Constructing Tonic Triads

Musician playing guitar
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First, let's define each word separately; "tonic" pertains to the first note of a scale, while "triad" is defined as a chord consisting of 3 notes. Hence, a "tonic triad" means a chord of three notes, with the lowest note being the tonic (first note) of a scale. The tonic triad is always made up of the 1st (tonic) + 3rd + 5th notes of a scale. Tonic triads are built on thirds because the interval between the tonic and the middle note (3rd note of a scale) is a third; the interval between the middle note and the highest note (5th note of a scale) is also a third.

Use these steps to help you form tonic triads:

How to Construct a Tonic Triad

  1. Learn how to play major and minor scales.

    Major Scales

    C Major Scale: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
    D Major Scale: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#
    E Major Scale: E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#
    F Major Scale: F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E
    G Major Scale: G-A-B-C-D-E-F#
    A Major Scale: A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#
    B Major Scale: B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#
    C# Major Scale: C#-D#-E#-F#-G#-A#-B#
    Eb Major Scale: Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D
    F# Major Scale: F#-G#-A#-B-C#-D#-E#
    Ab Major Scale: Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G
    Bb Major Scale: Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A

  2. Natural Minor Scales

    C Minor Scale: C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C
    D Minor Scale: D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C-D
    E Minor Scale: E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E
    F Minor Scale: F-G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F
    G Minor Scale: G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G
    A Minor Scale; A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
    B Minor Scale; B-C#-D-E-F#-G-A-B
    C# Minor Scale: C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A-B-C#
    Eb Minor Scale:Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb
    F# Minor Scale:F#-G#-A-B-C#-D-E-F#
    Ab Minor Scale: Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-Fb-Gb-Ab
    Bb Minor Scale: Bb-C-Db-Eb- F-Gb-Ab-Bb

  1. Simplify it! You can memorize this formula to form a major scale = whole step - whole step - half step - whole step - whole step - whole step - half step or w - w - h - w - w - w - h

    You can memorize this formula to form a minor scale = whole step - half step - whole step - whole step - half step - whole step - whole step or w - h - w - w - h - w - w.

  1. Assign numbers to each note of a major or minor scale. Always assign number one to the tonic (first) note. For example, in the C major scale the numbers will be assigned as follows:

    C = 1
    D = 2
    E = 3
    F = 4
    G = 5
    A = 6
    B = 7

    and on A minor scale the numbers will be assigned as follows:

    C = 1
    D = 2
    Eb = 3
    F = 4
    G = 5
    Ab = 6
    Bb = 7

  2. Remember the pattern. Now, in order to form a tonic triad play the notes numbered 1 (tonic) + 3 + 5 of a major or minor scale. In our example above, a tonic triad in C Major is C + E + G, while a tonic triad in C minor is C + Eb + G.