Chords, Triads, and Chord Progressions

Chords, Triads, and Chord Progressions

Chords are any collection of notes played simultaneously. For most purposes, they are essentially triads laid out in different formations

Triads consist of three tones. The root note, the third, and the fifth (1-3-5). The distance intervallically between the root and the third (1-3) is a third, the distance between the third and the fifth (3-5) is also a third, and the distance between the root and the fifth (1-5) is a fifth.


(ww)+(wh) or Major third minor third


(wh)+(ww) or minor third Major third


(wh)+(wh) or minor third minor third


(ww)+(ww) or Major third Major Third

Chords mainly use these formulas in different dispositions and inversions to build upon. Therefore, learning what notes correspond to which full triads can assist you in figuring out what kind of chord to use.

Using the 1-3-5 formula on each note, we can ascertain these triads for each note in C








ALL triads will have these same note combinations, so it is very important to memorize them! The only differences will be where the sharps(#) and flats(b) lay in the triads in different keys.

Naturally, each triad has a Major, minor, or diminished quality in 7 note Major/minor scales. These are represented by Roman Numerals. Capital (I) means major, lowercase (ii) means minor, the superscript on minor ( viio ) means diminished.

Chord Progressions

Writing good chord progressions has a lot to do with harmonic motion, individual voice leading, personal taste, functional harmony, and a whole load of other important factors. As we work on those aspects, here are some formula that can help in the meantime

And finally - should you be interested in a video that explains much of what this post went over - we’ve got one for you!

Music Theory: Triads (What are triads? What are Chords? Major, Minor, Diminished, Augmented?)

It took me a second to wrap my head around the 3rd + 3rd formulas but now it makes sense and along with knowing I need to memorize the 1-3-5, I feel like I have some good chord building tools at my disposal.

I haven’t had a chance to check out the video but does it elaborate more on the below?

I’d love to dive into these a little more at some point. For now how might interpret the flow of the diagram?

Start at I on the right hand side, you can go anywhere from there. On the way home, you have to follow a path of arrows that goes to the right. So for example:

I iii vi IV V I could work

I can elaborate on those:

Harmonic Motion: standards set by using a harmony (such as I to V) and how the rhythm functions with it (because music functions in time)

Individual Voice Leading: This refers to trying to maintain “vocal independence” with your lines, so you wouldn’t want to do parallel chords with all the same spellings, but rather the voices weave in and out so you hear the full richness of the harmony.

Personal Taste: what you are looking for. These will always sound consonant, for example, but if you’re writing Master of Puppets, you might want some dissonance in there.

Functional Harmony: the western European classical approach to harmony. It takes your ear from chord to chord, as opposed to something like jazz where it’s more of a guessing game for your ear. It’s the puzzle that solves.