Chord Construction Part 12: Augmented Chords and Symmetrical Intervals

 

We spoke a bit about Augmented Triads in Part 2 of this series. With our understanding on stacking Major and Minor 3rd's we can find some interesting things in relation to these chords and to further our study of them.

In music and music theory augmentation is the lengthening or widening of rhythms, melodies, intervals, chords. In this topic it will relate to the "widening" of the 5th Interval. More specifically, sharp'ing the 5th one half-step in a chord. 

Up to this point we've been building chords based on the Major Scale, and with a few adjustments to the scale (the 3's and 7's) we were able to extend these chords to the "13" chord by stacking 3rd's until we started repeating ourselves. And in turn creating three Extended Chord Families.

The Augmented Triads aren't really based on the Major scale directly and they fall out of the patterns we saw developing with Extended Chord Families, but still they use the familiar idea for stacking 3rd's.

The Augmented chords are "Symmetrical Chords" and are built from a "Symmetrical Scale".

Symmetrical Chords and Scales mean they are built from a repetitive sequence of Intervals that are always the same distance from each other.

A sequence of all Half-steps could be called Symmetrical since each note progresses using nothing but Half-steps.

A sequence of all Whole-step could be called Symmetrical since each note progresses using nothing but Whole-steps.

Another Symmetrical pattern could be W H W H W H W H W H W... or H W H W H W H W H W...or again WWWWWWWW or HHHHHHHH....see how each of these is a repetitive pattern or a sequence of Intervals...they can each be called Symmetrical.

Let's see how the Augmented chords are built from a symmetrical Scale.

The Augmented Chord

Augmented chords are actually built from a Symmetrical scale...a Whole-tone Scale.

The Whole-tone Scale is a scale that consists of nothing but a sequence of Whole-step Intervals. 

Let's look at the Whole-tone Scale from the Root note of C, and pay attention to the distance between each note so we can see the Interval sequence/pattern develop:

Whole-tone Scale:   C        D        E        F#        G#        A#        C 
                                      W       W       W        W         W         W

We have learned that an Augmented Triad has this formula:

R  M3  #5

Let's look at the distance between each note:

R <--Two Whole Steps--> M3 <--Two Whole Steps--> #5

or

R <--M3--> M3 <--M3--> #5

See a pattern developing? Each of the notes so far are in a Symmetrical pattern of repeating M3 Intervals.

And, you also want to notice that these three Intervals are also "every other note" in the Whole-tone Scale.

So, even though we are using a different scale, other than the Major Scale, to build the Augmented Triad we are still just stacking 3rd's within the Whole-tone Scale.

In past lessons we saw we could extended Major, Minor, Dominant, and Diminished chords past their basic Triad. If we stick with the 
Stacking 3rd's" method of chord building you'll find that this chord can not be built and higher, or it can't be extended.

In theory, the Augmented Triad can not be extended to a 7th, and is left only as a Triad. I'll show you where the limitation lies then I'll show you the reality of it.

Keeping with our Symmetrical pattern let's continue the sequence of M3's until we start repeating ourselves:

R <--Two Whole-steps--> M3 <--Two Whole-steps--> #5 <--Two Whole-steps--> R

or

R <--M3--> M3 <--M3--> #5 <--M3--> R

See how we end up at the Root again? If we continued with our Two Whole-step Symmetrical pattern we'd end up repeating the same notes/Intervals if we go past the Root. Hopefully you can see that.

Here's some points of interest, and some realities, related to Augmented chords:

1. The Augmented chord is nothing more than a Triad, and can't be extended. Actually it can be thought as a Major Triad with the raised (sharp'ed) 5th. SO, the Triad consists of: R  M3  #5.

With what we've learned here, to Augment a chord ONLY means to sharp the 5th of a Major Triad by one Half-step. There's not much more to it really.

2. You should see that we can't go ANY further past the basic Triad without repeating the notes already in the chord...well, this is in theory only...here's the reality you should know about the term Augmented...

