In this and the following episodes we are going to learn how to combine triads to powerful and emotional soundtracks. To this day only experienced musicians and composers can do that. But with the help of these blog posts you will learn understand these things without having note and instrumental skills.

What are triads?

Triads are combinations of three tones. They convey cheerful or sad emotions and can be full of tension and relaxation. There are natural sounding triads as well as highly strange sounding ones. Musicians who know how triads work possess a powerful compositional tool.

Music theory uses the term triad when the three tones of a chord are stacked in thirds. I.e. the first and and the second tone of the triad are a third and the second and the third tone too. There are different types of triads. But not only the triad itself influences the musical character of a piece. Furthermore it is the arrangement of triads which makes a composition special.

The good new is, that there is a clear system behind triads. In my opinion the best way to understand these system is SoundPrism together with the key related circle of thirds. While SoundPrism allows you to play triads – even if you are not able to play guitar or piano – the key related circle of thirds will help you to understand triads.

Triads at the piano

To play triads on the piano one needs to practice. The piano is optimised to play melodies. Therefore triads look complicated on it:


Triads in SoundPrism

Opposite to the piano in SoundPrism triads are quite simple. You simply need to activate the one tone mode and play tones in three neighbouring rows.


To ease the play of triads further, three tone mode can be activated:


Now you only need to touch the lowest of the three rows to play a triad. The other two tones are played automatically:


No matter which row you touch in SoundPrism, now you will always play a triad.

Triads in the key related circle of thirds

As in SoundPrism, tones of triads are neighbours in the key related circle of thirds:


The figure above shows three tones currently playing. Every tone is represented by two concentric circles. The inner circle simply tells you, that the tone is currently playing. The outer circle also tells you that you need to touch the corresponding row in SoundPrism.

If you are in three tone mode you only need touch the lowest row in SoundPrism. The other two tones are played automatically. This is shown in the next figure. The tones that are played automatically now have an outline around them.


Next episode

In the next episode we are going to talk about the two most important triads, i.e. the major triad and the minor triad.


  • Triads consist of two stacked thirds. Therefore triads are neighbors in the key related circle of thirds.
  • SoundPrism and the key related circle of thirds are relatives. Therefore the tones of triads are neighbors.
  • Tones that are played automatically in SoundPrism’s three tone mode are visualized without outer circle in the key related circle of thirds.’

Glossary introduced

For all who wonder why there was no blog post in the last week. We have worked on the infrastructure of this blog. From now on there is a glossary, that will more and more be filled with new terms. The glossary can be opened by clicking the menu entry “Glossary”.


Terms like key related circle of thirds or third etc will be linked to the glossary in future. Thus it is easy to get a list of past blog-post for a given term. This shall help people that did not read the blog from the beginning.

A visual model for harmony theory

After we have laid the foundation of note names and intervals, I will now start to introduce a new harmony theory model which I will use extensively in future episodes. Using this model and SoundPrism you will be able to understand and apply harmony theory without any previous note knowledge and instrument skills.

The key related circle of thirds

The model is called  key related circle of thirds. It is shown in the next figure:


I could start to explain the circle and the things hidden within. Instead I think it is more important to learn how to play the model’s tones with an instrument.

Making the circle sound

The most simplest way to make music with the key related circle of thirds is SoundPrism, since its tone layout is directly based on that circle. This is the way the circle and SoundPrism are connected:

  1. Each of the black points in the key related circle of thirds corresponds to one of the horizontal rows in SoundPrism. The circle consists of seven points. SoundPrism consists of seven rows.
  2. The lowest point in the circle corresponds the lowest row in SoundPrism.
  3. The order of the points in the circle and the stripes in SoundPrism are the same. But in the circle the tones are arranged clockwise, in SoundPrism from bottom to the top.

Example 1:

In the following key related circle of thirds the lowest point is highlighted:


To play this tone you need to activate one tone mode first:


After that touch the lowest row because this row corresponds to the lowest tone in the key related circle of thirds:


It makes no difference on which horizontal position you are touching the row. One point in the key related circle of thirds does not only represent a single tone but also all of its octaves.

Example 2:

In the next example the lowest point and the clockwise neighbor is highlighted:


This means that you have to touch two rows at the same time, meaning the lowest row and the one above:


Example 3:

In this example the lowest point and the counterclockwise neighbouring tone are highlighted:


This means, that you have to touch the lowest and the highest row in SoundPrism. Logically these two tones are next to each other. But opposite to the key related circle of thirds SoundPrism does not represent that relationship:


Example 4

In this example three tones are highlighted, meaning the third, fourth and fifth tone:


That means you need to touch the third, fourth and fifth row in SoundPrism:


Wy not use SoundPrism directly?

Maybe you will wonder why I don’t use SoundPrism directly to explain harmony theory. Why is this tedious usage of the key related circle of thirds necessary?

The answer is, that there are many musical relationships and phenomena which don’t become apparent in SoundPrism but in the circular model. A previous version of SoundPrism did have a circular tone arrangement. But usability tests showed that such an version is harder to play. SoundPrism is optimized for playing, the key related circle of thirds for thinking and understanding.


The following video summarizes this blog post and provides additional examples.

Next episode

In the next episode I am going to extend the visual vocabulary introduced today additionally. Beside sequences of tones I will show how chords are represented within the circle of thirds and how the three tone mode of SoundPrism supports this.


  • The key related circle of thirds is a harmony model we are going to use to explain many harmony theory things in coming blog posts.
  • To understand future episodes, one needs to be able to read the key related circle and to translate into music.
  • SoundPrism is made for this since horizontal rows in SoundPrism correspond to tone points in the circle. The order of the tones in both SoundPrism and the circle is the same.
  • The key related circle of thirds arranges tones clockwise, SoundPrism arranges them vertically from the bottom to the top. Therefore the lowest row in SoundPrism corresponds to the lowest point in the key related circle of thirds.