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The 3rd "defines" a chord?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by reel big bassist, May 22, 2001.

  1. reel big bassist

    reel big bassist

    Mar 27, 2000
    Hello everyone,
    I've heard people say that the 3rd is what "defines" a chord.
    What do they mean by "define?"
    And why does the 3rd "define" a chord.

    This also brings another question to mind.
    What about a "power chord" which is composed of the root and 5th
    of the major scale, it has no 3rd, so is it not "defined?"

    Greg P
  2. It defines its tonality. Major or minor. Or, depending on the 5th, Augmented or diminished.

    Some would argue that a power-chord really isn't a chord. Really, it's more of a glorified root. The 5th tone reinforces the root. Power-chords pretty much violate classical harmony since 5ths moving in parallel or even two notes moving in the same direction to a 5th interval are considered evil. Still, they have their place in rock music. I like them. But I like 7th chords better.

    - Dave
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    In my Jazz theory classes they tend to say that the 3rd and the 7th define the chord and pretty much anything else can be "altered" or "substituted"! ;)

    What Dave talks about in terms of parallel fifths in classical harmony is one of the things that made me give up my Open University music degree. So the teacher would put red lines on my harmonisation assignments, where I had put parallel fifths and when we met up, he would play things on the piano and say to me - listen, it sounds wrong - but it sounded fine to me.
  4. reel big bassist

    reel big bassist

    Mar 27, 2000
    What do you mean by "chord function?"

    I have another question. What is harmony and melody?
    I'm not 100% sure what they are exactly.

    Greg P
  5. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    melody is what you sing.

    harmony is what the chick in the black dress behind you sings :D
  6. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Ed, when you talked about resolving I had a bass teacher, for a short while, and he was playing a chord progression for me to hear. I said that resolved very nicely and he actually sneeringly said, "Resolved! Rock players don't talk about chords resolving. And they don't care if chords resolve."

    I never forgot that. It just struck me as a very funny, if not bizarre moment in my bass class history. It made me wonder if HE knew what it means for chords to resolve.
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Talking about singer/songwriters - I can remember in the dim and distant past how a guitarist friend of mine was very dismissive about Joni Mitchell's songs and guitar playing. He was basically saying that she didn't know what chords she was playing and didn't resolve songs - he then tried to explain the cycle of fifths to me, but as I was about 14 at the time it didn't "click".

    But now, thinking back it seems kind of funny as obviously Joni must have learnt a lot from the Jazz guys she played with like Larry Carlton, Jaco and even Mingus(!) ; but presumably she started out with a limited number of chords which she just capo'd to fit them to the song?

    I think that if you look at her career you see somebody making this transition and picking up more and more Jazz inluence, during the 70s/80s. So it can be done and you need never stop learning more about this stuff.
  8. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK

    I'm with you on the parallel fifths thing. We did the same thing in college; prof gives you a chord progression and you write out a four-part harmony, avoiding parallel fifths at all costs. It's pretty tough to do, and I couldn't hear the "badness" either. Maybe our ears are just "ruined" by modern music. ;)

    Ed's last post is SO on the money. A lot of the more recent rock stuff (esp the last 5 years) is pretty much just made up of whatever random chords the guitar player knows. I guess this is the creativity mentioned in that other thread, if you can call slapping a bunch of random, unresolving chords together "creativity." The problem with it is that harmonically, a lot this stuff goes nowhere. There is no emotion to it other than that provided by the rhythm (rage, in most cases). And it might be okay to get you through a song or two, but you can't make a career on just a handful of chords (especially if they're all m7). It just gets old after a while.
  9. I'm gonna stick my neck on the block here, and say that, IMO, much of todays rock music is terrible. The wannabe guitarists playing root, fifth on the bottom two strings sound totally unmelodic to me. You look in any of the guitar mags, and the flavour of the month Britpop "guitarist" is saying "well, I dont know the names of the notes, and I could care less, and I hate virtuosity, and I write songs from my heart, they dont need to resolve, and I made a million from my last record, so why should I play more than two strings?" Bands like Blur, Cast, Catatonia, Creed, Korn, etc, etc fit this mold.
    I blame Nirvana for spearheading this movement. Of course, the punks of the late 70's had the same ethic, and fortunately they died a natural death, or evolved into decent bands. The bands of the 70's and 80's may have had some laughable moments, (remember spandex tights and poodle hair styles) but at least they took a bit more interest in making music melodic, and furthering their knowledge of music.
  10. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Well, I played with two guitarists just exactly like what you describe. Coincidentally a couple weeks ago I heard an MP3 they had on the Net with their newest band (four years later.) I swear to Heaven, they were STILL PLAYING those same chords. All that has changed is the lyrics and some minor song structure. That is ALL in four years! I almost croaked when I heard their MP3.

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