How Do Chords Become Chords? A Simple Music Theory Lesson in Major and Minor Triad Chords

chord theory difference between chords and notes major triad minor triad music theory

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Do you ever wonder what notes make up a chord?  In today's post I am going to explain how major and minor triad chords are "built" and decode some of the language you have inevitably read in unreadable musical theory books or websites that might confuse you.

First things first.  Notes and chords are two different things.  I know that may sound incredibly obvious to some of you, but to beginners, this is not always apparent.  So, for our beginners out there, every time you pluck an open string on your ukulele one at a time, you are sounding out a note.  If you started at the top of your ukulele and worked your way down, you would pluck one string at a time and it would sound out a G note ,then a C, then an E, and then an A.  However, when you strum all four strings simultaneously, you are playing the Am7 chord.  Why?  Chords are collection of notes played together.  So the C chord is a collection of the notes C, E, and G, while the C note is just that note being played solo.  (And the aforementioned Am7 has the notes G,C,E and A.)

So how are chords determined?  They are based on the major scale and each note in the major scale is assigned a number 1-7.  If we take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of any major scale, we get the major Triad chord of that scale.  See below:

In the key of C:  

C  D  E  F  G  A  B

1   2  3  4   5  6  7

To make the C chord, we would take the 1st note C, the 3rd note E, and the 5th note G.  Voila!  The C Major Chord!

To figure out the D major Triad, we need to refer to the key of D:

D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#

1  2   3    4   5  6   7

The D Major Chord would be composed of the notes: D, F#, and A.

In order to figure out the rest of the major triad chords, you need to stack the notes in intervals of 3 in each respective key.  This means you would take the notes of each major scale and pick the first, third and fifth note to determine the composition of each major Triad.

How do we find the minor Triad chords in any key?  In a similar fashion except with one small change in our "formula."  Instead of taking the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of any major scale, we take the 1st and 5th notes, but we lower the 3rd by a semitone.  What does lowering a 3rd mean?  It means that you take whatever the 3rd note is, say the E in the C major scale, but you flat it. If the note is already a sharp, you just make it a natural note.  So the minor Triad chord in the key of C would be composed of the notes C, Eb, and G because we can flat the E.  The minor Triad chord in the key of D would be composed of the notes, D, F, and A because the F# would go down a semitone, becoming a F.

If this idea is still a little shaky, take a look at this below.  

Notes of the piano

There are 12 notes starting at C and ending at B.  The C major scale only addresses the natural notes, or the white keys.  But there are 5 other notes on the black keys and they are sharps or flats depending on what key you are in.  Every other key includes some of these notes, as we saw before in our D Major Scale.  Another way to refer to these intervals between notes is by saying tone or semitone.  Another way to measure these intervals is by saying whole step or half step.  Each key from C to C# or E to F would measure a half step or semitone.  But the jump from C to D or E to F# would measure a whole step or a full tone.  On your ukulele every time you move your finger up the neck by one fret, you are moving by a semitone or half step.  Each time you move by two frets, you are moving by a full tone or whole step.  So when we say raise by a semitone, we mean any ascending jump by one fret (from the nut to the sound hole), whether it's from G to G# or B to C.   When we say we lower by a semitone, we mean any descending jump by one fret (going from the sound hole towards the nut) whether it's from F to E or Bb to A.

 Got it?  Let's test your knowledge by figuring out the major Triad in the key of F.

The notes of the F major scale are:

F  G  A  Bb  C  D  E

1  2   3   4    5   6  7

Got the answer?  Good.  You can confirm it at the end of this post.

Now, let's figure out the minor Triad in the key of F.  Remember your formula.  

Now let's figure out both the major Triad and minor Triad in the key of A.

The notes of the A major scale are:

A  B  C#  D  E  F#  G#  

1   2   3   4   5   6    7

Got those too?  One last exercise.  Let's figure out the major and minor Triad in the key of Bb.

The notes of the Bb major scale are:

Bb  C  D  Eb  F  G  A

1    2   3   4    5   6  7


Answers here:

Because we take the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes to create a major Triad the notes of the F major Triad are:

F = 1 A = 3  C= 5

The A major Triad is composed of the notes A, C#, and E.  The Bb major triad is composed of the notes Bb, D, and F.

Because we take the 1st, a lowered 3rd and 5th notes to create the minor Triad, the notes of the F minor Triad are:

F=1 Ab=3 C=5

The A minor Triad is composed of the notes A, C, and E.  The Bb minor Triad is composed of the notes Bb, Db, and F.

Want some more practice?  Test yourself and see if you can figure out the other major and minor Triads in the remaining keys.

Questions?  Leave a comment in the box below!

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