Hearing Triads | Hub Guitar

Hearing Triads

MU-26 video thumbnail

Hi. This is Hub Guitar.

Let's talk about how to identify triads by ear.

This skill is useful because it will allow you to identify all of the chords you hear. If you want to be able to play a tune you've heard, you just need to be able to sing the bass motion of the chords, and then identify what kind of chords they are, whether major or minor, and that means you can instantly know the chords to most songs--when you get good enough at this.

First let's take a look at the triad types.

First we've got the Major triad.

Then the Augmented triad is pretty rare in popular music, but that's what it sounds like.

and then Minor triad.



So I'll play a random chord. You're trying to figure out what type of chord I'm playing. That sounds kind of happy, so it must be a major triad. This sounds kind of sad, so it must be a minor triad. That one sounds a little bit vague, so it must be some sort of suspended triad.

So the first thing we want to do is to try to hear if it has an altered fifth. If there is an altered fifth in the triad, that tells you that it must be an augmented or diminished chord. But if you sing the root, and you hear a perfect fifth, then that rules out diminished and augmented and you know it must be major minor or suspended.

Now we want to figure out if it's a sus chord, major chord or minor chord. If it's a sus chord it will have a kind of floating sound. Of course, we could just sing or play the low note, and one fifth above, and then try the options: 2, b3, 3, 4, and see which one it is.

Put this into practice and you might surprise yourself. You might find suddenly that when you hear a tune you can identify what the chords are. And that's pretty cool.

Why You Need To Be Able To Hear Triads

The triad is the most often used harmonic structure in music. Properly speaking, there are only four types of triad: major, minor, diminished and augmented. We will include sus2 and sus4 chords in this exercise because they are common and closely related structures.

The major triad

Consisting of the notes R-3-5, the major triad is a stable structure and the most common chord. In C, a major triad will be spelled “C, E, G”.

The minor triad

The minor triad has the notes R-♭3-5 and is so-called because it is the tonic triad of a minor key. In C, consists of the notes, “C, E♭, G”.

The diminished triad

Spelled R-♭3-♭5, this is like a minor triad that is “extra minor”. In addition to the flat third, the diminished triad has a flatted fifth—reducing or diminishing the distance between the root and the fifth. In C, this is the notes “C, E♭, G♭”.

The augmented triad

The opposite of a diminished chord; an “extra major” chord: consisting of R-3-#5, the augmented triad is like a major chord where the distance between the root and fifth has been increased, or augmented. In C this consists of “C, E, G♯”

The suspended 2 triad

The sus2 triad is neither major nor minor. Built from R-2-5. The Csus2 chord is spelled “C, D, G”.

The suspended 4 triad

This triad is also neither major nor minor. It is built from R-4-5 and the Csus4 chord is spelled “C, F, G”.

Key Exercises

  1. Learn to play all six triad types in root position on the guitar.
  2. Listen to a few songs based on triads (popular music most often is) and see if you can identify the quality of each chord—is it major, minor, suspended, or something else?
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

©2018 Hub Guitar. All rights reserved.