I am currently learning level 8 Royal Conservatory of Music piano syllabus.

I am not sure how to tell major, minor and augmented triads apart, as well as dominant and diminished 7th chords. Are there any tips or tricks for doing this? I'm going to take piano examinations in early 2019.

  • 3
    Are asking about telling them apart when reading them or by ear? I would think that once you know the different chord types, telling which is which by reading them is quite easy. Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 1:26
  • Agreed, if it's reading it's just visual pattern recognition. Hearing is also pattern recognition but for some it takes longer. But the 4 basic triads are quite distinct.
    – user50691
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 2:17
  • If it's for a theory test, chances are it's stuff on paper.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 9:17
  • 1
    Either way, there are training exercises online that can help you to identify chords on a staff, on a keyboard, or by hearing them. Here is one example: musictheory.net/exercises
    – trw
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 13:06

2 Answers 2


All these chords are a set amount intervals from the root note. If you have these intervals you have these chords.


Consists of a root note, a Major third and a perfect 5th


Consists of a root note, a minor third and a perfect 5th


consists of a root note, a Major third and a augmented 5th


Consists of a root note, a minor third and a diminished 5th


Dominant 7th

This is a Major triad with a minor 7th added

Major 7th

This is a Major triad with a Major 7th added

minor 7th

This is a minor triad, with a minor 7th

Augmented 7th chord

This is an Augmented triad with a minor 7th

Half-Diminshed chord

This is a diminshed triad with a minor 7th

Diminshed 7th chord

This is a diminshed triad with a diminshed 7th


All four are quite different, both in how they're written and how they sound.

Firstly, if reading is a problem, let's take the root triads. In major, all three notes will be on consecutive lines or spaces. The key sig. will take care of which notes are # or b. In minor, there will be the same pattern, but the middle note will be a semitone lower, usually indicated by an accidental - b or natural. If that's contained in the key sig., it's not much help from this point of view, though. The root maj. triad is always M3 with m3 on top. The root min. triad is the other way - m3 with M3 on top.

Dims lower the 3rd and 5th, so the highest note will be lowered by a semitone, whereas the augmented only alters the 5th, it going up a semitone. All the same pattern as above, but with altered notes.

If, this isn't what you need - the question is ambiguous - then it's the sound. Try to attach a feeling to each. Major could be happy, majestic; minor sad, melancholy. Diminished often gets used as a 'cliffhanger' sound, and augmented maybe feels like it just has to go somewhere after itself - an unfinished feeling.

One other suggestion is to find songs which contain each, and latch onto where a particular chord sound is recognisable.

All of this needs doing on an instrument - preferably a keyboard, where all the notes can be played both sequentially and simultaneously. Theory's alright, but it essentially needs to be brought to life aurally as much and as often as possible.

If all else fails, surely your teacher will have ideas.

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