INTRODUCTION TO HARMONY

TRIADS

Listen to some triads here.

Press shuffle to test your closed, root position triad quality recognition.

A triad is a group of three notes that are stacked in thirds (or inversions thereof.) 

When stacked in thirds...

the first note is called the Root

the second the Third

and the third, the Fifth...

relating to their scale degrees starting from the root. 

Triads can be created with Major and/or minor thirds.

Major triad:             M3, m3 (Major Third, minor 3rd), indicated with a capital roman number I, II, 

Minor triad:             m3, M3, indicated with a lower case roman number i, ii, iii, etc.

Diminished triad:   m3, m3, indicated with a lower case roman number and,   i

Augmented triad:  M3, M3, indicated with an upper case roman number and +, I+, II+, etc.

An inversion of a triad occurs when the third or the fifth is on the bottom (bass) of the chord rather than the root.

Root position: also represented by vertical numbers 5 and 3 = a diatonic 5th and 3rd above the bass

 

1st inversion: also represented by vertical numbers 6 and 3 = a diatonic 6th and 3rd above the bass

    

2nd inversion: also represented by vertical numbers 6 and 4 = a diatonic 6th and 4th above the bass

Each inversion of a triad creates a different outer interval, and a very different colour/sound.

 

TRIADIC HARMONY

To find the qualities of triads in a mode or key, take the scale and build triads using the diatonic notes of the scale.

TONIC: The first scale degree of a diatonic scale (I)  

The Tonic Triad is made up of the triad found on the 1st scale degree

 

DOMINANT: The 5th scale degree of a diatonic scale (V)

The Dominant Triad is made up of the triad found on the 5th scale degree.

In Major and harmonic minor the Dominant triad contains the leading tone (#7 scale degree).

You can discover the quality of the triads in any scale: take the scale of the key and build triads using the notes of the scale.

When we place these triads and their qualities into a chord chart, we are able to quickly see which chord qualities reside where and in which keys.

 Knowing your chord chart inside and out is very helpful when working on Chord Progressions (a series of chords that relate to each other harmonically.) 

 

CHORD PROGRESSIONS

Circle of 5ths Chord Progression: Moving down the chords in a key by fifths, maintaining the chord qualities within that key.

Picardy Third: When the final tonic (i) chord in a piece with a minor key has a raised third, thus creating a Major I chord instead of a minor i chord as a form of resolution.

Three Bit Chords: popular root position chord combinations. 

You can use these as building blocks to create bigger chord progressions.

When working on a chord progression, it is important to know what your options are. 

 

On the first hearing, listen ONLY for chord quality (Major, min, dim, Aug.) This will narrow down your choices. 

On the second hearing, listen to the bass.  Once you know the chord quality and the bass note, you can look at the chart below to figure out what Roman Number and inversion the chord is.

4  Chords (second inversion) are used in very specific places for specific purposes.

**Please note that the Cadential 6/4 chord is sometimes referred to as a V6/4 chord in theory classes. Both classifications are correct, however, in ear training, we use I6/4 to indicate a Cadential 6/4 chord so as not to confuse between the true V6/4 Passing chord, and because it contains the notes of the I chord (even though it is acting as a dominant function and leads to a V chord afterwards.)

 

RESOLVING INTERVALS

Our first 6 pairs of resolving intervals all come from the Dominant Chord resolving to the Tonic Chord.  Notice how our leading tone (7) resolves to scale degree 1.  Scale degree 4 resolves to scale degree 3. Scale degree 5 can resolve to 5, jump up to 1, or down to 3.

These dissonant, resolving intervals, are what makes the Dominant Seventh chord so powerful and strong. The multiple clashes between the frequencies of the notes in the chord cause huge amounts of tension, that feel great when released in a resolution.