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How to know if a chord is Major/Augmented or Minor/Diminished?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by BullHorn, Mar 29, 2014.

  1. BullHorn


    Nov 23, 2006
    I've been bassing for almost a decade and it's finally time to learn this stuff.

    Most methods I found online got me bored and usually got me thinking 'how will I incorporate this in my playing?!'

    After a decade of playing, I have quite a few original basslines that I play along to my band's songs but I still don't know when I'm supporting a major chord and when I am supporting a minor third.

    I tried approaching it by playing along and adding a minor/major 3rd to see which sounds better with the song but I'm having a hard time deciding. Maybe the guitarist is playing power or root-octave chords, I'll have to ask him when he gets back from abroad.

    Anyhow, how do you guys recognize what chord is being played?
  2. By ear.
  3. BullHorn


    Nov 23, 2006
    I was failing by-ear but I tried something else that worked for me: I played the minor/major 3rd higher up the neck where it was not as bassy and overwhelming and it was instantly obvious which one sounded right and which sounded wrong!

  4. Itzayana


    Aug 15, 2012
    Oakland Ca
    Yes. This is what is commonly referred to as ear training.
    If someone says, "This is an augmented chord/arpeggio" and then plays it and you learn to recognize the sound/name then you have trained your ear path to brain.
    A great way to do this is by listening to music while reading the chart.
  5. If you haven't learned this in 10 years then maybe it's time for a new teacher? :)

    How much of your daily practice time do you spend learnig new songs by ear?
  6. Tazz


    Jan 21, 2014
    Someone please correct me if I'm wrong here, I'm very much a beginner to bass. But with any major key only the 1st, 4th and 5th scale degrees would be major chords with the 7th scale degree being a diminished triad and all other chords in that major key being minor. Then likewise for a minor key with the 1st, 4th and 5th degrees being the only minor chords but this time the 2nd scale degree is the diminished triad and other chords in the minor key being major.

    I'm sorry but "by ear" just isn't a sufficient answer.
  7. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Yes ear training. How? Good question, I've been playing rhythm guitar and strumming chords for years and I still have to assume a lot. Knowing some theory does help with the assumptions. The simpler the song the easier it is to identify what chords are being used.

    Country being only the 3 major chords you can pretty well figure out what is going on. Praise music will and does use all 7 of the chords in one song - good luck - that is why I use fake chord sheet music for Praise, but, jam my Country accompaniment.

    Yes - up around the nut is just so low that most stuff is fuzzy - take it on down around the 8th fret and you do start hearing the notes better.

    So to answer your question - ear and theory and listen to a lot of songs.

    Have fun.
  8. The players who go into a song saying "I know what the chords are going to be, because theory tells me" are the players who often get it wrong.

    There are MANY situations where you might find non-diatonic chords in a song. I am not saying diatonic harmony is useless to learn (all musicians absolutely must learn the harmonized major scale in my opinion) but it's a skill that compliments (not replaces) ear training!

    It is absolutely a sufficient answer!

    If you spend 1 day learning the sound of major chords, 1 day learning the sound of minor chords, 1 day learning the sound of diminished chords, and 1 day learning the sound of augmented chords (and while you're at it, spend 1 day learning dominant 7 chords) then in less than a week you will acquire the lifelong ability to distinguish between these chord types.

    If 1 day is too short, then let's say 1 year per chord type. That is still less than 10 years!

    It only seems like an insurmountable obstacle if you have the wrong teacher. :)
  9. BullHorn


    Nov 23, 2006
    The biggest mistake I've done with bass playing is that I never got a teacher and just learn to play along to songs by ear. I was afraid of making mistakes so I chose the easy path and usually just stuck to very basic basslines, consisting of mostly roots and fifths, with the occasional random note that I accidentally found that sounded good (probably a 3rd/7th/4th)...

    I've figured one of my band's song's chord progression today, which is more than I've learned in years. :D
  10. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    That's right. The only little thing to add there is in minor keys the 7th step could be diminished in the case of the melodic or harmonic form of the scale.