In the beginning of this lesson I stated that to "augment" something in music meant to widen or sharpen it. More specifically when talking about chords, it means to sharp the 5th Interval...that actually means to sharp the 5th Interval of ANY chord, not just the Major Triad.

So, anytime you see a chord with the term "aug", +5, or #5, they are talking about raising the 5th. These are some of the common practices when naming these types of chords, but there could be some other out there too that are not to common.

But, those terms could show up in almost any chord, but still mean to sharp that 5th Interval. More on this in step 4.

3. When you look at the notes of an Augmented Triad you should be able to see that any one of the notes in the chord could be called the Root note. This is due to the symmetrical pattern of the notes in the chord.

Let's look at three chords, all containing the same notes. This should explain my point:

Caug

R   M3   #5   R
C    E    G#   C

Eaug

R   M3   #5   R
E   G#    C    E

G#aug

R   M3   #5   R
G#  C     E    G#

Due to the structure of symmetrical chords, each of these chords contains the same notes and could be name either one of those names listed above the chords.

Here's a little Augmented progression for hearing a common sound or movement people do when using straight Augmented chords. Try this, remembering there are really the same chord even though the names are different:

Caug:

--x--
--1--
--1--
--2--
--3--
--x--

Eaug:

--x--
--5--
--5--
--6--
--7--
--x--

G#aug:

--x--
--9--
--9--
--10-
--11-
--x--

Caug:

--x--
--13-
--13-
--14-
--15-
--x--

Remember, because of the symmetrical layout all of these are really the same chord but played like this gives you movement within the chord.

Another common sound in cartoon music and The Muffin Man by Frank Zappa specifically is to grab an Augmented Triad and strum it fast while moving it down in Half-steps. It's a very dramatic sound. Try it, you'll hear what I'm referring to.

4. Let's look at the name of the notes in a Caug (also could be seen as C+5, or C#5)

R   M3   #5   R
C    E    G#   C

We can see that between each note there's a M3 Interval, or Two Whole-steps. And that makes our Caug chord/Triad. This is the perfect work of Augmented chords.

What if we saw a chord labeled: C7+5

To figure out this chord we need to use common sense and all of the teachings we've had so far.

First of all let's look at a C7 chord:

R   M3   5   b7
C    E    G   Bb

Now what we've learned about "augmented" or the +5 is to raise that 5th by a Half-step. So let's rewrite the chord with the raised 5th instead of a regular 5th:

R   M3   #5   b7
C    E    G#   Bb

Let's look at a comparison of fingerings between C7 and C7+5 (or C7aug or C7#5):

C7:

--x--
--8-- = 5
--9-- = M3
--8-- = b7
--x--
--8-- = R

C7aug:

--x--
--9-- = #5
--9-- = M3
--8-- = b7
--x--
--8-- = R

So by using what we know to build, or finger, a C7 we only need to make one change to figure out how to play a C7+5 chord.

What you want to take out of this is that you never know when you'll need to sharp that 5th of a chord. There are some rules related to it, but whoever writes the music will write the chords the way THEY perceive them and sometimes, a lot of times, will not follow the rules.

If a #5 is needed there is really no rule to what chord that could be. In other words you might see there's chords: Cm+5, Cmaj7#5, C13#5, etc...

Just remember the "aug" sign relates to sharp'ing the 5th, and the +5 or #5 also means to sharp the 5th and you'll ready when you encounter it.

Here's some movable Augmented Triads:

Caug:

--x--
--1-- = R
--1-- = #5
--2-- = M3
--3-- = R
--x--

--x--
--x--
--5-- = R
--6-- = #5
--7-- = M3
--8-- = R

--8-- = R
--9-- = #5
--9-- = M3
--10- = R
--x--
--x--

--x--
--9-- = #5
--9-- = M3
--10- = R
--x--
--x--

--4-- = #5
--5-- = M3
--5-- = R
--x--
--x--
--x--