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22: Diatonic Triads

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Lesson 22: Diatonic Triads

This lesson teaches diatonic triads, which are important for understanding the chord progressions used in many songs (or writing your own songs).

Before taking this lesson, you should know:
Diatonic means "staying within the key". So, for example, the diatonic triads in the key of B♭ major are the triads we can create using only pitches in the B♭ major scale.

There are just six "common" diatonic triads in any particular major key; we build these six triads on scale degrees 1 through 6 of the key's major scale. (We can also build a triad on degree 7, but that one is much less common, so I'm skipping it for now.) Let's find each of these six diatonic triads, one at a time:

The I chord ("one-major")


Our first diatonic triad uses degrees 1 3 5 of our (example) B♭ major scale:
12 34 5678
B♭C DE♭ FGA B♭
So, the pitches in this chord are B♭ D F; hopefully you recognize that this is a major triad (chord symbol: B♭); so our first triad's Roman symbol is just I ("one major").

The IIm chord ("two-minor")


The second triad uses degrees 2 4 6 of our B♭ major scale:
123 45 678
B♭CD E♭F GAB♭
So, the pitches in this chord are C E♭ G; this is a minor triad (chord symbol: Cm); so the Roman symbol is IIm ("two minor").

The IIIm chord ("three-minor")


The third triad uses degrees 3 5 7 of our B♭ major scale:
1234 56 78
B♭CD E♭FG AB♭
So, the pitches in this chord are D F A; this is a minor triad (chord symbol: Dm); so the Roman symbol is IIIm ("three minor").

The IV chord ("four-major")


The fourth triad uses degrees 4 6 8 of our B♭ major scale:
1234 567 8
B♭CD E♭F GA B♭
So, the pitches in this chord are E♭ G B♭; this is a major triad (chord symbol: E♭); so the Roman symbol is IV ("four major").

The V chord ("five-major")


The fifth triad uses degrees 5 7 9 of our B♭ major scale:
1234 56 78 910
B♭CDE♭ FG AB♭ CD
So, the pitches in this chord are F A C; this is a major triad (chord symbol: F); so the Roman symbol is V ("five major").

The VIm chord ("six-minor")


Finally, the sixth triad uses degrees 6 8 10 of our B♭ major scale:
12345 67 89 10
B♭CDE♭F GA B♭C D
So, the pitches in this chord are G B♭ D; this is a minor triad (chord symbol: Gm); so the Roman symbol is VIm ("six minor").

Summing Up


Putting it all together, in Roman chord symbols, these are the common major-key diatonic triads:

      I   IIm   IIIm   IV   V   VIm


And, for reference, here are they are as "specific" chords, in the common major keys:

Key I IIm IIIm IV V VIm
A♭ major A♭B♭m CmD♭E♭Fm
A major ABmC♯m DEF♯m
B♭ major B♭CmDm E♭FGm
B major BC♯m D♯mEF♯G♯m
C major CDmEm FGAm
D♭ major D♭E♭m FmG♭A♭B♭m
D major DEmF♯m GABm
E♭ major E♭FmGm A♭B♭Cm
E major EF♯m G♯mABC♯m
F major FGmAm B♭CDm
F♯ major F♯G♯m A♯mBC♯D♯m
G♭ major G♭A♭m B♭mC♭D♭ E♭m
G major GAmBm CDEm

When you understand these diatonic triads:
  • You can get suggestions for "practice activities" to help you learn to use them in the next lesson, Lesson 23: Using Diatonics;
  • Or, if you don't need practice suggestions, you can jump to learning about the different effects of the different diatonic triads in Lesson 24: Tonic Function.

Lessons

1: Introduction
2: Practicing Songwriting
3: Pitch Names
4: Letters Game
5: Sharps & Flats
6: Half-Steps & Whole-Steps
7: Steps Game
8: Scales
9: Major Scale 1-2-3
10: Major 1-2-3 Games
11: Major Scale 1-5
12: Major 1-5 Games
13: Chords: Major Triads
14: Major Triad Games
15: Minor Triads
16: Minor Triad Games
17: Major Scale 1-8
18: Major Scale Games
19: Keys
20: Roman Numeral Chords
21: Scales Above 8
22: Diatonic Triads
23: Using Diatonics
24: Tonic Function
25: Subdominant & Dominant
26: Diatonic Function Analysis
27: Natural Minor Scale
28: Natural Minor Games
29: Minor Key Triads
30: 7th Chords
31: 7ths Games
32: Suspended-4th Chords
33: Time: Beats & Measures
34: Starting a Song: Hook Chords
35: Melody: Chord Tones
36: Treble Staff
37: Treble Staff Game
38: Note Lengths
39: Tied & Dotted Notes
40: Rhythm: Rests
41: Key Signatures
42: Diatonic 7ths
43: Non-Root-Bass Chords
44: Major Pentatonic Scale
45: Embellishing Tones
46: Melody Rhythm: Rolling Stone
47: Pitch & Frequency

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