    Still though, "by ear" is the best way. When you start out, there are so many parts of the sound to hear that it takes a while to zero in on how the notes are working together to make major/minor/dim/aug. Hearing how they work in the context of a progression is the best practical way to deal with it. Check out www.jazzbooks.com for a free book on basic harmony and theory. Abersold also has many, many books on ear training and harmony. Don't be put off by the 'jazz' influence, its all great information and training.

    Take your time, be patient with yourself. Ear training is a skill, not knowledge. Learning it is a process, not an event.
  11. If you learn all your songs by ear, then you must have a pretty good ear. Can you buy or borrow a piano, keyboard, or guitar? That would be very helpful in learning and anlyzing chord progressions (rather than single note bass lines).

    And it's never too late to start taking lessons. I think you would also benefit not just from lessons with a bass teacher, but also from more theory/ear-training oriented lessons, and that could be with a guitarist, a pianist, a night class at your local conservatory/university, etc.

    Good luck! :)
  12. Usually I find the 3rd outlines the chord you are playing. Don't be afraid to not be able to work out major/minor straight away. Sometimes it's obvious in that a happy sounding song will mostly be major and a sad sounding song be minor. Over time it will come. I suggest when your looking up tabs or whatever to a song to see what the actual chords are. Plus, practicing your 7th chords is handy.
  13. BullHorn


    Nov 23, 2006
    I'm getting extremely confused when neither a minor third nor a major third sounds right.

    This one song by my band intro is Am A F D but the moment the chorus begins, it's still A-something A-something F D, but both major and minor thirds sound wrong.
  14. What style of music? If it is rock, then they might be power chords: root-5th (no 3rd).

    A Minor fits that chord progression better than A Major, because of the F natural. (In the key of A Major F would be raised to F#.) A song with those chords could also be in the key of F Major or D Minor.

    But sometimes songs use non-diatonic chords (outside the key signature), so you can't say definitively without listening and learning the other musicians' parts. That is the 100% foolproof method.
  15. BullHorn


    Nov 23, 2006
    I think I reverse-engineered it. I figured that while I was banging on the root A, guitarist was climbing up via power chords, A B C D. I guess that's why both sound weird but not wrong per se.
  16. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    Bullhorn: You need to Learn your Major, and your Natural Minor Scale.

    A Major chord is more related to a minor chord than augmented. I doubt in the music you play you will ever come across a legitimate Augmented chord.

    Take the key of C Major, its relative minor is A Minor.

    C D E F G A B C and A B C D E F G A
    The Major Triads in C Major are based on the, 1st, 4th and 5th notes, known as the one, four and five chords.

    So a major triad is C E G, C Being one, F A C, F being Four and G B D, G being Five.
    The Minor chords in this scale are on the 2, 3, and 6th scale degree, or the 2nd, third, and sixth chords.

    2, D F A, 3 E G B, and 6, A C E.

    The last chord, based on the seventh scale degree is the Diminished chord. it is B D F.

    How do you construct these chords? Easy.

    A major chord is a Major third, Plus a minor third. C E G.
    It's Parallel Minor is C Eb G, a Minor Third Plus a Major third.
    Diminished would be C Eb Gb, or two minor thirds.

    Take C Major and harmonize it up one string.

    Given the chords in A Natural Minor are the exact SAME as C Major, Do the same starting from A.

    Then transpose, or take the whole minor patter and move it up to C, and play C minor harmonized in Triads.

    Then PLay C Major again.

    I know I didn't explain exactly what a major third and a minor third are, but i will give you some clues so you can learn yourself, which will ultimately teach you it faster.

