Teach Yourself Music Theory – 32.) Building Triads from Scales

Continuing with our topic of triads, we are going to be discussing what and which triads are built from scales… covering major, natural, harmonic, and melodic minor.

Beside the lead-sheet note note names, the Roman numeral figured-bass and triad quality remains the same from each respective scale regardless of starting pitch.

Let’s start with the major scale:

Building triads on each note, we get what we have above. 3 major triads, 3 minor triads, and 1 diminished triad. Chords I , IV , and V will always be major in a major key.

Now, natural minor:

We have the same amount of major, minor, and diminished triads… but they are in a different order.

As for harmonic minor:

With the inclusion of the raised leading tone, we see a quality of the chords change. Instead of v being minor, V is major in harmonic minor. Also, we have two diminished chords.

Finally, melodic minor:

With two raised pitches, we get another completely different group of triads. Now, the ii chord is minor… but the vio chord is diminished.

NOTE: the “B” symbol in the pictures means “flat” just like the “b” sign.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 31.) Figured-Bass and Lead-Sheet Notation

Even though we have been using the staff and writing notes to communicate which notes to play, there are other ways of notating music.

The first way we are going to talk about is figured-bass, which is a more “classical music way” of using Roman numerals and symbols to notate what chords to play in relation to the key.  To notate with figured-bass, you take the following steps:

  • Start by finding the key that you are in (with the example below, we are in C major)
  • Next, determine the chord harmonies with their qualities and inversion
  • Place a Roman numeral underneath each chord, with the numeric value corresponding to the root of the chord in relation to the kay
  • If it is a major triad, use uppercase letters
  • If it is a minor triad, use lowercase letters
  • If it is a diminished triad, use lowercase letters plus an “ o “ symbol
  • If it is an augmented triad, use uppercase letters plus a “ + “ symbol
  • Finally, add extra figures if inverted
  • If it is in first inversion, add a “ 6 “
  • If it is in second inversion, add a “ 6 “ with a “ 4 “ below it

Notice how the “ 6 “ and “ 4 “ correspond to the interval made with the root during an inversion.

Another way is lead-sheet, which is a way commonly found in jazz, pop, and rock tunes of writing out the letter names, chord qualities, as well as inversions of the harmonies.  To notate in a lead-sheet style, you take the following steps:

  • Determine the root of the chord and write it in an uppercase letter above the chord
  • If it is a major triad, do nothing more for its chord quality
  • If it is a minor triad, add “ min “
  • If it is a diminished triad, add an “ o “ symbol
  • If it is an augmented triad, add a “ + “ symbol
  • Finally, add extra figures if inverted
  • Add a slash mark “ / “ and write the bass note after it

Tah-dah!  There you have it.  Give it some practice, but we will be using these forms of communicating and writing for now on.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 29.) Identifying Triads

You probably have heard this term before, but maybe haven’t been able to completely define it. Especially as an aspiring musician, composer, producer, etc., you have heard this word before:


A chord.
Which is a group of pitches played at the same time (or played in succession of one another in overlap) to create harmony.


Harmony, which we have talked about before in terms of harmonic intervals, are sounds (two or more) sounding at the same time.


Chords are defined by their collection of pitches, order, arrangement, etc. Today, we are going to talk about the basic kinds of chords in modern music. Those are triads, which are chords comprised of three different pitches, with the notes (from lowest to highest) are a third apart from each other.


That might be a confusing definition, so let’s take it a deferent approach…


Let’s list off the different kinds of musical intervals of thirds. There is the m3 (minor third) and the M3 (Major third). Now, let’s come up with the different interval combinations between the three possible notes:

  • m3 – m3
  • m3 – M3
  • M3 – m3
  • M3 – M3

Great, now let’s actually right them out. Start on middle C, and then write the pitches above with the possible interval combinations above:


These are triads. Three note chords built on thirds. Play them and listen how different they are. They go by these names:

  • m3 – m3, Diminished Triad
  • m3 – M3, Minor Triad
  • M3 – m3, Major Triad
  • M3 – M3, Augmented Triad

When talking about the quality of a triad, we look at the root, which is the lowest note the chord is built upon, and call it by its letter name. Then, we look at the third and fifth (respective pitches above that are a third and fifth apart from the root) to see the intervals to define the quality.


So, if we write D-F-A, we get a D minor triad. That is because the root is D and the interval combination of the thirds are m3 – M3. Try writing triads and seeing what you get!


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Tip #149 – Cheat-Sheet for Using Definitive Triads

The concept of definitive triad – while not commonly known – is very easy to understand and master.

It is using two adjacent diatonic triads of piece of music’s scale or mode to harmonize an entire melody.

Each melody note will be harmonized be either one of the two definitive triads in relation to its chord tone. Of course, there will be one remaining pitch that will not have a direct harmonization to one of the two definitive triads. In a simple exemption to the rule: use any diatonic triad containing that note to harmonize.

Below is a cheat-sheet on what chords within their respective scales or modes work best as the two definitive triads for harmonization:

So, a melody based in the mode of B Lydian will use the I and II chords… the B major triad and C# major triad. Because of the combination of those two chords { B , C# , D# , E# , F# , G# }, the A# is the note left-out… and thus, can be harmonized by any triad of your choice that is diatonic to the B Lydian scale.

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