Triads are one of the most basic concepts in music theory.

They’re the simplest form of a musical chord, but they’re an important pattern that’s found throughout multiple structures in music.

But even if you have a basic understanding of what triads are, it’s worth looking into them in detail.

In this article I’ll explain triads clearly, show why it’s useful to learn them and give you ideas to work with them in your music.

Let’s get started.

What are triads in music?

A triad is a three note musical chord consisting of the root note with two additional notes—each a third away from the last.

In relation to the root, a triad contains a third and a fifth interval. The relationship between the root and the other musical intervals determines the chord quality of the triad.

The four triad qualities are

A triad is a three note musical chord consisting of the root note with two additional notes—each a third away from the last.

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Why are triads important?

Triads are the building blocks of chords. They’re the simplest form of a harmonic structure in music.


You could write an entire song using just these three-note chords—and many songwriters do!

But you don’t have to use triadic chords directly to benefit from learning them. Triads help you understand the harmonic function of notes in a scale.

Take the triad built on scale degree 5 of the major scale for example. It contains scale degrees 5, 7, 2.

If you listen with the scale’s tonic in mind, it’s easy to hear the tension pulling it back toward the tonic chord with scale degree 7 resolving up to 1.

Take each scale degree and build a chord using only the notes available within the key signature. These are the diatonic triads.

Associating scale degrees with chords and their harmonic function is one of the best ways to grow your music theory knowledge and feel at home on your instrument.

Chord inversions

Triads can appear with their notes in different orders. These different note arrangements are called inversions.

Inversions change the feel of the chord without changing its quality or harmonic function. They also open up different possibilities for arrangement and voice leading.

The simplest form is called root position. This is the familiar snowman shape with each new note stacked directly on top by thirds.

But there are two other possible positions called first inversion and second inversion.

First inversion features the third of the chord in the lowest voice with the fifth and tonic above

Second inversion

How to use triads in your music

The best way to start with triads is to learn the diatonic triads—the set of three note chords that can be built from each degree of the scale.

Take each scale degree and build a chord using only the notes available within the key signature.

For example, in the key of C major, here are the diatonic triads for each scale degree.

c major diatonic triads

Knowing them well will help you create unique chord voicings when building seventh chords and extended chords by stacking triads on top of each other.


You can even create interesting polychords by mixing and matching.

Triadic motion is a helpful technique to use while improvising.

On top of that, triadic motion is an extremely helpful technique to use while improvising. If stepwise motion up and down the scale starts to get dull, experiment with moving by triads to spice things up.

Thinking this way will help you create melodies that outline the harmony as you start to see the patterns created by triads.

Harmonic structures

Triads are a beginner concept in music theory, but they’re so important that you’ll never stop working with them as your skills grow.

Whether you’re working with chords, scales or harmonic progressions, knowing your triads will unlock creativity in songwriting, producing and more.

Now that you have triad basics down, get back to your workflow and keep creating.

Audio LANDR