Ear training/Recognizing triads

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Lessons in Ear training
Chords
Intervals
Triads
Perfect pitch

Simple overview[edit]

Most music is based on chords. The triad is the most common type of chord in music of Western civilization. A triad is basically a three-note chord. In other words, it is made of up three distinct musical pitches played together. There are four main types of triads: major triad, minor triad, augmented triad, and diminished triad. This section will help you learn to recognize and identify these four types of triads and their inversions just by listening to them. This skill is important to fully appreciate and understand the music you listen to.

Prerequisites[edit]

Even the average non-musician can enhance their musical listening experience with ear training. It is helpful to be familiar with the following concepts: ear training, triad, interval, musical pitch. Simply click on any of the blue text for more information.

If you are tone deaf and cannot tell the difference between two different musical pitches, you may not be able to complete this section. Nevertheless, many people who think they are tone deaf simply lack musical training. Ear training can help these individuals develope an ear for music.

Construction of a triad[edit]

It is helpful to understand the construction of triads, although this is not absolutely necessary in order to recognize them by ear.

Above we said that a triad is made up of three distinct notes played together.

There's a name for each of these notes: the root, the third, and the fifth.

  • The root is the lowest note of a triad. It is the foundation.
  • The third is the middle note of a triad. It is an interval of a third higher than the root, hence its name.
  • The fifth is the highest note of a triad. It is an interval of a fifth higher than the root, hence its name.

So you can make a triad by picking any note as the root, adding another note an interval of a third higher than the root, and then adding another note an interval of a fifth higher than the root.

About this sound Listen to a triad. This audio example plays first the root of a triad alone, then the third, then the fifth, and then all three notes at once. 

Types of triads[edit]

A triad is constructed by picking any note (C, G, F#... you name it) and adding one note an interval of a third higher, and another note an interval of a fifth higher. But notice that we did not specify whether the third of the triad is a major third or a minor third higher than the root. Also, we did not specify whether the fifth of the triad is a perfect fifth, a diminished fifth, or an augmented fifth above the root. This is why there are different types of triads depending on the exact interval between the root and the third, and between the root and the fifth.

Here are the four types of triads:

  • Major triad (also called major chord)
  • Minor triad (also called minor chord)
  • Diminished triad (also called diminished chord)
  • Augmented triad (also called augmented chord)

Major triad[edit]

The major triad, often simply called the major chord, is probably the most common chord in music.

  • The major triad has an interval of a major third between the root and the third of the triad, and it has the interval of a perfect fifth between the root and the fifth.

About this sound Listen to an audio example of a major chord. 

Minor triad[edit]

The minor triad, often simply called the minor chord, is another very common chord.

  • The minor triad has an interval of a minor third between the root and the third of the triad, and it has the interval of a perfect fifth between the root and the fifth.

About this sound Listen to an audio example of a minor chord. 

Diminished triad[edit]

The diminished triad, often simply called the diminished chord, is less common than the major triad or the minor triad.

  • The diminished triad has an interval of a minor third between the root and the third of the triad, and it has the interval of a diminished fifth between the root and the fifth.

About this sound Listen to an audio example of a diminished chord. 

Augmented triad[edit]

The augmented triad, often simply called the augmented chord, is also less common than the major triad or the minor triad.

  • The augmented triad has an interval of a major third between the root and the third of the triad, and it has the interval of an augmented fifth between the root and the fifth.

About this sound Listen to an audio example of an augmented chord. 

Triad ear training: root position[edit]

So far we have assumed that the root is always the lowest note of the triad.

  • When the root of a triad is the lowest note in that triad, we say that the triad is in root position. It could be considered the "normal" position.

Later we will see that major, minor, and diminished triads can be inverted so that the root is no longer the lowest note of the triad. But for now we will continue using only root position triads.

Major triads[edit]

The following audio will play a sequence of ten major triads. Each will have a different note for its root and therefore sound higher or lower. But no matter how high or low it is played, a major triad has a distinctive sound. About this sound Listen to some major triads. 

