Extending chords

Often, music that is based on scales and triads can sound harmonically simple. One way to make your sound more complex is to extend your chords.

An easy way to do this is to keep stacking thirds and fifths on top of the existing chords. For example, if you have a C-major chord the notes would be C, E, and G. To extend this, add B, then D, then F – all above the main triad. To keep it as clean as possible, don’t let any notes be less than a minor third apart – add the additional notes in the octave above.

Another example – you’re working in F#-minor. Your triad is F#, A, C#. You could extend it by adding E, then G#, then B.

As easy way to think about it is to just keep alternating between major thirds and minor thirds. In the C-major example, C to E is a major third, E to G is a minor third, then G to B is a major third, then B to D is a minor third, etc, etc.

At first it may sound a little strange, but you’ll get used to it.

This method is useful (I use it myself) because you still retain your tonal centre (your bassline still makes sense), and the additional complexity is added gradually – meaning you can control how complex you want your chord to be. If you just want a bit of added complexity, just add the next note above. If you want more, add another note. Or another. Or another.

You could extend this idea by having a different instrument play the extentions. For example, you could have your favourite thick pad playing your triad, then have the extentions played by a thin airy pad in the background. This gives you more ways to balance the simple with the complex. Some synth pad presets in workstation keyboards do a similar thing automatically – each note has the main sound on the note and a lighter note a fifth above.


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