3rds & Thirds Part D : the ambiguous nature of 3rds as partial chords

The ambiguous character of 3rds

Each of these 3rds, as tabbed at the very start of this topic, can be suggestive of the chord from whose CAGED shape it derives. They can be thought of, and heard as, a partial chord, a chord fragment.

BUT … BUT … BUT …

Two notes does not make a single, unambiguous chord.

Let us look again at the pairs of notes contained within each 3rd. For consistency, let us start with the 3rds on the B & E strings.

Here is each, this time labelled only with the note names and the character of the third they contain (Major or minor).





Look carefully at these and now recall how the chords from the harmonised D Major scale were built using stacked thirds. Each ascending note was a third above the previous note. Each Major chord comprised a Major third followed by a minor third. Each minor chord comprised a minor third followed by a Major third. Might it be possible that these pairs of notes, these 3rds, can be seen as belonging to more than one chord?

Bingo!

Darn right they can.

We shall see each of the 3rds and set them alongside the various chord formulae next.

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Ambiguous 3rds

Starting with the 3rds on the B and E strings.

1]
01 minor 3rd C# to E

C# diminished chord = C# - E - G
A Major chord = A - C# - E
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a C# diminished chord or the 3 - 5 of an A Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

2]
02 Major 3rd D to F#

D Major chord = D - F# - A
B minor chord = B - D - F#
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a D Major chord or the 3 - 5 of a B minor chord.
It is ambiguous.

3]
03 minor 3rd E to G

E minor chord = E - G - B
C# diminished chord = C# - E - G
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of an E minor chord or the 3 - 5 of a C# diminished chord.
It is ambiguous.

4]
04 minor 3rd F# to A

F# minor chord = F# - A - C#
D Major chord = D - F# - A
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of an F# minor chord or the 3 - 5 of a D Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

5]
05 Major 3rd G to B

G Major chord = G - B - D
E minor chord = E - G - B
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a G Major chord or the 3 - 5 of an E minor chord.
It is ambiguous.

6]
06 Major 3rd A to F#

A Major chord = A - C# - E
F# minor chord = F# - A - C#
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of an A Major chord or the 3 - 5 of an F# minor chord .
It is ambiguous.

7]
07 minor 3rd B to D

B minor chord = B - D - F#
G Major chord = G - B - D
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - b3 of a B minor chord or the 3 - 5 of a G Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

8]
08 minor 3rd C# to E

C# diminished chord = C# - E - G
A Major chord = A - C# - E
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a C# diminished chord or the 3 - 5 of an A Major chord. Already seen an octave lower.
It is ambiguous.

9]
09 Major 3rd D to F#

D Major chord = D - F# - A
B minor chord = B - D - F#
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a D Major chord or the 3 - 5 of a B minor chord. Already seen an octave lower.
It is ambiguous.

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The original TAB of 3rds could now be labelled with two chord names for each 3rd:

Where the chord names are really partial chords, either the Root and 3 of the chords named along the bottom row or the 3 and 5 of the chords named along the top row.

Whoa.
Hold on there.
What is happening here?

A small recap.
The seven chords of the harmonised D Major scale are:
D - Em - F#m - G - A - Bm - C# dim

  • These chords are formed from stacked thirds (see previous explanation in the topic).
  • These chords contain three notes only.
  • 1, 3 and 5.
  • The 1 is the root of the chord.
  • The 3 determines whether it be a Major or minor chord.
  • The 5 completes the chord.
  • The interval between 1 and 5 is a perfect fifth for all but the diminished chord.

If any two notes of any of these seven chords are sounded, then you can hear them as partial chords, chord fragments, suggestions of that chord. This sense will be further affected by any bass note that is playing (maybe on a drone string) or full chord in a backing track.

We arrived at an understanding of the shape, the derivations and a possible way of defining the chords by thinking of the harmonised chords as CAGED shapes, stripping those back to triads then removing one further note to arrive at simple pairs. And we came right back to the start - thinking that each 3rd represented one chord from the key of D Major.

Look again at the newly labelled TAB.

Each 3rd can be seen / heard as any one of two of the seven harmonised chords.

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Ambiguous 3rds continued …

Let us now go through an entirely similar process for the 3rds on the G & B strings. Here is each, this time labelled only with the note names and the character of the third they contain (Major or minor).





1]

G Major chord = G - B - D
E minor chord = E - G - B
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a G Major chord or the 3 - 5 of an E minor chord.
It is ambiguous.

2]

A Major chord = A - C# - E
F# minor chord = F# - A - C#
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of an A Major chord or the 3 - 5 of an F# minor chord.
It is ambiguous.

3]

B minor chord = B - D - F#
G Major chord = G - B - D
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a B minor chord or the 3 - 5 of a G Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

4]

C# diminished chord = C# - E - G
A Major chord = A - C# - E
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a C# diminished chord or the 3 - 5 of an A Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

5]

D Major chord = D - F# - A
B minor chord = B - D - F#
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a D Major chord or the 3 - 5 of a B minor chord.
It is ambiguous.

6]

E minor chord = E - G - B
C# diminished chord = C# - E - G
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of an E minor chord or the 3 - 5 of a C# diminished chord.
It is ambiguous.

7]

F# minor chord = F# - A - C#
D Major chord = D - F# - A
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of an F# minor chord or the 3 - 5 of a D Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

8]

G Major chord = G - B - D
E minor chord = E - G - B
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a G Major chord or the 3 - 5 of an E minor chord or. Already seen an octave lower.
It is ambiguous.

