Tag Archives: piano chords

Mode Mixture

Posted on September 28, 2020 by songtive

Mode Mixture

The process of mode mixture involves borrowing of chords from the parallel minor key in the major mode. These borrowed chords are essentially those which contain the scale degrees that are different between two parallel major and minor keys, namely, the b3, b6, and b7 degrees. When combining this scale degrees with some of the native chords of the major scale we get the resulting chords of bVI, iiº, iv and viiº7.

The bVI chord is a major triad on the b6 scale degree. For example: in the key of C major, this chord would be A flat major. Its main usage is as a replacement chord for the major mode native vi chord, especially on deceptive cadences. It can also be used as a subdominant chord leading to degree V.

The iv chord is a minor triad over scale degree 4, changing the normatively major IV degree into its minor counterpart. For example: in the key of D major, this chord would be G minor. It is essentially used exactly in the same ways as a normal IV chord. As a subdominant chord in cadences, in the second inversion as a contrapuntal neighbor chord, and as a good pivot chord for modulations (this will be expanded upon later).

The iiº and ii half-diminished seventh chords are chords based on a diminished triad over scale degree 2. For example: in C major, these chords would be D diminished triad and D half-diminished seventh. The main use for these chords is essentially that of being subdominant leading to V or Vii. It is very usual to find them in the first inversion due to the fact that in this position the bass note is scale degree 4, the main subdominant note.

The Viiº7 chord is a fully diminished seventh chord over scale degree 7. For example: in the key of A major, a G#º7 chords. This structure owes its origin to mode mixture since it turns the otherwise half-diminished seventh chord over scale degree 7 into a fully diminished chord by adding the b6 scale degree. Due to its symmetric nature, this diminished seventh chord can appear in any inversion and has multiple uses. Among these are, as a contrapuntal chord joining two chords by smooth voice leading; as a dominant chord leading to I and last but not least, as an ideal chord for modulation (this idea will be expanded later).

Another common type of mixture chord is the bII, also referred to as the Neapolitan chord. This chord is essentially derived from the mixture with the Phrygian mode which has a naturally occurring scale degree b2. At its core, the Neapolitan chord is a major triad occurring on the b2 scale degree.

The Neapolitan chord is usually found in minor keys and in the first inversion. This close association with the minor mode can be attributed to its keener relationship to the sound collections found in these types of keys, essentially, the b6 scale degree which is native to the minor mode and is the fifth of the bII Neapolitan chord. The first inversion usage is better explained from a functional point of view. Fundamentally speaking, when the Neapolitan chord is in the first inversion, the bass note is scale degree 4, which is the main representative for the subdominant function. This fact leads to the strong pre-dominant function that the bII chord exhibits but with the special color that the b2 scale degree adds.

As you may have already noticed, most of these chords are members of the subdominant function. This fact is one of the main factors for the great usefulness that mixture chords display to produce modulations to foreign keys. Usually, for pivot chords, the best choices are subdominant chords since these are the least defined in terms of tonal resolution. While the dominant has an enormous amount of pulling towards the tonic, and the tonic has stability, the subdominant is less characteristic of any particular key and is, therefore, more susceptible to being reinterpreted in other keys.

When using mode mixture, the tonal spectrum broadens and the flat side of the circle of fifths becomes closer than before. For example, in the key of C major (no accidentals), the iv chord opens up possible modulatory space to go to flat keys like E flat major (3 flats), where it is ii; or A flat major (4 flats), where it is vi; or even D flat major (5 flats), where it is iii. Furthermore, by using the viiº7 chord the tonal space broadens even more since due to its symmetrical structure this chord can be used as the viiº7 chord in the keys of C and Cm, Eb and Ebm, Gb and F#m, and last but not least, A and Am. All of these keys are foreign to the original C major, a possibility that was nonexistent when using purely diatonic triads from the major scale.

To conclude, mode mixture is an enormously useful tool for composition and elaboration of simple chord progressions. They can add color to otherwise plain chords, they can be useful to modulate to very distant keys and they can even be utilized to exploit the rhetorical duality between major and minor tonality. By using these new chords, the tonal spectrum is broadened, and the possibilities are unlimited.

Feel free to check out our Piano Companion for iOS, Android, macOS. Additionally, if you want to learn notes, chords, the theory then you can check ChordIQ for iOS, Android.

What is piano chord?

Posted on August 12, 2020 by songtive

piano chords with Piano Companion

A piano chord is one of the main building-blocks of music in western culture. Along with scales and intervals, piano chords are responsible for the creation of cohesion and structure in essentially every song and piece of music.

