According to Wikipedia, a chord is

any harmonic set of two or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously.

But I always thought that two notes aren't a chord, they are an interval. And according to the Intervals Wikipedia page, an interval is

the difference between two pitches.

So my question is this: Can two notes be considered a chord? And why?

  • 9
    An interval in this case is an instrument of measure and the word chord names the item. The notes in a chord are separated by intervals. Lots of people consider 2 notes together a chord fragment and not a true chord and call it a diad where others consider the minimum chord a triad (3 notes). Very awkwardly phrased, sorry...
    – JimR
    Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 8:09
  • Chords with 3 or more notes all have names - some rather weird looking at earlier posts ! We're probably aware of the 5th chord (power chord to guitarists), but what names would be attributed to other diads ? Presumably reflecting the interval they use ? This potentially could get confusing - is C6 just C+A, or the original C+E+G+A ?
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 10:29
  • (To confuse things further :) -- In alot of the fake book stuff I've seen, the typical Chuck Berry style shuffle (Think Johnny B. Goode) calls the alternated chords, in the key of C, C and C6.
    – JimR
    Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 17:17

7 Answers 7


An interval is the difference between two pitches regardless of whether they are played together or one at a time.

A chord is a combination of notes played simultaneously.

Just to confuse matters, some sources define a chord as having three or more notes (personally I call two notes a chord).

  • 1
    Note there is a subtly different thing called a "simultaneity," which Wikipedia defines as "more than one pitch or pitch class all of which occur at the same time, or simultaneously. Simultaneity is a more general term than chord: most chords or harmonies are then simultaneities, though not all simultaneities are chords." (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simultaneity_(music)). Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 20:53
  • broken chords are not played simultaneously.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 12:15
  • Neither is arpeggio
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 12:16
  • Would you call any two notes a chord? If so, what name would be given to, say, C and E? Or is it just power chords?
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 8:39

There is disagreement as to whether we should call two notes a "chord". If we're talking "chord symbol" language, the basic building block is a triad, and with only two notes we can't be sure what triad it is. C and E could be part of C major or of A minor. A chord may be IMPLIED by just two notes though. There's a pretty strong implication of what chords are in the last bar here, even if they aren't completely defined.

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The answers given already cover this. I'd just like to point out that whether you call two notes a "chord" or not is another arbitrary convention, like many in the terminology of music (and other subjects, of course). In case of doubt, define your terms first or just name the notes to be played.


The answer to this is not musical per se, it is linguistic.

The word “chord” comes from the word “accord” as in “agreement.” All it takes is two to make an agreement. One is not enough to agree on something, but two or more is.

So if you play two or more notes simultaneously, you have made “an agreement of notes” or “a musical accord” — a “chord.”

  • That's fair, but when it comes to naming them...
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 8:47

An interval is a measurement; a way to analyze music theoretically. A chord is an actual musical component. If you "play intervals", you could technically be said to be playing arpeggios, which are "broken chords".

Many definitions of a chord require a third note, drawing from Euclidean geometric definitions: "two points define a line; three define a plane, four define space". The parallel definitions would state that two notes define movement of pitch, but three are needed for a chord in order to define its quality (major, minor, suspended, augmented, diminished). However, two notes, especially two lines of notes, can indicate the quality of a key in which the performers are singing or playing.

For example, listen to this: There Is No Rose - Traditional Carol

The full choir is in more or less three-part harmony; though there are four parts, two or more double on each sustained chord. But then the middle portion drops to a duet. With the tonal quality of the piece defined by the fuller harmony, the movement of the soloists relative to each other implies the same tonal quality even though the third note, which would explicitly define that quality, isn't there.


Personally, two pitches are not sufficient to define a chord because it is incomplete. Three is the minimum. When you press two strings in a guitar, it may produce some sort of a chord but it is not complete. For instance, when we play a power chord which consists of the root note and the fifth interval, it could be either a major chord or a minor chord. It can only be known based on other chords used along with it.

  • I agree with you on your answer. Two notes cannot establish a chord quality by themselves without a bass note or any other note to identify it being major, minor, diminihsed, etc.
    – r lo
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 13:05
  • 2
    Not true at all. You can have a root and a 3rd and omit the 5th on most triads because the 5th is implied. In fact, it is a common practice in voice leading if the complete chord would lead to poor voice leading to omit the 5th.
    – Dom
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:46

I'm just going to give my two cents even if it is contrary to the already given answers.

But I always thought that two notes aren't a chord, they are an interval. And according to the Intervals Wikipedia page, an interval is.

These terms are somewhat related. An interval represents the space between two sets of notes either harmonic or melodic. The notes of chords are a set interval from each other (a third.)

The thing is that the main tonal center for the character of a chord is the third. The fifth is a lot less important and only gives any meaningful function when you are busy with augmented or diminished chords.

So in essence, if you have a note and a third you have a rudimentary chord. You also often see in tonal harmony seventh chords that only have three chord notes with the fifth omitted.

It is, in essence, a case of all chords consists of intervals but not all intervals are in chords.

the difference between two pitches.

I would phrase it the distance between two pitches.

...any harmonic set of two or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously.

I don't think this is entirely correct. You have both arpeggios and broken chords that are not played at the same time and to me still count as chords in the broader sense of the word.

Also, piano players often have to roll their chords and if this is the case the notes of the chords are not played exactly at the same time.

  • It should be pointed out that chords can also have notes that are not a third apart- they can be any distance apart, for instance in tone clusters. Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 17:46
  • What about sus2, sus4, 6th, 11th chords? Not all chords need thirds.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 8:46

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