Two Approaches to Building Triads

We often talk about learning “scales and chords.” Did you know that with practice, you can think of them as one and the same?

There are two ways to find triads on the piano: the interval-based approach and the scale-based approach. You get the same chord either way, but you’re visualizing them differently.

The interval-based approach is what I teach in the Triads course. It’s great for beginners because you don’t need to know anything about the piano for it to work. An interval is the distance between two notes. So with this approach, we simply count up half steps from the bottom note to the next note; and then count again to the last note. A major chord is 4 plus 3. A minor chord is 3 plus 4.

More advanced players can use this approach, too, if you’re ever totally lost. Even if you’ve never played anything in the key of Gb before, you can find a Gb major chord right away: 4 plus 3 and you’re there.

The scale-based approach is more advanced, but once you know your scales, it’s more practical. This is how experienced players learn to “see” triads. (And other kinds of chords, too.) If you know the major scale for the chord’s starting note, you can just play every other note in the scale – play a note, skip a note, play a note, repeat – and you’ll get your triad.

Over time, you’ll get to where most chords are just shapes that you pull from scales. Dm7 / C to Bm7b5 to Cmaj7 / B? That’s all just C major.

I chose the interval-based approach for my Triads course because I wanted to get people started playing chords right away – and finding intervals is good practice for anybody. But if you ever needed more motivation to learn your scales, here’s some!

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