The Augmented Chord in Piano: A Complete Guide

by Madonna

The piano, with its vast range and expressive capabilities, serves as a canvas for exploring a myriad of musical concepts. Among these is the augmented chord, a harmonic gem that adds a touch of tension and excitement to compositions. In this article, we will delve into the nuances of the augmented chord in piano, exploring its structure, characteristics, and its role in creating harmonic richness.

Defining the Augmented Chord: Structure and Formula

An augmented chord is a three-note chord that consists of a root note, a major third, and an augmented fifth. In terms of formula, it can be expressed as R + M3 + A5, where “R” represents the root, “M3” denotes a major third interval, and “A5” signifies an augmented fifth interval. The distinctive feature of the augmented chord is its augmented fifth, which sets it apart from major and minor chords.


To visualize this on the piano, consider constructing an augmented chord starting from any note. For example, to form a C augmented chord, play the notes C (root), E (major third), and G# (augmented fifth). The interval between C and E is a major third, and the interval between C and G# is an augmented fifth, creating the characteristic sound of the augmented chord.


Characteristics of the Augmented Chord: Tension and Ambiguity

The augmented chord carries a unique sonic signature that evokes tension and ambiguity. Unlike major and minor chords, which often convey a sense of stability, the augmented chord introduces an element of unrest. The augmented fifth, being equidistant from the root, imparts a sense of dissonance that can add drama and intrigue to a musical passage.


Due to its inherent tension, the augmented chord is frequently used as a transitional or embellishing chord in compositions. It is less common as a standalone chord but plays a crucial role in creating harmonic movement and leading the listener to the next chord in a sequence.

Augmented Chords in Major and Minor Keys: Enhancing Progressions

Augmented chords can be integrated into both major and minor key progressions, contributing to the harmonic complexity of a piece. In major keys, the augmented chord often appears on the fifth degree, creating a temporary departure from the diatonic harmony. For example, in the key of C major, the G augmented chord (G – B – D#) introduces an unexpected twist before resolving to the tonic chord.

In minor keys, the augmented chord may be utilized as a borrowed chord from the parallel major. For instance, in the key of A minor, the C augmented chord (C – E – G#) can be introduced to infuse a momentary sense of tension before resolving to a chord within the natural minor key.

Chromatic Movement and Modulation: Expanding Tonal Possibilities

One of the fascinating aspects of augmented chords is their ability to facilitate chromatic movement and modulation. The augmented chord shares two common tones with two different major chords, making it a versatile pivot chord. This characteristic allows composers and pianists to seamlessly transition between keys, adding a touch of sophistication to their harmonic palette.

For example, the augmented chord C augmented (C – E – G#) shares common tones with both the C major chord (C – E – G) and the E major chord (E – G# – B). This shared harmonic DNA allows for smooth modulation between the keys of C major and E major, showcasing the augmented chord’s role as a bridge between tonalities.

Voicing and Inversions: Shaping the Augmented Sound

In piano playing, the voicing and inversions of chords play a crucial role in shaping their sound and character. Experimenting with different voicings of the augmented chord can yield varied results. For example, in the C augmented chord, altering the order of the notes (C – G# – E) or (E – C – G#) can produce different timbres and textures.

Additionally, exploring inversions of the augmented chord can provide interesting harmonic alternatives. Inverting the chord changes the order of the notes while maintaining the augmented fifth interval. This can be particularly useful for creating smooth voice leading and enhancing the overall flow of a musical passage.

Practical Application in Compositions: A Creative Playground

Understanding the augmented chord opens up a world of creative possibilities for composers and pianists. Its distinctive sound can be harnessed to add color to various genres, from classical and jazz to contemporary and popular music. Composers may use augmented chords to create tension before a resolution or to introduce unexpected harmonic twists that captivate the listener’s ear.

Pianists, in turn, can incorporate augmented chords into their improvisations and arrangements to bring a sense of unpredictability and excitement to their performances. The augmented chord’s ability to stand out in a musical context makes it a valuable tool for pianists seeking to express a wide range of emotions and moods in their playing.

See Also: The Best Tone in Piano: Everything You Need To Know

Conclusion: Unlocking the Augmented Palette

In conclusion, the augmented chord in piano is a harmonic gem that adds tension, drama, and versatility to musical compositions. Its unique structure, characteristics, and role in harmonic progressions make it a fascinating element for exploration and experimentation. Whether used as a transitional chord, a modulation tool, or a source of chromatic movement, the augmented chord invites pianists and composers to unlock a rich palette of tonal possibilities, adding a touch of brilliance to their musical expressions.


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