Hi all,

This is the last post in a series of 6 posts dedicated to 3 notes chords. Please follow these links to get a quick access to the previous posts
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Today, we'll do 2 things : we'll learn how to name chords, and we'll make a recap of all the chords we learnt.

Naming chords

Now that we know all those chords, we want to be able to give them a short name. (we don't want write "D major chord in first inversion" on a score, do we ?)

As usual, notation depends on context. You won't use the same tool to analyse a Bach chorale 1, analyse a pop song2, or notate a jazz standard3...

For now, we'll focus on pop/jazz chord notation.

So, how do we name a chord ?

It's really simple : the name depends on the root, the quality (major, minor, augmented, diminished or suspended), and the inversion.
Each quality correspond to a different suffix.

Triads in root position

  • A major triad in root position is simply notated with one capital letter : the root. For example, a major triad of C in root position is just notated C. A F♯ major triad in root position is notated F♯.
    So there is no suffix for a major chord.

  • A minor triad in root position is simply notated with the root in capital letter and the lower case letter "m". For example, a minor triad of D in root position is just notated Dm. An A♭ major triad in root position is notated A♭m. The suffix for minor chords is "m"

  • An augmented triad in root position is simply notated with the root in capital letter and the "+" sign. For example, an augmented triad of E♭ in root position is notated E♭+. A B augmented triad in root position is notated B+.
    The suffix for augmented chords is "+"

  • A diminished triad in root position is notated with the root in capital letter and the "°" sign. For example, a diminished triad of F in root position is notated . A G♭ diminished triad in root position is notated G♭°.
    The suffix for diminished chords is "°"

  • A sus4 chord in root position is notated with the root in capital letter and the letters sus4. For example, a sus4 chord of B♭ in root position is notated Bsus4. An A♯ sus4 chord in root position is notated A♯sus4.
    The suffix for sus4 chords is "sus4"

Triads in first and second inversion

When a triad (or a sus4 chord) is not in root position (that is to say : the bass note is not the root), you write the root in capital letter, add the suffix, write slash / and then the bass note.

For example,

  • an E♭ major chord in first inversion is notated E♭/G

  • a D minor chord in first inversion is notated Dm/F

  • an A augmented chord in second inversion is notated A+/E♯

  • an E diminished chord in second inversion is notated /B♭

Recap

Here is the recap of every single triad we could build (+ sus chords) out of the 5 kinds of chords we studied. (major, minor, augmented, diminished, sus)
I chose to spell the black keys with flats. The other way (spell black keys with sharps) is absolutely right too.

Unused chords

Note that there is no chord like c-f♭-g (that is in fact a C major chord) or c-eb-g# (that is an A♭/C chord) despite the fact that those are triads, since they are made out of thirds stacked one on the other.

That's because we usually only focus on the 5 chord types we learnt (major, minor, augmented, diminished and sus), and :

  • major chords are made out of the notes belonging to the major scale of the root

  • minor chords are made out of the notes belonging to the minor scale of the root

  • augmented chords are made out of the notes belonging to the augmented scale of the root

  • diminished chords are made out of the notes belonging to the major scale of the root

  • suspended chords are made out of the notes belonging to the major scale of the root

And there is no (c-e𝄫-g𝄫)
And because we only use those combinations:

  • ♮ with ♭
  • ♮ with ♯
  • ♭ with 𝄫
  • ♯ with 𝄪
Enharmonic spelling

The sound of D♭°/A♭♭ is the same as the sound of C♯°/G and the later one is the easiest to spell, so sometimes, we use one instead of the other.

The sus2 chord

Another little thing : I just want you to think about the sus2 chord. Isn't it an inversion of a sus4 chord ? :) So, Csus2 is, in the end like Gsus4/C. That is why I never use sus2 chords. But that's only a personal taste.

Here ends our journey into basic chords.

Now we know :

  • what a triad is
  • we know the 5 common triads
  • we can spell a triad
  • we can recognise the sound of those triads
  • we can name a triad

But there is more (way more...) to know about chords, and there is some exiting stuff !

  • 4 note chords
  • upper extensions
  • harmonic functions of chords
  • voicing
  • and more...

See you soon

Sebastien

  1. Usually, roman numeral notation is used for Bach chorals, but inversions can be notated differently ...

  2. Usually, using simplified roman numeral notation

  3. Usually, using jazz/pop chord notation.