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I'm looking at the song "One thing leads to another" by the Fixx. Throughout the song, the guitarist plays the highest three strings at the 5th fret (giving C E A).

Correct me if I am wrong, but the C to E is a major third and the E to A makes a perfect 4th. The formula for a triad is a third and a 5th, 1 3 5, so this isn't considered a chord. What would this be called then?

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A triad is simply three notes, and a chord is any combination of notes. Major and minor triads are, of course, composed of a Maj/min third and a min/Maj third (or perfect fifth from the root). –  Matthew Read May 21 at 3:22
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2 Answers 2

up vote 17 down vote accepted

This is an A minor chord in first inversion.

A is the root note, C is the minor 3rd, E is the perfect 5th. As the C, the 3rd, is at the bottom, this chord is in first inversion.

The musical excerpt below shows this with conventional notation. Each chord has the same three pitches of an A minor triad, A C E (R m3 5), but the change to the lowest pitch changes the inversion.

enter image description here

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Now I know what people mean when they go on about inversions!! Thank you! (Sometimes people use this term in their 'how to play' YouTube videos) –  Lee Kowalkowski May 20 at 22:37
For completeness, it's worth noting that the term inversion refers specifically to the lowest note of the chord, regardless of the order of notes above that. So, while C E G is a root position C chord, so is C G E. –  Caleb Hines May 21 at 0:27
@CalebHines In that case, CEG would be referred to as a closed chord, because all of the notes are within an octave of each other, while CGE would be an open chord, since there are large intervals between each note. –  Kevin May 21 at 1:03
(I'm sure you already know that. I think it's helpful information for some people reading the comment thread, though.) –  Kevin May 21 at 1:04
That is very useful information. Learning the key-words so they can be further researched is always one of the harder things in the beginning of learning some new realm of knowledge. –  grinch May 21 at 19:56
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I don't know the context of that particular song, but when it comes to naming chords, the octave in which the pitches reside is (usually) irrelevant -- a fact called octave equivalence. This allows you to re-order the notes into any order, to find the chord name. In this case, the perfect 4th (E to A) inverts to a perfect 5 if you drop the A below the E, which gives A C E -- an A minor chord. This is most likely what the chord is.

It's also possible that these notes belong to part of some more advanced chord, and the other notes of the chord are being played by other instruments -- for example, an FMaj7 has the notes F A C E, with the F being played in the bass. Another possibility would be a Cadd6, which is C E G A.

But without knowing about those missing parts, A minor is definitely the best choice.

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Very interesting. I like how you point out the possibility of another instrument picking up part of the chord, showing the need for the context.. –  grinch May 20 at 22:04
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