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Lesson Three

Triads and Inversions
To be able to harmonise to a melody we are given, we need to be able to understand the chords given to us. Three note chords are called triads, and are identified by the scale degree of their lowest note, using Roman numerals.

(minor chords are in lower case numerals, major chords in upper case!) If we add another step to a triad, we get a 7th chord, so called because the interval between the root and this note is a 7th. In the exam you may be asked to identify II7 and V7 – add these on the stave above where you think they should go, and relabel the chords. The note after which a chord named is called its root and the other notes in the chord are named accordingly to the interval. Label this chord with root, 3rd and 5th, and draw and label the 7th note.

We can use any of these notes as the lowest note of the chord, by adding a lowercase letter to the chord’s Roman numeral. Root = a 3rd = b 5th = c 7th = d Label the chord above with its letter name also.   If the root is the lowest note, we say the chord is in root position – really you should put the letter a after the chord e.g. Iva, but it is always assumed that a chord is in root position if there is no letter. If the third is the lowest note, the chord is in first inversion and we add the letter b e.g. IVb

Lesson Three   If the fifth is the lowest note, the chord is in second inversion and we add the letter c e.g. Vc If the chord has a seventh and if this is the lowest note, the chord is in third inversion and we add the letter d e.g. VIId

The notes of a chord may appear in any order and will usually be spread over more than one stave. Some notes may be doubled, the fifth may be left out, and sometimes each of the notes may be sounded separately to form a broken chord.

Task: Step 1: Identify the key this music is in Step 2: Identify each chord (with its Roman Numeral) Step 3: Identify the inversion and label

Lesson Three How to identify chords

Step 1: Work out the key of the passage and make a chord chart for the key: 7th (d) 5th (c) 3rd (b) root D major D B G E II(7) G E C# A V(7)

A F# D I





Step 2: Write down the names of the notes in the chord you want to identify, ignoring doubles and writing the lowest note of the chord at the bottom e.g. chord 1: A D# F chord 2: D B E G

Step 3: Match the notes you have listed with a chord in your chart and write it’s Roman numeral. e.g. Chord 1: I chord 2: II7

Step 4: Check the chord’s lowest note against the inversion letters in your chart, and then add the correct letter after the Roman numeral e.g. Chord 1: Ib chord 2: II7b

Task: Complete for the other two chords on this extract.

Lesson Three

You may be also be asked to identify the diminished 7th. The interval between ever note is a minor 3rd.

Chords VII7 in a minor key is a diminished 7th, but if it is in a major key, at least one of its notes is chromatic (not part of the key). Exercises Label the chords using Roman numerals and inversions below each chord.

Identify the chords that are bracketed with a letter over e.g. A and B in this exercise

Lesson Three

Figured Bass
Figured bass is a method for indicating chords, used widely in the 17 th and 18th centuries – you will be expected to understand this at A2 level, and makes more sense to teach as part of AS during your understanding of inversions! The figures refer to intervals above the given bass note in accordance with the key signature. 5-3 means root position. So the B is the root note, and you would write the 3rd and the 5th note above, but where you position them in the stave is up to you.

In these examples, the root note has been doubled. You can also double the 5th if you wish, but don’t double the 3rd. Sometimes you won’t see a figure underneath a note – that means it’s 5-3 – its just a common root chord. A 6-3 chord is a first inversion chord. That means you would need to write the notes a 3rd above and a 6th above this note e.g. an E and an A. (You will then notice that it’s an A chord in first inversion!) You can double any of the notes on a 6-3 chord. As a 6-3 chord is quite common too, you might see it only written as a 6. It still means 1st inversion! Hint with figured bass: work out the inversions and letter names that you need to harmonise with first – then you will realise which inversion it is.

Lesson Three

A 6-4 chord is second inversion. You would need to write the notes a 4th and a 6th higher than the bass note. You should always double the bass note with a 6/4.

If you see a sharp, you would need to sharpen that note. For this root position figured bass, you need to sharpen the 3rd.

For this second inversion figured bass, you need to sharpen the 6th interval.

Exercise: Work out this figured bass together

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

No numbers = root position No numbers = root position + # Line – hold previous chord First inversion Second inversion

Lesson Three

Possible Solution:

The important point of figured bass isn’t just to work out the chords! You need to have a nice melody running through the soprano line, and make sure the alto and tenor lines don’t jump all over the place – they should normally move by step. Main rules of figured bass: 1. No consecutive 5ths or 8ves 2. Soprano line to have a nice melody, and alto and tenor lines to fill out the harmony. No wide leaps or difficult intervals 3. Always check you have doubled the right note – normally the root of 5th. 4. Don’t let parts overlap Steps to complete a figured bass: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Work out the key of the piece Write down the notes you need by name Write the whole soprano line Fill in the alto and tenor parts, chord by chord Check for errors and rewrite where necessary

Homework – realize this figured bass.