The Basics of Chord Construction (Triads)

In this tutorial we begin our study of Jazz Chords by building seven triads in the key of C.

Triad Chord Construction

Before we start, let’s review a few topics:

  • Chords are built upon a single ROOT NOTE. For example, a C chord will have a root note of ‘C’, a D chord will have a root note of D, …
  • All of the notes of a chord are constructed relative to the chord’s root note. For example, a C major chord contains the notes C, E and G. The root is C, the E note is four semitones above the root, and the G note is seven semitones above the root.
  • Triad chords are the simplest of chords in that they contain only three notes. Jazz chords typically contain a minimum of four notes and as many as seven notes.
  • The INTERVAL between any two notes is determined by the number of semitones or whole tones required to step from one of the notes to the other note. The interval between the notes F and A is four semitones (or two whole tones): F to F sharp, F sharp to G, G to G sharp, and G sharp to A.
  • When constructing chords in the Key of C we use only notes from the C Major Scale: C, D, E, F, G, A and B.

In the key of C we have seven possible notes to choose from for the root of a chord. The possible chord roots are therefore: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.

In this lesson we use the little finger of our left hand to play the chord root.

Now let’s play the seven triads in the Key of C by:

  • placing your little finger on the root note.
  • with your middle finger and index finger, play EVERY OTHER white note above the root. Using C as our root note, the middle finger plays E and the index finger plays G. Note how we ‘skip’ the D and F notes.

We can now play all seven triads by sliding our left hand position UP to the next note in the C Major scale, construction the following triads:

  • C,E,G
  • D,F,A
  • E,G,B
  • F,A,C
  • G,B,D
  • A,C,E
  • B,D,F

In the next lesson we will examine the relationship of each chord note to the chord root, by noting the INTERVALS ( in semitones or whole tones). It is these intervals that define the chord as a Major, Minor, Dominant, or Diminished chord.

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