Guide to Chord Formation by Howard Wright (
Chapter 3 : Triads

3.0 : Triads

These are the basic building blocks of chords. A triad is a group of 3 notes and determines the basic sound of a chord.

E.g. If the chord is a minor chord, it will be based on a minor triad.
If the chord is major, it will be based on a major triad.

3.1 : Major and Minor Triads

The major and minor triads are made up from these notes:
    1st 3rd 5th
but remember - use a minor 3rd for the minor triad, and the major 3rd for the major triad.

A list of all major and minor triads is given at the end of this FAQ (Appendix B). If you want to learn them, it makes life easier, but it's easy enough to just count up in semitones from the root note to get the notes for any triad you're interested in.

The only difference between a major chord and a major triad is that a chord will usually have more than 3 notes, so you just double up on some of them. The root (1st) is most likely to be doubled, but you can double up on the 1st, 3rd or 5th, although you will get subtly different sounds.

Take C major for example.
C major triad = 1st, major 3rd, 5th = C E G

Everybody knows this chord:



If we look at the notes, we see it has:
(low to high): C E G C E
Which is the same as: 1st 3rd 5th 1st 3rd.
So here the 1st and 3rd have been doubled.
Remember that the root note must always be the lowest note of the chord. If you want to have the 3rd or 5th at the bottom of the chord, you have to write it as C/E or C/G meaning a C chord with an E (or G) bass.
See section 7.0 for more details on X/Y type chords.

3.2 : Suspended Triads

The thing to remember here is that the 3rd has been replaced with another note - either the 2nd or the 4th.

So whereas with major and minor triads you have the 3rd to give the 'flavour' of the chord (i.e. major or minor), with suspended triads you have no 3rd, so the chord is neither major nor minor.
A suspended 4th triad would be: 1st 4th 5th
A suspended 2nd triad would be: 1st 2nd 5th

As with major and minor chords, you just double up on notes to go from the triad to the chord.

But - you almost never double the 'suspended' note - you usually only double the 1st or 5th.

So take Asus4 as our example.
Asus4 triad is: 1st 4th 5th = A D E
The shape is:



The spelling for this is:
(low to high): A E A D E       (1st 5th 1st 4th 5th)

So here the 1st and 5th appear twice in the chord, with just one 4th.
So now I've covered major and minor chords, suspended 2nd and suspended 4th chords.

Guide to Chord Formation by Howard Wright
Reformatted and noded (with permission) by Space Butler
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