Where Do Chords Come From? (Part Two)

By | May 7, 2018

This lesson deals with triads, which are three-note chords. These simple chord structures have already been introduced in the previous lesson, “Where Do Chords Come From? (Part One)” Up to this point you should have obtained a basic understanding of major scales and keys, sharps and flats, half-steps and whole-steps, and you should know what an “interval” is.

To recap briefly, a triad is a three-note chord. We can find triads within major scales/keys by starting on a note in the scale, skipping over the next note and playing the following one, skipping another note and playing the one after that. In other words, out of five sequential scale tones beginning with our triad’s starting note (called the root of the triad), we will play the first one, the third one, and the fifth one. For example, the key of C Major contains the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B. If we start on the “C” note and play every other note until we have our three notes to make the triad, we get the notes C-E-G. That is a triad. If we start on the “D” note and follow the same process, we get the notes D-F-A. That is also a triad. Let’s look at the diagram below, the key of C Major written out in two octaves. How many unique triads can we pick out?

Triads in the key of C:

1. C-E-G
2. D-F-A
3. E-G-B
4. F-A-C
5. G-B-D
6. A-C-E
7. B-D-F

Since each note in the scale can be the starting note of one triad in the key and there are seven notes in the key, we end up with a total of seven triads in the key.

•The starting note of each triad is referred to as the triad’s “root.”

•The middle not of each triad is referred to as the “third” of the triad.

•The last note of each triad is referred to as the “fifth” of the triad.


Every triad is comprised of three notes. These notes are referred to as the “root,” the “third,” and the “fifth” of the triad. We form the triads by “skipping notes,” that is, by playing every other note in the major scale. There is one triad for each note in the key, and each note in the key can be the root of only one triad which belongs to that key.

If all this sounds like a lot to digest, don’t worry, it is natural to feel a little overwhelmed if you are new to thinking about this stuff. Rest assured, there are good ways of solidifying these concepts in your mind. I’ll be introducing you to some of them later. Try to think back to some of the things which you used to find very difficult to do on your instrument which are now second nature. It is the same with theory, in time it will be easy. This  information is GOLD. Understanding it is crucial to becoming an intelligent improviser, among other things. Hang in there!

The next lesson will be devoted to naming these simple chords, and understanding their construction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *