1. Chord Components
  2. Types of Triads
  3. Chords Beyond Triads
  4. Chord Inversions
  5. Broken Chords - Arpeggios
  6. Parallel Chords
  7. Other Types of Chords

Chord Components (top of page)
A chord is the sounding of three or more notes (pitches) simultaneously, typically a triad. The two most common chords are the major and minor chords based on the interval of a third. A major chord is composed of the interval of a major third above the root (or bottom note), and the interval of a perfect fifth above the root (or bottom note), a minor chord is composed of the interval of a minor third above the root (or bottom note) and the interval of a perfect fifth above the root (or bottom note).

The triad can be built on any note of any scale. Figure 1 shows that a chord is comprised of a root, a third, and a fifth. The chord name always starts with the name of its root, such as a C chord that has the note C as its root.

C Chord

Play C Major Triad

Types of Triads (top of page)
can be major, minor, augmented, or diminished (see figure 2).

Triads are often notated with the pitch name of the root of the chord followed by the type of triad. In figure 7 below, the first triad is a C major chord (also notated as CM, or CMaj). The second triad is a C minor chord (also notated as Cm, or Cmin). The third triad is a C augmented chord (also notated as Caug, or C+). The last triad is a C diminished chord (also notated as Cdim or Cº).

Chord - Triad Types

Click to hear Triad

Triad Type


Minor Augmented Diminished
Abbreviation Maj min aug dim
Other notation M m + º

Chords Beyond Triads: Seventh Chords, Ninth Chords, Eleventh Chords, Thirteenth Chords (top of page)
The triad is the basis for chords, however, the addition of notes at the interval of a third above these triads can create common chords based on the original triad.

Figure 1-4

Play Triad Play Seventh Chord Play Ninth Chord Play Eleventh Chord Play Thirteenth Chord

Chord Inversions (top of page)
The examples of chords seen above have all been shown in root position (see figure 1). That is, the root of the chord (or the note that the chord is based on) has always been the lowest note of the chord. Any chord can be changed so any other note from the chord can be the lowest note (in terms of sounded pitch). These are called inversions. In the example below (see figure 8), the C chord is first shown in root position (where the root "C" is the lowest note), then in first inversion (where the third "E" is the lowest note), and finally in second inversion (where the fifth "G" is the lowest note).

Chord Inversions

Play Root Position Play First Inversion Play Second Inversion

Broken Chords - Arpeggio (top of page)
Like intervals, all chords can be performed harmonically, (when all their notes sound together), or melodically, (when all their notes sound consecutively). In such cases, the chord is called a broken chord, or sometimes, arpeggio. In figure 9 below, the harmonic chords are shown in the top line, or chords with all of their notes sounding together. Directly below them are the broken chords (arpeggios), where all of their notes are sounded consecutively. As you can see, the notes of harmonic chords are written one above the other and the notes of broken chords are written one after the other.

Broken Chords / Arpeggio

(Play examples in Figure 9)

Parallel Chords (top of page)
A sequence of chords consisting of intervals that do not change as the chord moves. Example 10 below shows a major chord of C, E, and G (with the intervals of a major third between the C and E and a minor third between the E and G). This chord would be parallel to the following chord of F, A, and C (again a major chord with the intervals of a major third between the F and A and a minor third between the A and C), which, in turn, would be parallel to the next major chord consisting of G, B, D, etc. This is also referred to as parallel motion.

Parallel Chords

(Play examples in Figure 10)

Other Types of Chords (top of page)
are typically classified as collections of similar intervals that are typically sounded simultaneously. All of the examples above have used the interval of a third (which is the most conmon type of chord iin Western Music). However, chords can be based not only on the interval of a third (see figure 11), but also on the interval of a fourth (see figure 12), or interval of a fifth (see figure 13).

Types of Chords

Play Figure 11 Play Figure 12 Play Figure 13

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