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Chord Construction Part II

By Andy Mclaughlan


Welcome back. This is part 2 of my Chord Construction series. How is everyone doing with the material in the first lesson? Good I hope!

Just to summarize. In the last lesson we talked about the 3 main different types of triad, and how these were derived from the major scale. We also talked briefly about augmented triads, and we will discuss them more thoroughly in this lesson, as well as having a more in depth look at chord spellings. It is also time we had a look at 7th chords. But, don't 'fret' (excuse the pun), these seemingly bigger numbers don't imply that these chords are more difficult to construct than simple triads. Anyway, without further ado, lets get onto our first subject of the day....

Chord Spellings

In the last lesson, we spoke about why it was important to know when to use sharps and flats. I also left you with a list of the fundamental notes in each triad. Some of you may have tried to work out for instance, a Db minor triad, only to discover that when you take the notes of a D minor triad ie D F and A, and flatten each note to get a Db minor triad, you are left with the notes Db, E and Ab. This, of course, is because there is no Fb note in music. Whilst this is true in general terms, when it comes to chord spelling we can, infact, have an Fb note. This is because of something known as enharmonic spelling.

Essentially, enharmonic spelling means that one note, can be named and written in 2 different ways. I'm sure everyone understands that, for instance, a D# note and an Eb note are the same note, only with 2 names. Well, this same concept applies also to the notes B, C, E and F where normally we wouldn't say “ play a B#, or play an Fb.” So, in the case of the Db triad we just spoke about, when writing it down, we would write the notes of a Db triad as follows: Db, Fb and Ab. Using this method I hope everyone can see its relevance and understand the importance of it. It means that when we want a Db triad, we are still thinking of the three fundamental notes of a D triad which are D, F and A. Now one last matter concerning enharmonic spelling and then we will move on.

When confronted with a triad such as Eb diminished, we first take our fundamental E triad notes, which are E G and B which form an E minor triad. So, now we must flatten each note to make it an Eb minor triad. This gives us the notes Eb, Gb, and Bb. Now, to make it diminished we must flatten the fifth again. Now, this would leave us with the notes Eb, Gb and A. As I'm sure you can see, this does not stick to the three fundamental notes of E, G and B. This is where we get onto the subject of double flats. The way we would write an Eb diminished chord is as follows: Eb, Gb and Bbb. Hopefully, now we can understand and see why these aspects are important. Above all, it simplifies the whole memorization process. And, if anyone reads, or is learning to read musical notation, you will come across this sort of thing all the time when dealing with accidentals (sharps and flats).

By now everyone should have a good understanding of how to spell any major, minor or diminished triad. The only other type we have not discussed is the augmented triad.

Augmented triads do not appear in the major scale and are largely considered dissonant as they lack a tonal centre. Incase anyone doesn't remember from the last lesson, an augmented triad has the formula of 1, 3, #5. So, a C augmented triad would have the notes C, E and G#. Notice if we build an E augmented triad, it has the same notes. E, G# and C. The same applies for a G# augmented triad which has the notes, G#, C and E. This is why augmented triads have no tonal centre. This is not to say augmented triads are not used in modern music. A good use of an augmented triad, is using it as a substitute for a V chord in a key as it resolves strongly to the I chord. So in the key of C major, we could substitute the V chord, which is G major, with a G augmented chord, and this would resolve strongly to the I chord, which would be C major.
I feel this is enough on the subject of augmented triads for the moment. Time to move onto our next subject which is 7th chords.

When we look at a major scale using only triads, it paints a different picture than when you look at it using 7th chords. Before we discuss, I'm going to jump straight in and give you an example which we can then reference. Again, we will be using the C major scale.

C D E F G A B
I ii iii IV V vi vii°


Starting with 7th chords, below is the chords we get from each scale degree in C major and the notes within these chords, as well as each chords formula. To the right of our new chords I have listed our original triads for comparison.



Now as you will notice the different 'picture' I was speaking of. Our G major triad has now became a G dominant 7th and our B dim. triad has now became a B minor 7b5 chord.

Lets talk first about why the V chord in a major scale is a dominant 7th as opposed to a major 7th. Firstly, the fifth degree of any major scale is known as the dominant degree, thus the name dominant is derived. These were the first 7th chords to regularly appear in western music. One of the main uses of the dominant 7th chord in a major key is as a way to end a section or song. This is because the dissonance in a dominant 7th chord requires resolution. By this, I am referring to the dissonant intervals within the chord. Namely the minor seventh between the root and the seventh, and the diminished fifth between the third and the seventh. This resolution solidifies the I chord as the root of the key.

The vii° chord in a major scale is now a minor 7b5, sometimes wrote as a half-diminished 7th chord. It is named as such is for obvious reasons. It is a minor 7th chord with a flattened 5th. It is an often misunderstood, and poorly used chord. When used correctly it can create dramatic tension and release, owing to its dark nature.

Anyway, I'm not going to delve much more into the subject of how these chords are used and applied since this is a lesson on chord construction, not application. However, we will look closer at how different chords are applied in a future lesson on just that!

For the time being I would like to leave you to think about the information in this article. Can you see a relationship between how we built triads in the last lesson? The whole pick a note then use every second note following it concept?It would also be a good idea to experiment with augmented chords and using them as substitutes to the V chord as a more interesting way to resolve to the I chord. And, now we have some 7th chords to play with...play with them. See what uses YOU have for these different types of chords. Be sure to tune in for part 3 of this series on chord construction, and, until then have fun!

If you have any questions don't hesitate to drop me an email at andrew_mclaughlan@hotmail.com

Copyrght 2008 Andy Mclaughlan