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The Major Triad

major triad on keyring
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Other Names:

Major Chord

Symbols & Abbreviations:

[no symbol], M, ?, maj


Diatonic, Melodic Minor, Octatonic

Set Class:


Perhaps the most widely-used chord around the world, the major triad emerges directly from the overtone series—the relationship of tones found in the vibration of strings, air columns, and just about everything else that produces a clear tone. In every major-key song or piece, a major chord is the tonic (I), or home chord. That makes it a common occurrence at the ends of these songs. There’s even a practice for ending minor key works with major chords, which is called a “Picardy third” (you can hear this at the end of the chorus of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” as well as a lot of keyboard music by J.S. Bach). Major triads also show up frequently in tonal music as subdominant (IV) and dominant (V) chords. But major chords aren’t limited to “textbook” tonality—their appearance in I, IV, and V chords makes them a central fixation of, for instance, much Appalachian folk music, the major Southern African choral traditions, and Caribbean genres such as ska, reggae, and soca. In turn, their appearance in North American popular music is widespread.