    One fret is a half step. two is a whole step.
    A Minor second is one half step
    A major second is one whole step
    A minor third is three half steps
    A major third is two whole steps
    A Perfect Fourth is Five half steps, or two whole steps plus one half step
    An augmented fourth, or diminished fifth, is Six Whole steps (A Tritone)
    A perfect Fifth is Seven half steps

    GIven the above, and understanding that the minor sixth, major sixth, Minor Seventh, Major Seventh and octave are next in a sequence that moves chromatically (Every half step)
    How many steps are in each, in half, and simplifying to Whole Step/Half Step?
  17. The choice of next chord is usually either a natural flow from one to the next, and is often just a case of using your ear to identify the clues. So much of this is almost automatic to some people, while others can simply not spot what is happening and need help. If you are lucky enough to have a good ear, then the rules of harmony and music theory help you to look at chords as progressions that are linked together in quite common sequences that work and get used over and over again. 12 and 16 bar blues songs are pretty formulaic in both Major and minor versions. A bit of music theory also helps you realise that many chords have multiple names too. A minor 7 chord can also be thought about as a Major 9, the weird thing with there only being 3 diminished chords, but lots of names - all that stuff. Then you get the chord progressions with odd notes - like Elton John's love of chord movements with a 3rd in the bass. Not what you might expect but pretty neat. If you can visualise the progression of the notes in the chord sequence, you very often find that they suggest a bass part that rises or falls.

    Those people who can play by ear have a huge advantage because these things just come naturally. I'm not sure that you can actually teach it! The bit Bullhorn mentions about the bass playing a constant A while the chords change above is pretty common in classical music, and even has it's own term - a pedal note. Can be really powerful stuff!
  18. Raf Seibert

    Raf Seibert

    Dec 16, 2013
    There's a lot of antipathy around here towards guitar players, but there's a lot to be learned from playing an instrument which plays chords, be it guitar or keys. That's why some players can just "hear" the difference between major and minor. However, you definitely do not have a grasp of music theory. Your jumbling of Major and Minor, which can be key signatures or scales or chords, and Augmented and Diminished, which are mainly chords, and Power Chords, which are neither major nor minor, suggests that it's time for you to back off, and learn a bit about scales, and how chords are formed.

    Music theory can be quite complex and confusing, but there is a basic core which makes all this make sense. Much of this is easiest to learn on a keyboard. For instance, if you play on the white keys only, you're probably playing in C Major or A Minor. There's more, buts what you need to learn.

  19. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    This is because the player's understanding is disproportionate to their knowledge and arrogance. Music theory is descriptive, and very rarely prescriptive. In my band, I don't write but I take down the chord charts because the guy who does write doesn't know how to describe what he's doing. You'd better believe I can go into a rehearsal of a new song and play it down cold, because I understand the pattern. If there's something tricky, of course I need to step back and let it happen while I analyze it, but as soon as I catch on I'm playing.

  20. One way is to figure out the melody. Even if the guitarist is playing Power Chords, more than likely the vocal melody is using some type of scale (major, minor) that might give you an idea what the full chord would be.

    It also depends on the style of music you're playing. More than likely you won't hear a lot of augmented or diminished chords in rock music.

    Jazz-like music tends to use them as alternate chordings. For example: Stormy Weather can be (Ebmaj7 Edim7 Fm7 Bb6) instead of (Ebmaj7 Cm7 Abmaj7 Bb6).

    Some songs purposely have only major chord-progressions and the melody will support it even though the usual theory would use minor chords instead. Some Nirvana songs tend to be that way.

    The more important issue is that the bassline must support not only the melody/harmonies but the actual "groove" of the song.

    So let's say the chord progression is A Am D F:
    I could just do walking arpeggio bass lines: A C#E A, A C E A, D F# A D, F A C F. However it might sound goofy.

    I could base the lines on a 8th-note groove utilizing the major thirds: A A G# A ----, A A C A ----, F# F# D F# ----, F F C F ----.

    Or use passing blues notes: A A C# D A D A A, A A C C# G C# C A, D D F# G D G F# D, F F G B C B G F. However that might clash depending on the style and melody.

    Most times just playing the Root is more effective and ideal, instead of adding all these notes which can muddle up the overall sound. This is why listening is the best solution. Don't add stuff because you can, add them because it works.