Music Theory

Understanding Augmented Chords

Just like augmented reality is an enhancement of someone’s perceived surroundings into a virtual environment, augmented chords are an enhancement of the major chord chord to a new dimension.

Taught but rarely used, augmented chords create a dissonant sound that feels unresolved and aches to be fixed.

In today’s post we’ll be looking at the augmented chord and…

  • What they are
  • How you build them
  • Their relationship to scales
  • And how you can use them in your song

Let’s get started.

What is an augmented chord?

The best way to describe an augmented chord is to think of a startling and uncertain revelation which all of a sudden gives you the creeps, like seeing your room filled with spiders and insistly retreating to safety.

Out of context, it can sound like it’s pulling you away, dragging you towards the unknown – perhaps into a black hole.

Let’s listen to a row of augmented chords – B aug, C aug, D aug and E aug.

I’m imagining the spiders now, and I definitely don’t like it!

How do you build an augmented chord?

An augmented chord is built using an augmented triad which consists of 3 notes, and is built by stacking a major 3rd (4 semitones from the root) and an augmented 5th (8 semitones from the root) giving you the chord formula: R – 3 – #5. It is also known as stacking two major 3rds.

How do you build an augmented chordPin

For example if C is our root note, E is our major 3rd which is 4 semitones away from C (3), and G# is our augmented 5th which is 4 semitones away from E, and 8 semitones away from C (#5).

C augmented is: C E G#.

Augmented chords and scales

Augmented chords are unique in the fact that they do not fit into any major or minor scale. A major or minor (natural) scale consists of 3 major chords, 3 minor chords and a diminished – augmented chords are not part of the 7 chords.

However, you can still use these chords in your songs.

For example, C major has the notes: C D E F G A B and C augmented has the notes: C E G#. As you can see the G# is not part of the scale, however, when used the G# would be considered an ‘accidental’ note, which is a note that is used but from outside the scale.

How to use augmented chords

Augmented chords don’t belong to any major and minor scale, which can make them an interesting fit into your music. Although they aren’t popular or common, bands such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Pink Floyd still managed to sneak them in.

What ways can we include augmented chords?

1. Replacement for a dominant seventh

A dominant seventh is a 4 note chord, essentially a major chord with a minor 7th note (10 semitones above the root): R – 3 – 5 – b7.

Let’s take G7 as our example – G B D F, and add it into a progression where it will be replaced by G augmented – G B D#.

  • C -> Am -> F -> G7 -> C
  • C -> Am -> F -> Gaug -> C

Here is the original:

Here is the alteration from G7 to G augmented:

This transition makes the resolution more fulfilling compared to the dominant 7th chord to tonic chord.

2. Have fun with symmetry

A unique fact about augmented chords is the symmetrical music interval pattern (major 3rd on top of another major 3rd), and how inversions of an augmented chord actually produces another augmented chord.

G augmented contains the notes: G B D#, and if we rotate these notes we create inverted chords. Inverted chords are the rotation of notes in a chord, so that the root note is no longer the lowest pitch in the chord. However, with augmented chords we actually create a different augmented chord.

  • 1st inversion (rotation) – B D# G are the same pitches for a B augmented chord
  • 2nd inversion (rotation) – D# G B are the same pitches for a Eb augmented chord

If we use our chord progression from earlier, we can substitute the Gaug for an inversion, which would be a new augmented chord giving a new sound to the progression however using the same notes.

  • C -> Am -> F -> Ebaug -> C

3. Tension to ‘key’ resolution

Augmented chords cause tension which begs to be resolved, and another way to resolve this tension is by focusing on the root note of the major chord.

Augmented chords are major chords with a sharpened or raised 5th note, therefore, resolving the 5th note back to its perfect 5th will give a sense of ease and completion.

  • C E G# -> C E G

4. Go with the pull

An interesting feature of augmented chords is the momentum they create with the sharpened 5th note, yes it wants you to resolve but it’s also attracting other notes in the chord to move up the scale as well.

Let’s take C augmented, C E G#. We feel the G# trying to get away to become an A, but also the E wants to follow upwards and become an F. Therefore, transitioning to F major will lead to resolution.

It’s over to you

Although augmented chords are not part of any major or minor scale, it doesn’t mean you have to leave them out of your songs altogether. They can add an interesting element into your chord progression, creating an increased need for completion, therefore, making the resolution all the more satisfying.

Try out one of the techniques above, and try adding an augmented chord into your next song.