Augmented chords are to a piece of music like pepper is to a meal; you would never sit down to a meal of pepper alone, but you might sprinkle a little on your food to liven up the taste a bit. Use augmented chords judiciously and you will find they add real interest to your piano playing.
Augmented triads (triads are 3-note chords) are one of the 4 basic chord types, yet they are used very little compared to major and minor chords.
There are four basic kinds of triads in music:
Major triads: composed of the root, major 3rd, and perfect 5th of a major scale.
Minor triads: composed of the root, minor 3rd, and perfect 5th of a major scale.
Diminished triads: composed of the root, minor 3rd, and diminished 5th of a major scale.
Augmented triads: composed of the root, major 3rd, and augmented 5th of a major scale.
As an example, the C major scale is:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
So a C major triad would be:
C, E, G
A minor triad would be:
C, Eb, G
A diminished triad would be:
C, Eb, Gb
An augmented triad would be:
C, E, G#
Most of the songs we know or hear on the radio or TV (or on our IPOD's or other MP3 player) are written in a major key. That means that most of the chords in those songs are major chords -- only 20% or so are minor chords.
The other 10% of songs and musical compositions are written in a minor key, which means that there will be several minor chords within the context of the piece.
So if nearly 100% of all songs contain major and minor chords, what place is there for diminished and augmented triads?
They are the salt and pepper of a musical meal.
In other words, major chords are like the main dish -- the steak, if you will, of a song. Minor chords are like a side dish of corn or broccoli (yuk!) or whatever.
You would never sit down to a meal of just pepper or just salt, would you? Same way here; you use diminished and augmented triads to add spice to your meat and potatoes. We covered diminished triads in an earlier article, so this time we will focus on augmented triads.
Here are the 12 augmented triads:
C aug: C, E, G#
F aug: F, A, C#
G aug: G, B, D#
D aug: D, F#, A#
E aug: E, G#, B# (enharmonic with C)
A aug: A, C#, E# (enharmonic with F)
Db aug: Db, F, A
Eb aug: Eb, G, B
Ab aug: Ab, C, E
Gb aug: Gb, Bb, D
Bb aug: Bb, D, F#
B aug: B, D#, Fx (F double-sharp, which is enharmonic with G)
So like diminished chords, augmented chords are used to add spice to your musical meal. You don't linger on them, but use them as transition chords between a major and another major chord, or between a major and a minor chord, or sometimes even between two minor chords.
As an example, let's say you are playing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the key of C and your first chord is C major on the entire first phrase "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord" As you transition to the F chord on the word "trampling", you can insert a C augmented triad on the words "He is". It only lasts one beat, but it adds interest to the song by leading smoothly from the C chord to the F chord.
You could also use a C augmented chord in the chorus as you move from the 1st phrase "Glory, glory, hallelujah!" to the second "Glory, glory, hallelujah!" You are moving from a C chord to an F chord, so insert a C+ chord (the symbol for an augmented triad is a + sign) right before you play the F chord.
As you play various songs, look for opportunities to use augmented triads as transition chords. And just like pepper is to a meal of food, so augmented triads are to a musical meal.