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I've been studying for music theory for many years and I enjoy just writing little chord progressions and melodies to see what certain progressions sound like and how interesting I can make them. The only chord I don't really use is the augmented chord besides in passing. I was wondering if certain chord progressions would lend themselves to utilize the augmented chord.

Edit: By an augmented chord I meant some form of an augmented triad.

  • I've asked my self the same question. It's hard to use because it's not found in the major or minor scale. It's found in the harmonic and melodic minor. – Caleb Oct 7 '13 at 23:03
  • @Caleb - just to clarify for other readers that the augmented triad only occurs in those keys on the third scale degree - as well as natural minor if the seventh degree is raised (as is customary.) – jjmusicnotes Oct 7 '13 at 23:33
  • Assuming you mean the same thing by Augmented as I understand, this is one (actually the only) song I play regularly which uses one. I think it works really well. I see the chord written as Gaug or G+, are these what you mean? tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/m/matt_redman/… – Mr. Boy Jan 20 '15 at 15:08
  • Us and them by Pink Floyd has a nice augmented f chord against a peddled d in the bass. – user32980 Aug 31 '16 at 7:52
  • Augmented chords are often found in blues turn-arounds. One such example is Stormy Monday. More generally, any time you want to introduce tension, both augmented and diminished chords heighten tension, which may then resolve to something more relaxing. – Kirk A Aug 31 '16 at 23:38

12 Answers 12

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Augmented triads use, effectively, a major third stacked on another major third. Thus there are really only 4 of them. E,g, C-E-G# is the make-up of C+, but also an inversion of E+ (using E-G#-B# ), and G#+, (with G#-B#-D## ). The names of the notes have to be changed, technically, but the sound is the same.There is another 'starting' on C#, then two more, on D and Eb. After that the cycle starts again.

Thus they can be interchangeable between keys, rather like diminished chords, which effectively use a minor third stacked on another minor third, making 3 of them before they cycle round to repeat themselves in inversions of the same notes.

I know the augmented actually uses a maj. 3 and an aug. 5., but I'm trying to portray the mix in a different way.

Having said all of that, the usual modern use seems to be as a sort of dominant, moving, for example, from C maj-through C+ to-F.The sound is too unstable to stand on its own.

So, using an aug. chord, the tune can stray into another key - or modulate.

  • As @Tim sez, augmented chords are too unstable to stand on their own. That tension demands to be resolved. And THAT is why they spice up some of my favorite blues turnarounds, often from the V+ to the I7. – Kirk A Jun 12 '14 at 11:37
  • Which is, in fact, too unstable to stand on its own. Is it just because we've got used to that 7th sound? – Tim Jun 12 '14 at 11:53
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Augmented Sixth chords are a staple of the late Classical and Romantic periods and were used by many, many, many composers. There are three types of augmented sixth chords: Italian, German, and French - each with subtle differences but all serving the same inherent purpose: to change the function of the (boring) dominant-seventh chord.

For example, a plain-jane C7 (C, E, G, Bb) would be re-written (C, E, G, A# - "German-sixth") thus allowing the chord to serve a different harmonic function (therefore creating more interest!) So, in the context of chord progressions, aug-sixth chords are typically substituted for dominants or pre-dominants to redirect the harmony to either a secondary dominant or to modulate to another key entirely (sometimes completely unrelated!)

The Augmented Triad is probably what you are most likely referring to, as the fifth of the chord is typically raised in passing to another chord. There are examples of composers throughout history using them as bread-and-butter for compositions, but unfortunately no specific example leaps to mind at the moment.

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    @Dom - To be fair, in your question, you didn't specify. As for the triad, if you were expecting someone to merely list a bunch of chord progressions, then you will probably be disappointed as it may be akin to someone asking "what are all the chord progressions for minor chords?" The breadth of that answer would essentially be too-large to be answerable, so what remains is to describe how the chord has been used stylistically throughout history. Typically, the augmented triad is used to point somewhere else - either by rising upwards or by "leaning" downwards implying tonicization. – jjmusicnotes Oct 8 '13 at 2:09
  • These are convenient for modulating up by one half-step, e.g.: I - V(4/2)/IV - IV(6/3) - bVI(+6) - V(8/6/4 - 7/5/3)/#i - #i in other words, C - C/Bb - F/A - Ab+6 - C#m/G# - G#7 - C#m This is especially effective when going into a minor key as demonstrated here. (Bonus: if you practice your scales by playing a major scale, minor scale, diminished arpeggio, and German sixth arpeggio, you can seamlessly transition into the next chromatic key.) – ninemileskid Jun 11 '14 at 5:30
  • when you say augmented six chords do you mean the ones built on the sub mediant or just ones in first inversion? – Neil Meyer Jun 11 '14 at 5:56
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    This wikipedia article has some interesting examples of the augmented triad in classical tonal music. – BobRodes Jun 12 '14 at 3:05
  • this answer does not state any uses of the augmented triad. – sleeparrow Sep 7 '17 at 21:45
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I believe David Bowie's song Life on Mars? uses an augmented triad (on the line `look at those cavemen [go]' in the chorus). Here it is part of the bridge from the relative minor back to the tonic major:

Am C+ G Gm Dm Fm C

I'm pretty sure there are songs with a variant of this progression, along the lines of

Am C+ C D F G(7) C

but I can't think of any examples. This progression lends itself to a falling melody line A-G#-G-F#-F-F-E.

