Triads

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:

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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.

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

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

Summary

  • 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.’

Intervals in SoundPrism

In this episode I’m going to explain the interval layout of SoundPrism. While melody oriented instruments like the piano or Animoog are well suited to explain the names of intervals, SoundPrism’s strength is to reveal the tonal character of intervals.

SoundPrism tone layout

Before I start to explain intervals in SoundPrism let’s have a short look at how SoundPrism works. In the following figure the musician taps the instrument at the touch point (1). From this point a semitransparent rectangle (2) is created, that is the so called pitch selection area. Inside this rectangle there is a white segment (3). This segment represents the tone that is actually played. To understand that you need to know that in SoundPrism only certain segments contain tones, which is the white one currently in the picture below. Fortunately you need not to hit these segments exactly. It is enough if it are covered by the pitch selection area.

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The next figure shows that every column contains exactly one tone. From column to column the C-major scale c, d, e, f, g, a, b and c arises. To get another scale you can use the key up and key down buttons (not shown here).

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In horizontal direction SoundPrism orders tones in the same way the piano or Animoog do. But in addition to that SoundPrism also assigns a vertical position to every tone. This position makes intervals and chords appear in a way that important musical properties are revealed. Let’s have a look at how this is done for intervals.

The octave

The octave is the most consonant interval. The reason for this is, that both tones of the octave have a frequency ratio of 1:2, for example 440 and 880Hz. Another reason for the conciseness of the octave is the overtone series: The first two overtones create an octave. Two tones with a distance of an octave are easily perceived as one tone. Because of its importance the octave got a very prominent place in SoundPrism: To play an octave you simply need to play two horizontally neighbored tones. This is shown by the following figure.

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Fifth and fourth

Behind the octave the fifth is the second most consonant interval. The frequencies of the tones have an ratio of 2:3. Also in the overtone series the fifth is the second interval after the octave. That is the reason why we easily perceive one tone instead of two when listening to a simultaneously played fifth. The following figure shows a fifth in SoundPrism. To play a fifth you simply need to skip one row.

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The fourth is the complementary interval of the fifth. Fourth and fifth sound very similar. SoundPrism acknowledges that similarity by assigning the same playing pattern to complementary intervals: You can see this by comparing the previous and the following figure: The gesture for playing a fourth is the same as for playing the fifth. The only difference is, that you need to move your fingers slightly in horizontal direction.

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Third and sixth

Compared to fourth and fifth the third is not less important. It is also part of the early overtone series. In addition to that the third is the foundation of the important major and minor triads. This was the reason why we decided to design SoundPrism such that the third is the interval most easy to play. As shown by the next figure, you can simply play a third by touching two neighbouring rows.

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The sixth is the complementary interval of the third. Again SoundPrism acknowledges that by assigning the same playing pattern to third and sixth. Simply move your finger to the left or to the right to transform a third into a sixth.

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Second and seventh

The second is the most dissonant interval. SoundPrism outlines this tension by arranging the tones in a greater vertical distance. The melodic closeness of the second is represented by the horizontal closeness: If you look closely at the following figure you will see, that the two active tones occupy neighbored columns. Thus to play a melody you just need to find the tone in the next column.

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The seventh is the complementary interval to the second. Again it can be played by moving the pattern of the second horizontally.

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Video demonstration

Summary

Opposite to the piano or the Animoog keyboard SoundPrism arranges tones in such a way that interval relationships become clear. Every interval has a specific pattern that can be easily remembered and applied:

  • The tones of the consonant octave are in horizontal neighborhood. The tones of the third and sixth are in vertical neighborhood. These intervals are the foundation of chords.
  • Fourth and fifth are outlined by the design of the rows: neighbouring dark or neighbouring bright rows in SoundPrism contain the tones of fourth and fifth.
  • The dissonance and tension of the second is outlined by the great vertical distance of the interval tones. The melodic importance of the second is emphasized by assigning the tones of the second in neighbored columns.
  • The affinity of complementary intervals is outlined by assigning the same playing pattern to these intervals: To play a fourth or a fifth for example you can use the same gesture.