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Everything you wanted to know about the Augmented chord but were afraid to ask: Part I

As I was specifically asked to write a post on the use of augmented chords by a perplexed music theorist I though I would start with the basics. An augmented chord has the formula 1 3 #5. But that is only just the start. Think of enharmonic equivalents. A 3rd can also be a b4, a #5 can also be a b6. That is where the art of using augmented chords can be taken to the next level.

So now we can see that the formulae of: 1 3 #5, 1 3 b6, 1 b4 #5, 1b4 b6 are all potential augmented chords, and therefore the modes that these chords come from are all brought into play. That is enharmonic equivalents out of the way.

Lets say we have a lone C+ chord, C E G#. Now the obvious scale choice that it originated from is A Harmonic minor. It could also be A Melodic, A Neapolitan minor, A Hungarian minor and so on. All of theses scales can be played over the augmented chord. Their roots are all on A, making the augmented chord the chord on the third degree of those scales.

Now what if we use the enharmonic equivalent of Ab instead of G#.

That would now mean the chord is spelled C E Ab. That now brings into play the scales C Harmonic Major, F Melodic, F Hungarian minor, F Harmonic minor and so on.

What about the b4 I hear you ask? Well obviously, some scales have modes in that have a b4, the most commonly used one being mode VII of the Melodic scale, Superlocrian or Altered (NB: Superlocrian has its origins in latin for super meaning more, beyond, in addition to etc. Basically, more altered than Locrian itself). C Altered has the formula: 1 b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 b7 and the notes are C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb. So the Augmented chord on C is actually 1 b4 b6 from the altered mode VII, from the Db Melodic scale.

Just one more to twist your melon, I know it's not easy taking this stuff in. Lets say that instead of C, the enharmonic of B# is used. Nice, that then means the C# Harmonic minor (C# D# E F# G# A B#) can make an appearance.

Now, none of these scales played over the three notes we are momentarily labelling as an augmented chord are random. They are all easy to place and the direction the music heads in is fully dependent on the notes outside of the triad. That is the important part to remember, not the triad but the other notes.

That will be the topic of the second instalment in this series on the augmented chord.


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