a minor triad. The chord formula for this triad is [1 b3 5], represented in long form as [R – m3 – M3] or {0 – 3 – 7} semitones on the major scale and [1 3 5] on the natural minor scale.

What notes are in any minor triad?

Suppose you want to find out the C minor triad. The C minor natural scale with scale formula {T S T T S T T} is [C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb].

So the C minor triad will be R – C – m3 – Eb – M3 – G, or [C Eb G] in short. The [1 3 5] chord formula can also get the same result.

Instead of writing the minor scale, you can get the chord from the major scale itself by using [1 b3 5] as the chord formula. We get the same result by applying this formula to the C major scale in our major triad example.

Diminished & Augmented Triads

Type III and IV triads have both intervals equal. In the type III triad, both intervals are minor thirds, whereas, in the type IV triad, they are major thirds. Such triads built with the same intervals are known as the diminished and the augmented triads. Let us see them in more detail.

What are Diminished Triads?

Diminished triads are composed of two minor thirds stacked above each other. Hence, its notes are Root, minor third, and diminished 5th. They are denoted as R – m3 – m3 with the chord formula [1 b3 b5]. As the formula shows, both the third and fifth notes of the original scale have to be flattened.

Because of the first minor 3rd interval, it is designated as a minor triad. The second note is three semitones above the root position, and the highest note is also three semitones above the second note. This results in the third note being six-half steps above the root and is a flat or diminished fifth instead of the perfect fifths seen in the previous cases. You may recall from the music theory that this particular interval is also known as a tritone and is a highly dissonant interval.

What notes are in any diminished triad?

Let us find out the C diminished triad, usually represented as Cdim. E and G are the third and fifth notes of the C major scale. Hence the notes C diminished triad are [C Eb Gb].

What are augmented triads?

Augmented triads are formed by stacking two major third intervals over the root position. They contain Root, Major 3rd, and Augmented fifth notes. Augmented fifth is enharmonically equivalent to minor 6th notes. They are denoted as R – M3 – M3 with the chord formula [1 3 #5].

Please note that it is a major triad, owing to its major third interval over the root, and has a sharp 5th note, which is eight semitones above the root. Augmented chords are the least common of the four types of diatonic triads discussed.

The augmented triads are designated as Caug.

What notes are in any augmented triad?

Again, consider the example of the C augmented triad. Its notes are given by [1 3 #5] and are [C E G#]

Similarly, to find out the D augmented chord, consider the D major scale [D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#]. The notes of Daug are [D F# A#].


That’s a lot of information, but hopefully, you have a basic understanding of triads, their construction, intervals, and how they impact sound. They are also relatively easy to understand and play, making them a popular choice for beginner musicians. If you still have questions after reading this article, let me know in the comments section, and I will do my best to answer them.

Leave a Comment