I'm not quite sure about stacking thirds or what playing the major scale in thirds exactly means. Can anyone tell me the whole meaning of this? It sound like its a useful exercise. A few examples for me to practise and understand it more would be much appreciated


That's C major. So stacking thirds would be playing C, E (3rd above C), G (3rd above E) in a chord. The type of 3rd (major or minor) changes with where you start in the scale. As the chord I just described has a major 3rd (C to E, 4 semi tones) then a minor 3rd (E to G, 3 semit tones), then it's a major chord.

Playing the scame in thirds, I would imagin, would be going C-E-G-B-D-F-A-C. OR something like that (so just going up a 3rd between each note)
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Last edited by pigeonmafia at Nov 11, 2009,
what you do is you start on any degree of a scale, and then make a chord using that note as the root, then the note that is a third from that one, and then the note that is a third from the last one.

for example:

the major scale is a root, major second, major third, fourth, fifth, major sixth, major seventh, and octave.

you could say it more simply as: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

if you look at that in the overall pattern of intervals, it's just all the non-flat intervals and none of the flat ones: 1 - b2 - 2 - b3 - 3 - 4 - #4/b5 - 5 - b6 - 6 - b7 - 7 - 1... we've just taken the major intervals.

to make chords out of this scale, you simply choose a key and start stacking thirds...

let's use the key of G... the first chord would start with the 1, which is G. then you go to the next third from G... it's important to note that you just use the next third that is available in the scale. In G major, the only third you can go to from G is a major third, aka the note B... then you go from B to the next available third, which happens to be a minor third, just three semitones from B, which is D.

so you get the notes G, B and D, which, are the only notes that occur in any of your standard G chord grips.

then you would go to the next note of the scale, the major second, which is A... you go to the next available third in the scale, which happens to be a minor third to the note C, then the next available third from there is a major third, to the note E. So in this case, we've used the 2nd, 4th and 6th notes of the scale to make a chord, which turns out to be A minor.

you can continue on in this fashion and find all the chords in the key. they'll work out to be G, D and C for the major chords, Am, Bm and Em for the minor chords, and F#dim will be the last chord. Each key has a diminished chord in it, and it's rarely used, but it has it's moments.

there's a formula for each kind of chord, of course... a major chord is always a major third, then a minor third.... and a minor chord is always a minor third, followed by a major third.

if you stack additional thirds, you get the seventh chords... for example, the G chord could be extended by going to the next available third after the fifth, which is the major 7th, aka F# in this key. you'd get a major seventh chord there.

for the Am chord, you go to whatever the next third is from that E note. in the key of G major, the E note is the sixth note, so you'd go to next third from there, which turns out to be the 1 again... this makes it into an Am7

hopefully this helps you out.
Here's some pictures to help understand what the term "stacking" refers to...
(Sorry it's so big)

Stacking notes to form a C Major Triad

You can choose to stack any combination of major and minor thirds together to get one of four different triads. Follow the arrows.

Those other guys look like they have most of the basics explained. I'm just on a buzz with illustrations at the moment. (if only I knew a quick and easy way to resize to fit)
I should do some fretboard diagrams to show you how to play Major and minor thirds - but not right now. I got work soon.

But I will say - if you don't know your thirds learn them. They will always be two letters apart. D to F is a third D to F♯ is a third D♭ to F♯ is a third. Any kind of D to any kind of F is some kind of third. Exactly what kind depends on the distance in semitones. If it's four semitones or two whole steps then it is a Major third. If it's three semitones or One Whole plus One Half step then it is a minor third.

Learning to get your fingers to move through a scale in thirds is just a different way of playing and learning your scales. It is good because it helps your fingers move in a different way rather than just up and down the scale.

It is good to know how to do because the most common way a melody moves is stepwise through the scale and the next most common melodic move is to move in thirds.

Because most chords in western music are built from one of those four triads (a principle called Tertian harmony) it is a very useful thing to know and understand what thirds are and to know how to play third intervals on the fretboard.

All intervals are important and you should endeavour to eventually learn them all . But Perfect Fifths, Major Thirds and minor thirds should be the starting point.

to put it a lot simpler than everybody else did, take your major or minor scale, start at the root (or wherever else) and then add in every other note.

as an example, if you were to play them one after the other in E minor it wold be

 E G B D F# A C E
Last edited by The4thHorsemen at Nov 11, 2009,