What is the “triangle” in Jazz?

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Well, there is this triangle…

triangle in jazz ariane cap

There is a running gag between me and the singer/bandleader of a favorite project I am in, Generation Esmeralda. Let’s just say that triangle is super groovy but also so incredibly loud on stage, Jimmy sends me to the other end of the stage with it because I can’t hear nothing but it next to my ear. We always get a good laugh!

Here is Jimmy playing cowbell. Nothing beats that little triangle in terms of decibels, though.

Generation Esmeralda triangle Ariane Cap Jimmy GOings

Tony Baker, Micky Valentino, Roberto Quintana, Jimmy Goings, T Moran, Ariane Cap, Steffen Kuehn, Louis Fasman, Tom Poole, Mike Rinta

Back to Triangles – The Triangle in Jazz

I doubt that is the “triangle in jazz” the Quora poster was talking about when they asked me for clarification on its meaning. meant when asking me about that triangle. Rather, the Quoran meant this one:

as in:

C∆

Though it should be an easy answer (it’s an abbreviation for a major seventh chord), I was compelled to chime in because most of the other answers were either flat out wrong or incomplete. Remember, “major” could refer to the third in this chord (C major triad), or to the seventh.

I have an Ari Shortcut rule for this:

  • The third – unless otherwise specified – is always major!
  • The seventh – unless otherwise specified – is always minor!

So when you see C major 7th, that is short for C (major) major seventh, a major triad with a major seventh on top.

The major belongs to the seventh. It is that first major that is redundant because the triad is major, which is the default value for the triad!

Let’s test this

How about C minor 7? The minor now belongs to the triad, because the seventh is minor by default. So, C min7 is short for C minor (minor) 7th. It is that second minor that is redundant because the seventh is minor! The minor belongs to the triad!

How about C7? Major triad (default, I don’t need to specify!) and a minor 7th (again, it’s understood). C (major) (minor) 7th. C7 for short, the dominant seventh chord, a major triad with a minor seventh on top!

And what if I want the triad to be minor and the seventh to be major? Then I have to spell it all out: C min maj7. That is a beautiful chord. It does not occur in our major/minor system, but it sure does in the harmonic and melodic minor systems and it is gorgeous. Since it is not the most frequent, it evolved to be the one that needs to be completely spelled out.

Read my Quora answer below which got me thinking about four-note chords in general. It’s all about stacking thirds and there are only so many ways you can stack major and minor thirds. Grab your bass and play through all of these. This is useful not just for Jazz, as many styles have major seventh chords in them!

Enjoy!

Read Ariane Cap‘s answer to What does the triangle mean in jazz chord notation? on Quora

Comments(1)

  • Jonno
    August 9, 2019, 09:08  Reply

    Thanks Ari – always wondered why X Maj 7 and X7 were as they are but this makes perfect sense now.

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