Could someone explain in simple terms, and preferably with an example or two what "chord of nature" means. I tried reading about this in Wikipedia, but I cannot see how this is different from just a chord. I'm sure I'm missing something here. Is it just a way to talk about a chord without reference to a specific tonality or root note, only in terms of its intervals?


2 Answers 2


The “chord of nature” is a theory that roots harmony in the natural, physical elements of music. Specifically, it refers to the way that natural sounds have harmonic overtones: the octave, the perfect fifth, the major third, and so on. The “chord of nature” also refers to the major triad formed from the strongest overtones.

Thus, the chord of nature isn’t different from the usual chords, it’s simply an explanation for why the chords sound they way they do: they’re found in nature.


Early theories took the fact that a basic sound was not just that, but made up from overtones or harmonics of that basic sound. It was sort of agreed that the first five of these harmonics were audible to a standard human ear, and others, of which there are many beyond, were only discernible to those with very sensitive ears.

The first five harmonics of a fundamental (root, if you like) note are: octave of root, fifth of root, second octave, major third, and second fifth.These, when blended together, made (and still do!) the major chord. To get a minor chord, one has to go further up the harmonic ladder, but at the time, it was deemed that those notes constituted Mother Nature's contribution - it was a natural progression that happened to sound good.A simple example may be blowing over an open end of a bottle. The sound is a fundamental, but you can hear at least a couple of harmonics in the sound, too.

This is not key specific, as it can be heard from any basic sound (apparently),and would even work for notes 'in the cracks'. Each musical instrument has its own set of harmonics, which bring out each in different proportions, thus producing different timbres. The Germans have a word for it - 'klang'. I guess we've borrowed it and spell it with a c, as an onomatopoeia.

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    As much as I found the other answer to be more specific to my question, I think yours is more interesting and gives more context. Thanks! Jun 4, 2014 at 12:37
  • "above-5 harmonics are hard to discern" doesn't hold much truth as such. It's very easy to discern, say, the 8th from 9th harmonic, that's an ordinary whole-tone step (just/Pythagorean)! And harmonics higher than the 5th sure are very audible in most instrument sounds. What you're referring to is 5-limit, which means all intervals which are employed musically can be interpreted as compounds of the first 5 harmonics' relations. But that's largely a matter of what's easily implemented as an instrument tuning and what you're used to hear. Jun 4, 2014 at 22:53
  • That's why I said 'sort of agreed'. We're talking a couple of hundred years plus ago. Ears were generally not that discerning then, I guess. Also it may be easy to discern the 8th FROM the 9th, but on some instruments those harmonics are barely audible in the first place.Thanks for the reference.
    – Tim
    Jun 5, 2014 at 7:31

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