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further to the great examples above, there's a fine example of augmented chords in Eminem's 'Lose yourself' the whole chord pattern is just a minor chord, then that same chord with an augmented 5th!

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Play the C minor (harmonic) scale and form chords (i.e. tonic, supertonic, etc) and discover that it's your Mediant (3rd note) - hence they can work very much in minor compositions but they work more as modulations helping to resolve within the notes/chord tones. Alternatively, you can push deeper a whole tone ahead or a sub dominant.

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Amateur pop composer thoughts: the augmented tonic gives a method of moving to the relative minor (vi) with an "ascending" (and chromatic) feel. As opposed to using, for example, the iii chord, which feels kinda "descending". Good example is Frank Loesser's "Inchworm".

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Maybe augmented chords fit better into considerations of voice-leading than into the "what scale do I play over this chord?" thing. "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret" uses a C, C+, C6, C7 progression which is all about the rising melodic line in the harmony, coupled with a melodic phrase that keeps out of its way. Are there scalic passages that could be played over it? Who cares?

  • I do and I'll already stated that I use it in passing which covers the voice leading and chordal passing progressions you list in your answer. – Dom Aug 31 '16 at 23:05
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Yeah, there are various passing tone/chord uses for the augmented triad, as well as other leading tone uses, such as the following Phrygian cadence from J.C.F. Fischer's Ariadne musica (E Phrygian Prelude). enter image description here Here it leads into the cadential vii6-I (via an appoggiatura on 2nd inversion A minor). In minor mode pieces, this would be a pre-pre-dominant leading to iv6-V-i or I. Note the G♯ anticipation forming a passing augmented triad in the last measure. Whether passing or not, the first inversion augmented triad on C is heavily lampshaded throughout this prelude.

However, there is a common use of augmented triads that has little to do with either passing notes/chords or leading tones, and I'm a little shocked that no one has mentioned it thus far.

enter image description here

From Debussy's Voiles.

Here notes are added to the augmented triad quite freely (and, in the course of this piece, frequently subtracted to leave bare major thirds), and, while the voice leading is smooth, there's nary a leading tone to be seen, and the results are deeply, deeply ambiguous.

This is, of course, par for the course for whole tone scales, for which the augmented triad is a fundamental chord. Since roughly Franz Liszt's time (e.g., the opening of the Faust Symphony), augmented triads have been used to introduce tonal ambiguity.

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The theme from Batman: The Animated Series features an E augmented chord in between a D minor and C minor chord. Search for Shirley Walker Music of the Bat 101, she breaks it down. Fantastic use of this less common chord.

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In Jazz, they are the perfect chord for voice leading in a 2 5 1 ( Dm7 G7 G+ Cmaj7) progression. The Dm7 gets 4 beats, the G7 gets 3 beats, the G+ gets one beat, and the Cmaj7 get 4 or 8 beats. Between the G7 and the CMaj7, they both share the G mote and the B note, and the D in the G, the D# in the G+ and the E in the CMaj7 create a nice chromatic move between the chords.

As for what scale you play over one, because the Augmented chord is comprised of 2 whole steps from the root to the third, then 2 whole steps from the third to the augmented fifth, one can play a whole-tone scale, with the notes belonging to the chord played on the strong beats, and the notes between on the weak beats.

e.g. Wholetone scale (G) - A - (B) - C# - (D#) - F - (G). In the above example, the G+ lasts for just one beat, so scale passages over the G+ will be short.

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The fifth of a chord is not as defining as the root, 3rd, and 7th; a C7 is still a C7 with only C E Bb. That said, they are usually hinting to the III+ in melodic minor.

The augmented chord often takes place of a dominant chord. Take a V7 chord in the key of C: G7. You can replace the G7 with G7#5 and it will give it different flavor, but still resolve down a fifth. You can resolve the #5 up a half-step or down a half-step to the natural 5th of the I chord... up would make it a C6, which does happen too.

Another example would be a horror movie. Augmented chords are sharp and unpleasant/unsettling. They can be effective to create an unsettling feeling, especially if you voice the bass low and the chord high... in this context the resolution doesn't need to be smooth necessarily. Sharp odd resolutions will only add to the effect of scary and odd.

This is only a couple of many, the question is too broad to cover all of them.

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A 9th b5th chord is built by 2 augmented triads. Each augmented is a tritone to the original chord, thus are substitute chords. So, for 2 measures of a Bb9b5 chord, you could replace it with a progression of its 2 augmented triads moving up a whole step (2 frets on a guitar) each time: E+ - D+ - E+ - D+. In my opinion, it's ugly, but it is presented in books as a tritone substitution sequence for the 9th b5 chord.

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