# Triads with diminished or augmented thirds

I don't even know why I'm asking this question, but here we go:

The four common triads are built with different combinations of a major and/or a minor third:

• A major third on the bottom with a minor third on top (let's call this Mm) produces a major triad.
• mM creates a minor triad.
• mm creates a diminished triad.
• And MM creates an augmented triad.

Have any theorists ever developed a system where triads could be built using augmented or diminished thirds?

For instance, has anyone ever discussed the function of a Md (C E G♭) or a dA (C E♭♭ G) triad?

I'm specifically looking for a tonal approach to this question; obviously pitch-class sets can explain constructions like this, but that's not what I'm going for.

I'm also not looking for enharmonic approaches to this. For instance:

• dM (C E♭♭ G♭) is enharmonic to an incomplete D7 chord,
• AA (C E♯ G♯♯♯) is an enharmonic quartal chord,
• and MA (C E G♯♯) is just a minor triad.

This is not what I'm looking for, but it may be that the enharmonic equivalence ultimately resulted in theorists deciding that it's just not worth the effort to theorize these types of triads. That's okay too!

Obviously this would be much more of a "speculative" theory, meaning that it's unlikely we would see it in "real" music very often. But the idea crossed my mind today, and I thought I'd ask.

• Your dA (C Eff G) looks like a Csus2. Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 11:55
• Yep, I think all of these combinations can be understood enharmonically, I just didn't want to list them all. Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 11:55
• PS - It sounds like a Csus2 ;-) Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 11:56
• I don't understand the part about not wanting to consider them enharmonically. The theory follows the sound, not the other way around, so if it sounds like a Csus2 or a D7, then there you go, right? Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 12:21
• That answer is way too long for a comment, but I'll try to sum it up. Especially in the 19th century, enharmonicism was viewed very differently, and a modulation to Af major was very different from a modulation to G# major. And "the theory follows the sound" is not always true. Whether one agrees with the premise or not is a different story; I'm just saying that, historically, some theories preceded the sound. This is why I called it a "speculative" theory as opposed to a "practical" one. Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 12:36

To my knowledge, no one has done this (outside of non-tonal theories like set theory). In fact, triadic harmony is generally defined as stacks of major and minor thirds only. As you point out in your question, most of the harmonies sound enharmonically identical to simpler harmonic ideas, and that too weakens any need for theorizing about or even using such spellings.

However, as you mention in a comment, enharmonic respelling does not in and of itself invalidate the possibility of a speculative theory for such structures. The main tonal example I can think of is the world of augmented sixth chords. If you were to naïvely try to stack up an It+6 as if it were triadic, then it appears to have a diminished third above the "root." For instance, in C major it would look like F#, Ab, C. The spelling indicates the function quite clearly, as the F#s job is to resolve up to the 5th while the Ab resolves down to it. The standard tonal theory response to this is that these harmonies actually aren't triadic at all and don't really have a root per se, but I suppose one could build from that to try to define a function for diminished 3rds in chord stacks.

Actually, there's a wealth of examples from +6 land. The German +6 sounds just like a dominant seventh chord but functions very differently. I think traditional theory already handles the harmony fine, but, again, one could stack it in such a way that it has a diminished 3rd and talk about its resolution in those terms. The Tristan chord sounds like a half diminished seventh, but its spelling indicates a different function. Et cetera.

The example of C E Gb has a tritone. Therefore I believe it could imply, among others, and depending on the context, a dominant 7th chord (D9 or altered Ab7), a C Lydian major, Aminor 6, but not a freestanding triad.

Have any theorists ever developed a system where triads could be built using augmented or diminished thirds?

They actually do exist, except that they are somewhat redundant in 12-TET. 19-TET is probably the best example of this where they are distinguished and can be useful.

In 19-TET, the augmented second is enharmonically equivalent to the diminished third, so a subminor triad (e.g. C–E𝄫–G) consists of a diminished third with an augmented third on top of it.

19-TET also makes the augmented third equal to the diminished fourth, so a supermajor triad (e.g. C–E♯–G) consists of a supermajor (augmented) third with a subminor (diminished) third on top.

Subminor and supermajor chords in 19-TET can function as extra-unstable versions of minor and major chords. Here, D♯ = E𝄫 and E♯ = F♭, for example.

Chords for the most part are built on a series of thirds. If you have, for instance, a chord with a diminished third, your third sounds no different than a major second. This interval is way too dissonant to make a chord from. You need the strong intervals to make a chord.

As for a chord with a minor third and an augmented fifth and major third and diminished fifth, these chords will again not sound very good. The whole idea of a diminished chord is that both the third and the fifth yearn to be closer to the root, with the minor third and the diminished fifth go closer to the root. The opposite is true for an augmented chord both the major third and the augmented fifth go away from the root.

With these chords you mention you have a third that goes one way and a fifth that goes the other way. This lack of symmetry does not produce good sounds. I'm sure there has been an investigation by some theorists in the past as to what would happen if you do this. I think that it simply does not sound good, so it never became a thing.

I'm not all that certain if you know exactly what it means for a chord to be diminished or augmented. A diminished chord has a minor third and a diminished fifth. There is no such thing as a minor fifth. An augmented chord has a major third and an augmented fifth.

• "As for a chord with a minor third and an augmented fifth...[it] will again not sound very good." But it sounds just like a major triad in first inversion, no? That sounds pretty good to me... "Im not all that certain if you know exactly what it means for a chord to be dimished or augmented." Obviously I do, since I explain them in my question. "There is no such thing as a minir fifth." I don't believe I ever said there was. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 2:56