Minor triads[edit]

The following audio will play a sequence of ten minor triads. Each will have a different note for its root and therefore sound higher or lower. But no matter how high or low it is played, a minor triad has a distinctive sound. About this sound Listen to some minor triads. 

Distinguishing between major and minor triads[edit]

Now lets learn to distinguish between major and minor triads just by listening.

About this sound First, listen to this audio, which will play a major triad followed by a minor triad. 

Play it a few times. Notice that the major triad sounds "happy" and the minor triad sounds "sad". Play it a few more times.

Preparatory Exercise[edit]

The audio for this exercise will play a sequence of ten triads. Some of them will be major triads and some will be minor triads as listed below. As you listen, look at the list so that you know the identity of each of the triads you hear. The audio should be slow enough for you to keep your place on the list. Alternatively, you might want to jot down the list if you can't see this page while you listen!

About this sound Click here to start this exercise while looking at the list below for the identity of each chord you hear 

  • 1 major triad
  • 2 minor triad
  • 3 major triad
  • 4 minor triad
  • 5 major triad
  • 6 minor triad
  • 7 major triad
  • 8 major triad
  • 9 minor triad
  • 10 major triad

Notice that each chord in the exercise above had the same note for its root. The lowest note of the chord was always the same.

Exercise 1[edit]

This next exercise is just like the preparatory exercise above, except that not all the chords will have the same root. This means that some will sound higher or lower than others.

The audio for exercise 1 will play a sequence of ten triads. Some of them will be major triads and some will be minor triads as listed below. As you listen, look at the list so that you know the identity of each of the triads you hear. The audio should be slow enough for you to keep your place on the list.

About this sound Click here to start exercise 1 while looking at the list below for the identity of each chord you hear 

  • 1 major triad
  • 2 minor triad
  • 3 major triad
  • 4 minor triad
  • 5 major triad
  • 6 major triad
  • 7 minor triad
  • 8 minor triad
  • 9 major triad
  • 10 minor triad

Exercise 2[edit]

Get a sheet of paper and write the numbers it 1 through 10 in a column. Then listen to the following sequence of ten triads. As you hear each triad, write "major" or "minor" next to its corresponding number on the page. You can check your answers in the section "Answers to exercises" below.

About this sound Click here to start exercise 2 and write down whether each triad you hear is major or minor 

If you had less than 50% accuracy in exercise 2, you may wish to repeat the preparatory exercise and exercise 1 a few times before continuing.

Exercise 3[edit]

This exercise is just like exercise 2 above but slightly harder.

Get a sheet of paper and write the numbers it 1 through 10 in a column. Then listen to the following sequence of ten triads. As you hear each triad, write "major" or "minor" next to its corresponding number on the page. You can check your answers in the section "Answers to exercises" below.

About this sound Click here to start exercise 3 and write down whether each triad you hear is major or minor 

Diminished triads[edit]

Augmented triads[edit]

Distinguishing between diminished and augmented triads[edit]

Diminished triads are easily recognizable for their dissonance. However, being that both diminished and augmented triads cause dissonance, to recognize the diminished you must listen for the tritone (el diablo en musica) or diminished 5th (aka augmented 4th). The chord itself sounds "smaller" than an augmented as its biggest interval is a step lower (d5 instead of and A5). The sound can be decribed as incredibly ominous (think pretty girl tied to a train track).

Augmented chords sound even more dissonant than diminished. The best method for judging a chord augmented is to listen for the augmented 5th (which is the reason for such extreme dissonance).

Distinguishing among all four types of triads[edit]

Triad ear training: inversions[edit]

Triads can come in inverted forms, except for augmented triads.

Answers to exercises[edit]

Exercise 2

  • 1 major
  • 2 minor
  • 3 major
  • 4 minor
  • 5 minor
  • 6 major
  • 7 major
  • 8 minor
  • 9 major
  • 10 major

Exercise 3

  • 1 major
  • 2 minor
  • 3 major
  • 4 major
  • 5 minor
  • 6 major
  • 7 major
  • 8 minor
  • 9 major
  • 10 minor