16.Introduction to Chords

Major and Minor Chords 

One of the differences between an interval and a chord is that an interval consists of two distinct pitches, whereas a chord consists of three or more distinct pitches. Most chords have three distinct pitches. We call these chords triads (tri = three). The first chord we are going to look at is the major chord. The major chord is made up of two intervals; the lower interval is a major 3rd and the upper interval is a minor 3rd. (Remember, a major 3rd is equal to 4 steps, while a minor 3rd is equal to 3 half steps.) 

The following diagram is an example of a ‘C major’ chord on the keyboard and on the staff.  

(Chapter 16 – Audio Sample 1)

It is important to note that the pitches of a chord must skip letters in the alphabet (CDEFG). The pitches on the staff must skip lines or spaces; in the preceding diagram, spaces are being skipped (line – space – line – space – line). 

The letter name of a chord is determined by the letter name of the lowest pitch in the chord. The chord above is called a ‘C’ chord because its lowest pitch is ‘C’. The word ‘major’ can be represented with a capital letter ‘M’. For example, the C major chord can be written as ‘CM’ or ‘Cmaj’. 

Let’s look at the minor chord. A minor chord is in a sense the opposite of a major chord. The minor chord is also made up of two intervals: the lower interval is a minor 3rd and the upper interval is a major 3rd. The following diagram is an example of a ‘D minor’ chord on the keyboard and on the staff. 

(Chapter 16 – Audio Sample 2)

The word ‘minor’ can be represented with a lowercase letter ‘m’. For example, the D minor chord can be written as ‘Dm’ or ‘Dmin’.

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