9]

A Major chord = A - C# - E
F# minor chord = F# - A - C#
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of an A Major chord or the 3 - 5 of an F# minor chord. Already seen an octave lower.
It is ambiguous.

Maybe we can already anticipate what will follow …

The original TAB of 3rds could now be labelled with two chord names for each 3rd:

Where the chord names are really partial chords, either the Root and 3 of the chords named along the bottom row or the 3 and 5 of the chords named along the top row.

Maybe we can already anticipate what will follow …

Ambiguous 3rds continued further still …

Let us now go through an entirely similar process for the 3rds on the D & G strings. Here is each, this time labelled only with the note names and the character of the third they contain (Major or minor).





1]
0001 minor 3rd E to G

E minor chord = E - G - B
C# diminished chord = C# - E - G
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - b3 of an E minor chord or the b3 - b5 of a C# diminished chord.
It is ambiguous.

2]
0002 minor 3rd F# to A

F# minor chord = F# - A - C#
D Major chord = D - F# - A
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - b3 of an F# minor chord or the 3 - 5 of a D Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

3]
0003 Major 3rd G to B

G Major chord = G - B - D
E minor chord = E - G - B
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of a G Major chord or the b3 - 5 of an E minor chord.
It is ambiguous.

4]
0004 Major 3rd A to C#

A Major chord = A - C# - E
F# minor chord = F# - A - C#
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - 3 of an A Major chord or the b3 - 5 of an F# minor chord.
It is ambiguous.

5]
0005 minor 3rd B to D

B minor chord = B - D - F#
G Major chord = G - B - D
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - b3 of a B minor chord or the 3 - 5 of a G Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

6]
0006 minor 3rd C# to E

C# diminished chord = C# - E - G
A Major chord = A - C# - E
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - b3 of a C# diminished chord or the 3 - 5 of an A Major chord.
It is ambiguous.

7]
0007 Major 3rd D to F#

D Major chord = D - F# - A
B minor chord = B - D - F#
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the 3 - 5 of a D Major chord or the Root - b3 of a B minor chord.
It is ambiguous.

8]
0008 minor 3rd E to G

E minor chord = E - G - B
C# diminished chord = C# - E - G
This 3rd could be seen / heard in one of two ways.
The two notes could be the Root - b3 of an E minor chord or the b3 - b5 of a C# diminished chord. Already seen an octave lower.
It is ambiguous.

The original TAB of 3rds could now be labelled with two chord names for each 3rd:

Where the chord names are really partial chords, either the Root and 3 of the chords named along the bottom row or the 3 and 5 of the chords named along the top row.

Putting all three sets of TABs together, with each 3rd labelled as two partial chords, gives us:

B and E strings:

G and B strings:

D and G strings:

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With this new found concept, different approaches to playing with 3rds and using them could follow in practice.

Played as a stand alone, playing the 3rds and moving between them in various musical, rhythmic ways, could lead your ear to hear some as natural stopping places of happy resolution and stability. Others could sound a teeny bit off-colour if you land and stay on them too long, so are best used as passing 3rds, stepping stones between 3rds that suit that role better. But the fluidity and restriction will be very loose and elastic. You will probably find that you can pretty much play what you want, as you want, when you want and it will all sound pretty darn good.

Played over a backing track of a defined chord progression, you may find that there are definitely some ‘good’ 3rds and some ‘not-so-good’ 3rds over certain chords. Those that sound right and those you need to pass by fairly quickly. This ties in with the tabbed notation above where each 3rd is named as a suggestion of a chord.
Take, for example a simple I, vi, IV, V chord progression in D:
D, Bm, G, A.

Over the D chord any of the 3rds named D will sound perfectly at home.
Can you find others that sit beautifully on top of that D chord also?
Can you find any that sound wrong over it?

Try the other chords with the same critical ear and questioning approach in your play.
What works and where?
What doesn’t?

For those 3rds that do work can you begin a little analysis yourself?
Why do they sound good?
What notes are in the 3rds that sound good?
What connection do they have to the chord in the progression?

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A colossal effort, Richard, that provides sufficient food for study, practice, and musical expression to keep a person interested in running down this road busy for a good while.

Right now I am not that person, but I expect somewhere further on down the road you have provided the key to the highway that will take me to new and wonderful places.

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So Richard,
Now take a little vacation :sweat_smile:
You earned it as far as I’m concerned…,brilliantly explained :sunglasses:
Greetings

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Excellent Richard, I’d never really thought about this - it’s a bit of a revelation when I think about it!

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This is great, thank you! I’ve spent much of today with this lesson
The concept of seeing two (or more, if you don’t stick to the chords in the key…) possible chords at once from the same third is really helping take my knowledge of the neck to another level, by seeing the triad shapes across the neck.
I’m having to be careful to really take one thing in properly, and resist jumping around with my ideas

Thanks David. It was your creativity that sparked the inspiration for this entire 3rds exploration. I am sure one day you will return to walk through the gateway you opened. :slight_smile:

Thanks Roger. I try. :slight_smile:

Hi Darrell, I’m glad to be a revelator! :slight_smile:

That is music to my ears - yours too I’m sure. Knowing that someone has taken these ideas and used them with guitar in hand to explore and develop and push their own musical boundaries is heartwarming. Good stuff. :slight_smile:

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