Harmony is made up of two or more notes or tones that are usually written vertically on music staff paper to indicate playing them together at the same time in what is known as a 'chord'. 

Chords that are played one after another define the harmonic pattern or sequence of a piece of music.


Arpeggios are known as broken chords as opposed to blocked chords. Notes in this type of chord are played one at a time ascending or descending. They may be used in an accompaniment to a written melody or as an improvisation that is played by listening rather than by reading written music.  Instead of always using solid chords, arpeggiated patterns add variety to our music and add technical skills to our playing.

Different ways to read or write a broken chord include: vertical notation written like a solid chord except there is a wiggly line to the left of the chord, or it is written as successive individual notes in a melodic pattern. Both ways are interpreted and played as broken chords.

How to Build a Chord:
The 1st, 3rd and 5th tones (read from the bottom to the top) of a major or minor scale pattern that are written and played at the same time form a triad. Roman numerals are used to describe chords:such as the I chord in major and lower case letter i in a minor chord. Building a triad beginning on the second note of a scale is the II (Major) or ii (minor) chord. Continuing with triads on each succeeding note of a scale are the III iii, IV iv, V v, VI vi, and VII vii chords. The base of a triad is known as the root of the chord.

In any major scale the I, IV and V chords are always MAJOR and the  ii, iii and vi chords are always MINOR. The VII chord is always DIMINISHED.

In a MINOR scale the chords are written as lower case letters. The i, iv, and v chords in a natural minor scale are MINOR. The ii chord is diminished and the iii, vi and vii chords are MAJOR.

Some chords use other tones in addition to the triad (1st, 3rd and 5th notes) such as 7ths, 9ths, 11ths and 13ths above the root. These extended harmonies are often called color chords.  These chords are used in jazz.

When different chords are played in succession they form a progression. These progressions can be repeated throughout a piece of music.

Try making up your own triads by themselves and then use them in succession to form your sequence of harmonic changes - going from one chord to another. Let your ears be your guide when playing and writing harmony.

Go from Harmony to the Elements of Music Page.