In music, what's the word for the type of interval or chord?

If I say, “C-E-G is a major triad,” what property is being described by the word “major?”

IOW, I want to talk about the _____ness of chords in general, where _____ may be major, minor, augmented, diminished, etc.
ETA: Now that I read that, I fear my question is unclear. I don’t want to know the difference between major and minor chords, I want to know the word for what major and minor describe about the chord. For example, green : color :: major : ???

In response to your first question, the property is the number of half-steps beween each of the notes. In this case, there are four half-steps from C to E (also known as a major 3rd) and three half-steps from the E to G (a minor 3rd). If those are switched, it’s a minor chord (A - C - E). If they’re both minor 3rds, it’s a diminished chord (B - D - F). If they’re both major, I’m not sure what that is.

In response to your second question, I’m not sure what that is, either.

As an amateur musician of over 15 years, I can say that there’s no obvious term which jumps out at me. In my mind, the type of chord is such an integral part that asking this question is akin to wondering what is the ____ness of road vehicles in general, ie: car, bus, truck. I wouldn’t say that a car has “carness” or the truck “truckness.” Each vehicles is what it is. Similarly, the chord just kind of is what it is.

That being said, as an informal response, you might hear someone talk about the “color” or “character” of a particular chord, referring to the general impression of sound. I don’t think this really answers your question but it’s as close as I can do off the top of my head.

E: Of course, on preview I see a reasonable answer that I had assumed was understood by the OP. In strict terms, whether a chord is major, minor, etc. is dependent on the relative frequencies of the tones, which is easier to describe using the half-steps common to Western notation. I had taken the OP to be looking for a more qualitative term, which is where I was going with my answer.

That’s an augmented triad. Now I shall wait with bated breath for the answer to the next part.


You’ve got the quantitative answer from Ethilrist, and as for qualitative… well, it’s up to everybody’s interpretation. For me, major chords make a work sound ‘happy’ while minor chords make it sound ‘sad’, and diminished chords sound faintly jazzy while augmented chords sound like they’d be in a horror score. It all depends.

That’s exactly what I was going for – so far I like both “color” and “character” though I was hoping there was a generally accepted word for it.

I’m pretty sure no generally accepted term exists to complete “green:color :: major:_____”. The language just didn’t evolve to describe these chord variations as members of some set of possible variations. It could have, perhaps, but it didn’t.

If any word could go in the blank at all, I’d think it’d be “chord”. But that makes the set “color” analogous to a set that includes both “A minor” and “B minor”, which isn’t what you wanted.

The term your looking for is ‘quality’

there are four triadic qualities: major, minor, augmented and diminshed

there are more 7th chord qualities, however: half-diminished (-7b5), Major 7 (Maj7)
Minor 7 (min7), Augmented 7 (7aug), fully diminished (dim) plus Altered Chords (alt) which encompass a range of unique qualities all their own.

That’s not getting into the more out there stuff (e.g. quartals etc)

B D F is a diminished tried, the 7th degree of the key of C major.

B Aug is B D# F##

Ethilrist was saying that she didn’t know what a triad with two major thirds is.

Ah, gotcha, sorry…

Tonality is probably the closest to an overarching term that I know for what you’re asking.

major, minor, diminished, augmented, and the symbols for flat and sharp are used to represent the interval between the root and the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th of a 2octave scale. Which interval is being specified varies with the chord

One thing to understand is that written chord charts are trying to convey as much as possible with as little as possible so it’s expected that you know certain things that aren’t written down.

for example, traditionally, major triads are the most common chord so
C is all you see to know you have a major 3rd and a perfect 5th C-E-G

minor chords are next so
Cm (lowercase m) tells you it’s a minor 3rd and a perfect 5th C-Eb-G

dominant 7ths come next so
C7 tells you major 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th C-E-G-Bb
Cm7 minor 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th C-Eb-G-Bb

Cmaj7 C-E-G-B

Caug C-E-G#

diminished is a little bit tricky. the interval between the root and the 3rd is described as being either minor or major C to Eb, or E. The interval between the root and the 5th is described as being either diminished, perfect, or augmented as in C to Gb, G, G# respectively, and the interval between the root and the 7th is described as being either minor or major, C to Bb, or B. But a diminished triad refers to a minor 3rd with a dimished 5th: C-Eb-Gb, and a diminished 7th chord is C-Eb-Gb-Bbb(A).

Therefore Cflat5 or Cb5 would be written to express the chord C-E-Gb in which only the 5th interval would be diminished
Dominant is another term for tonality, this chord contains a major 3rd and a minor 7th counting up from the root, thus
but the interval between the 3rd and the 7th, E-Bb is a diminished 5th, which is what gives the chord it’s feeling of drive and tension, in wants to go somewhere, usually home to the home chord.

Jazz musicians often think of chords as having only 3 tonalities, minor, major and dominant and feeling free to substitute chord within each group, thus

C-major family-C6, C6/9, Cmaj7, Cmaj9, all these chords have a major 3rd
Cm-minor family-Cm7, Cm9, Cm11, all these chords have a minor 3rd
C7-dominant family- C9,C11,C7b9, C9b5, C7#5b9(a personal favorite) all these have a major 3rd and a minor 7th.
Clear as mud? patience!

That’s exactly what I was thinking.

I’d variously go for ‘function’ or ‘character’, depending both on the chord in question and the context. A dominant seventh has a very particular role in relation to other chords in the key, while an identical chord in a different genre, or just a different location in the music, could have very different uses.

I’ve always liked using the word “flavor” to describe this. But it is absolutely not an official term, by any means…

The concept of mode may be somewhat similar to (though it isn’t exactly) what the OP is asking for.

Wikipedia uses “quality” in their entry on chords. I still like “flavor” better, though - mostly because I try to write tunes that are really tasty :wink:

adds in groan so other readers don’t have to

There’s not going to be much agreement on this because the experience of music is so subjective. If you say, for instance, that music in a minor key has a certain “character” or “quality,” then what do you make of those people who can distinguish between d minor and c# minor? They seem different to those people, but in ways that they usually cannot describe very well, beyond saying that their tonalities have different character or quality from each other. For some people, minor keys are always sad, as noted above, but there are pieces of music written in minor keys that are incredibly satisfying and glorious. Not terms you associated with sad. So, good luck finding a word that works for you. But there’s little universal when it comes to feelings and comparing the sensations that music evokes. xo, C.

I think the OP is looking for mundane, technical terminology rather than “feeling” terminology. To rephrase how I read the OP:

What term describes collectively these words:
{ major, minor, augmented, diminished, sus2, … }
in the same way that “color” described collectively these words:
{ red, blue, green, yellow, … }

I posit that there is no such word, at least not one that is going to be generally understood.

Yep, that’s what I’m saying. I seem to be having much trouble phrasing the question so it’s understood, so thank you for coming up with that.

So far it looks like “quality” is the winner, but it looks like there’s no generally agreed-upon term.