How to learn major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads

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Circle of Fifths

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Okay, you know there has to be some secret to this, right? Learning all your chord triads should be one of the first things you do. I will venture to say that it doesn’t even matter if you understand them yet, because simply memorizing them is a good start toward understanding. I know that’s putting the cart in front of the horse, but I taught music theory for years, and things generally come together for those that put in the memory work.

In this post, I’m going to explain a method of organization that will not only help you memorize your circle of fifths (which you most certainly should do), but also help you memorize all of the chord triads…that’s right, all of them (with the exception of weird enharmonic spellings that only super big dorks care about).

First things first. You gotta know how to spell your triads.

  • Major = R M3 P5
  • Minor = R m3 P5
  • Augmented = R M3 +5
  • Diminished = R m3 d5

If you’re not to that level yet, just start with the major triads. Write down each major I chord from every major key. I’ll add the first half here to save you time.

  • CEG
  • GBD
  • DF#A
  • AC#E
  • EG#B
  • BD#F#
  • F#A#C#
  • GbBbDb
  • etc.
Circle of Fifths
Illustration from Modern Guitar Method, by Mark Nokes

Once you’ve memorized each major triad, repeat them out loud starting at the top of the circle and moving clockwise until you finish a complete cycle. Do this until you can spell each major triad around the circle in under 30 seconds! You can do it!

The next step is to do the same thing with the minor, augmented, and diminished triads. The idea is simple. Repetition of the triads will help you commit them to memory. Once you know all the triads, you’ll be very fast at spelling and extending chords to create all sorts of great music!

Be sure to get a copy of Modern Guitar Method for more great music theory lessons, and subscribe to my YouTube channel to hear me play and listen to my lessons on music, day trading, and investing! I know…it’s a weird combination of things, but it’s what I do!

The MAN Himself

Author of Modern Guitar Method. Also, please listen to my new album. I think it's the best jazz album of 2021 and It's available everywhere!