I am a total beginner here so please bear with me.

When you have a certain key, let's take C, we have
Looking at the wheel of fifths, my available chords are

F C G major
D A E Minor
B Dim
So if I tried to create a triad with say G using 1,3,5 from G if I had to stay in the octave the only notes available to me make this G chord triad are G A B C is that correct?
Or can I move outside of the octave with the G as root?

My head is hurting thinking about it, please try and help me in a simplistic manner.

  • 7
    This question is an example of the kind of incredible, inexplicable problems that are caused by trying to learn music theory first before learning practice. Based on this site, music theory is causing more harm than good. OP's head hurts. Mine too. Stay away from any kind of music theory completely for one week. No circle of fifths. It is nonsense until you can play something. Play an instrument. Take a piano keyboard and play it. Play chords on the piano. Play a song in C major on the piano. BANG. My head just exploded. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 24 '20 at 12:04
  • It is not very often that the Octave is considered when building a chord, which causes me to wonder if you are confusing the term Octave with the term Scale. If that is the case, then your understanding may become much easier, as chords are built from a scale which often extends both above and below the Tonic and its Octave. – skinny peacock Apr 24 '20 at 21:49
  • I play classical guitar, tuned EADGBE. The simplest 6-string G chord plays G on first, third and sixth strings, D on fourth, B on fifth, and either B or D on second. It would be a poor instrument if you could only play 3 or 4 notes within an octave at a time. The subtlety is choosing from which octaves you pick up those extra notes for 7ths and other embellishments (that and the 4 fingers, 6 strings conundrum). – Paul_Pedant Apr 25 '20 at 14:37
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica the bigger problem is trying to learn music alone. The OP is making assumptions that a teacher would clear up instantly. – Dom Apr 25 '20 at 16:44
  • @Dom That too. I was imagining any sort of realistic theory lesson "this is a C major, this is a G major". I hope nobody would introduce chords as a purely theoretical concept without showing any examples? Though I must say I first learned chords as a kid by seeing/spying someone play and repeating it afterwards without talking with anyone. The chords were C - Am - F - G. I knew I had found the building blocks for all songs, so I started to replicate and modify the patterns and learned to play songs by ear. No teacher, no talking, just playing like with toys. Theory seems to make it difficult! – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 25 '20 at 17:30

You do not need to stay in the octave of the key you are in, or any other octave for that matter. The formula of every other note, or (1, 3 ,5) for Maj, (1, b3, 5) for min etc help you pick the correct notes but those notes can (1) be played in any order creating inversions of the chords or triads, (2) include repeated notes to make the chord more full sounding, and (3) be anywhere in the range of the instrument in theory.

Take for example the Key of C. Think of your available notes as being the repeating sequence,

C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C ...

We sometimes label the letters with a number to remind us of what octave we are in, for example,

C1 D1 E1 F1 G1 A1 B1 C2 D2 E2 F2 G2 A2 B2 C3 D3 E3 F3 G3 A3 B3 C4 D4 E4 F4 G4 A4 B4 C5 ...

Then you can grab any of the triads you listed in their "root" position, (1, 3, 5). For example your G starting on G1 is (G1, B1, D2) etc.

You can get all your chords to stay within an octave by rearranging the notes to make an inversion. These are much more interesting in terms of chord movement and harmony.

Root position (I had learned or remember inversion) has the root note, the 1 in the bass. The first inversion has the second note, the 3rd in the bass, and the second inversion has the 5th in the bass.

In the Key of C all your triads can fit into one octave and will have the following format.

I = C Maj (C, E, G) root position

ii = D min (D, F, A) root position

iii = E min (E, G, B) root position

IV = F Maj (F, A, C) root position

V = G Maj (D, G, B) first inversion

vi = A min (E, A, C) first inversion

vii = B dim (F, D, B) second inversion

Things get more interesting with 7th chords but the same logic applies.

  • Thats,great thanks. So when you look at a piece of music are the chords numbered using the octave reference like Cmajor 2 then E major 5 an G major 7 or whatever is it marked on the score with these numbers? what does it look like written down? – Brian M Apr 24 '20 at 14:19
  • @BrianM, Not that I'm used to. I read in standard notation and the placement of the note on the staff should correspond to a particular octave, depending on the instrument. Some instruments read in a different octave than played. But the order of the notes indicates what inversion you have. – user50691 Apr 24 '20 at 14:23
  • So how do you know what octave the note is in ? if the note is a G then how will i know if its not is the same octave as the C or the E? what visual indicator will give me that information? – Brian M Apr 24 '20 at 15:06
  • If you are referring to a chord chart then no. There are standard fingerings and voicing for guitar, piano, etc. We learn them and just know after a while what works. There is a notation for indicating inversion. The classical is to write a subscript by the chord 6 = 1st inversion and 6/4 is 2nd. Not to be confused with a Maj 6 chord. The other is slash notation. G/D would be a G chord with D in the Bass, hence 2nd inversion. In SMN the placement of the dot on the staff tells you exactly what to play. – user50691 Apr 24 '20 at 16:50
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    @BrianM playing the nearest adjacent notes (e.g. C4 E4 G4, G4 C5 E5) is usually the simplest since even though C3 E5 G7 is also a C chord, it might be difficult for new learners to hear it as a chord. That said, chords don't have an octave indicator because it can be played anywhere, both on low notes (C3 E3 G3) and high notes (C6 E6 G6). – Andrew T. Apr 24 '20 at 21:02

To make any of those chords, you can use them in a triad. That is, all three notes but (as Eric Morecombe said) not necessarily in the right order! That's because there is not really a right order.

There are different ways of voicing chords. The way you are considering is close voicing, where all three notes are as close to each other as possible. Taking a C major close triad, it could be voiced in 3 ways - root position, C E G; 1st inversion - E G C; or 2nd inversion - G C E.

However, putting those three notes in any order still results in a C major chord. You could have double bass play a low C, a trumpet play a middle(ish) G, and a piccolo play a high E. That's still a C chord.

So, yes, you can move out of the octave (or as many octaves as you like...) and while it will still be and sound like a C chord, the subtle difference will be in the voicing - the way it sounds.

And while we're on the subject, the root position chord sounds the most stable (and it could be played C G E in open voicing. Putting the G underneath (G C E, or G E C) will sound the next strongest, leaving 1st inversion (E G C or E C G) as the weakest sounding. Although it does get used in certain circumstances.

Hope this clarifies things. Try not to think it's complicated - it's really quite straightforward. And, as with any musical query, just try out what you think may or may not work. General feeling is - if it sounds good, it probably is. And no-one gets punished for 'breaking the rules' - they're not rules!

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