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.

Naming the Five Black Notes

In this lesson we use our knowledge of SHARPS and FLATS to name the Five Black Notes on the keyboard.

Naming the Five Black Notes

Recall that the terms SHARP and FLAT relate to two notes that are a SEMITONE (half-step) apart:

  • The upper note is the SHARP of the lower note.
  • The Lower note is the FLAT of the upper note.

Notice that every one of the five black notes has both:

1) a white note a semitone BELOW it, and
2) a white note a semitone ABOVE it.

The result of this is that every one of the five black notes is BOTH:
1) the SHARP of the white note just below it,
2) and the FLAT of the white note just above it.

With your Left Hand in ‘HOME’ position on the five black notes, let’s determine the TWO names for the black note under your little finger. Since this black note is one semitone ABOVE the C note, we can name it ‘C SHARP’. And since this black note is also one semitone BELOW the D note, we can name also name it “D FLAT”.

Why do we need two names for each black note (C SHARP is the same note as D FLAT)? We’ll find out why when we learn about KEY SIGNATURES, but if you can’t wait: depending on what key signature is being played, either the SHARP terminology or
the FLAT terminology will be used. Just remember that “C SHARP” is the SAME
NOTE as “D FLAT”.

Let’s use the same procedure to name the other FOUR black notes, by noting the
white notes that are a semitone above and below the black note. When we do this, the five black notes have the following names, starting with the little finger and continuing up to the black note under your thumb:

C SHARP and D FLAT
D SHARP and E FLAT
F SHARP and G FLAT
G SHARP and A FLAT
A SHARP and B FLAT

Congratulate yourself because with some practice we will no longer need to refer to the black notes by which finger plays them. You will know that “F SHARP” is the black note one semitone above F. And that “B FLAT” is the black note one semitone below the note B. That is very exciting news.

Basic Concepts of Jazz Piano

In this short audio tutorial we review the musical concepts that we have learned so far. With a solid understanding of these concepts and their terminology, visually impaired (VI) piano students will have no difficulty grasping more advanced jazz concepts to come. The list of topics reviewed include:

  • Locating and using the five black notes to can find Middle C.
  • Playing the notes C,D,E,F,G,A,B and C beginning from middle C.
  • The Octave.
  • Semitone and Whole Tone intervals (half step and whole step).
  • The C Major scale.
  • Sharps and Flats.
  • Introduction to chords: the C Major Triad.
  • Looking Forward.
Basic Piano Concepts