A piano chord can also be defined as a collection of notes in a predetermined type of ordering. This ordering is based on the idea of stacking two notes over a root at a determined interval (distance) called a third. The three notes that make up a piano chord are respectively called root, third, and fifth due to the order in which they appear. A simple approach to playing your first piano chord would be to visualize them as a simple but abstract three-note structure that can be imposed over the white keys of the keyboard. Basically, an initial note then skips one key, press that one, and repeat the previous step.


Musical intervals and piano chord

To be able to learn to quickly construct piano chords, we should first examine their most fundamental building blocks, the aforementioned intervals. A musical interval is the measure of the distance between any two given pitches within a reference system. A good way of understanding intervals is through the use of the smallest possible distance between two distinct notes, the half step. This method to measure distance can be exemplified by playing any key of the keyboard and then playing the most immediate key over or under it. For example, C and C# or C and B. It should also be noted that our tuning system only contains twelve distinct pitches, meaning that after 12 half steps the system repeats itself with the last note carrying the same name as the initial one.

These intervals are then categorized in a series of numbers directly correlated to the number of half steps and keys implied.


Interval Name Amount of Half Steps
Minor second 1
Major second 2
Minor third 3
Major third 4
Perfect fourth 5
Augmented fourth 6
Perfect fifth 7
Minor sixth 8
Major sixth 9
Minor seventh 10
Major seventh 11
Perfect octave 12

Types of piano chords

Triadic piano chords are the most simple and common types of chords we can find in music. These are essentially small collections of three notes which follow a certain ordering of third intervals within a scalar reference system.

Western tonal music and its particular tuning system produce only four distinct types of triads. Namely, major, minor, diminished, and augmented. On top of having a radically different sound and emotional properties, these chordal structures are differentiated from each other by the ordering and quality of the intervals between its constituent factors. These intervals are always thirds, both major and minor. The order in which they appear will determine the quality of the piano chord at hand. These are exemplified in the table below:

Type of chord Quality and order of thirds* Amount of half steps and total intervallic content
Major M3+m3 4+3=7
Minor M3+M3 3+4=7
Diminished M3+m3 3+3=6
Augmented M3+M3 4+4=8

*Where “M3” is the major third and “m3” is a minor third.

Like most things in music, like rhythm, form, or dynamics, chord types aren’t absolute and isolated objects. They are a product of the distance relationships between its constituent members (notes) and as such, conform abstract, distance-based structures that can be applied to any given note of the chromatic system (twelve-note system), using it as root to produce a chord. That’s why to produce any chord of any type, you should just choose a starting pitch and apply the structure and order of the intervals over it.

Finally, it should be noted that piano chords are simple musical structures of very low order in terms of hierarchy. Furthermore, they are somewhat similar to single words in written language, meaning that they carry a particular meaning by themselves but not a fully developed idea. Also, they are susceptible to being combined with other chords to make up progressions (similar to the way words combine to produce sentences in written language). These progressions are common patterns or successions of certain chords that produce coherent musical ideas and phrases.

Extended piano chords

Following the same logic applied to the formation of simple triadic chords, we can create more complex structures by stacking even more thirds over the root note. By adding a single extra note on top of the triad we get a seventh chord.

Depending on the original triadic structure on which these chords are based, the quality of the new one may vary. For example, if we add a major third over the last note of a major chord, we get a major seventh chord, if we add a minor third over the same structure, we get a dominant seventh chord.

Type of chord Triadic origin Quality and order of thirds* Amount of half steps and total intervallic content
Dominant seventh Major M3+m3+M3 4+3+4=11
Major seventh Major M3+m3+m3 4+3+3=10
Minor seventh Minor m3+M3+m3 3+4+3=10
Minor – Major seventh Minor m3+M3+M3 3+4+4=11
Half – Diminished Diminished m3+m3+M3 3+3+4=10
Fully – Diminished Diminished m3+m3+m3 3+3+3=9
Augmented dominant seventh Augmented M3+M3+º3 4+4+2=10
Augmented major seventh Augmented M3+M3+m3 4+4+3=11

*Where “M3” is a major third, “m3” is a minor third and “º3” is diminished third.

How to read piano chords

Notation and reading of chords are actually very simple and intuitive processes. The root of the piano chord at hand will always be capitalized and then followed by other characters that explain their particular qualities and peculiarities.

Type of chord Notational symbol (examples in C)
Major C
Minor C- or Cm
Augmented Caug or C+
Diminished Cdim or Cº
Major seventh Cmaj 7
Dominant seventh C7
Minor seventh Cm7
Fully diminished Cº7

If you are looking for a piano chords dictionary or piano chords scale. Feel free to check out our Piano Companion for iOS, Android, macOS. Additionally, if you want to learn notes, chords, theory then you can check ChordIQ for iOS, Android.