Augmented and Diminished Chords

When you play three notes at the same time, you are playing a chord. Triads are chords that have three notes. What we learn is that those three notes are all stacked in thirds.

To begin with, let us start with the F Major Chord. The first note that would be on the bottom is the root (F), the second note up is a third higher (A), and the third one is a third up from the second note (C).

Now, there are different types of thirds between the music notes in triads. Each third can be either major or minor. A major third has four half-steps between the notes, so we are looking at C to C# to D to D# to E. A minor third has 3 half-steps, C to C# to D to Eb, for an example.

The Diminished triads use only the minor thirds, one on top of the other. They sound dissonant and very scary like the interesting background music we hear from an old vaudeville skit. You know, when you see the lady tied to the railroad tracks. Oh, gosh, here comes the train! That is the sound I am hearing. They often create a very restless, nervous and tense feeling. So, C to Eb is a minor third and Eb to Gb is a minor third, too. Some folks refer to them as ‘the Halloween’ sound.

Keep in mind that the diminished triads can be used in your song playing as passing chords. They help connect two chords that are a whole tone apart. Here is an example of what I am talking about. If you are playing a song and at the beginning you play C-E-G (a C chord), why don’t you hop on a C#dim chord on your way to Dm (D-F-A)?! I think you will agree, that is a very cool sound and a great transition in piano playing.

Moving on to Augmented triads, you will discover that they are made up of two major thirds. They also sound dissonant, and quite a bit noisy at that, like a honking truck on the street. In music they will definitely grab your attention. I have found these special sounds and transitions in popular songs that are from the 40’s. When you look at these tones, C to E is a major third and E to C# is a major third as well.

From the Beatles music, (I’m a great fan) to Contemporary Worship (Gospel) songs, you will be discovering in your chord charts and soon playing these very interesting, set apart chords, the augmented and diminished chords.

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