Augmented Chords, and How To Use Them In Your Music

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Folk guitarStructurally speaking, an augmented chord consists of stacked major 3rds. So the chord C Aug (C+) uses the notes C-E-G#. It could occur naturally in a minor key song that uses the harmonic minor scale. But it far more likely occurs in major keys, where the added accidental (the G# in the C+ chord) creates an altered chord.

The most common way to use a C+ (augmented) chord is to consider the E to be a leading tone, wanting to move up to the root of an F major chord: C+ –> F. [LISTEN] (Opens in a new window/tab)

In that sense, it’s also possible to consider either of the other two notes of the C+ as leading tones. That’s because all three tones of the chord are the sasme distance from each other. That means that C+ can be followed by a Db major chord, or an A major chord. It might be considered more common, in those cases, to rename the same chord to be either E+ or G#+. All three chords (C+, E+, G#+) will all have the same three notes.

Here are some chord progressions that use C+, E+ and G#+ in various ways:

  1. C  C+  F  G7  C
  2. C Am  E+/G#  Am  F  C  Dm  G  C
  3. Db  Ab  Db  Ab+  Db  Gb  Absus4  Ab  Db
  4. Am  E+  Am  G  C
  5. F  Bb  C  C+  F

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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  1. I’m writing a post about the Augmented scale and wanted to include a section on how to use the + and maj7#5 chord and your article is the best that I found. I didn’t realize each chord tome of an augmented triad could act as a M7 leading tone to a I or i chord. Fantastic and thanks!

  2. Thanks Gary, Lol there’s the word I was looking for “enharmonically” 🙂 As to “where it should go” I have a sax player friend who treats the aug 5 note (C+) like a flat13th then resolves it down a half step making it the 9th of the next chord (F9) – all pretty cool to his ears…Anyways I take out of this a nice E MAJOR E+ C# Major, progression, Thanks so much! Derek

  3. Hi Gary, If I may? Regarding #2 & #4: an E+ going to an A minor is just a color choice right? As an E Major chord already contains the leading tone G#… So I’m thinking the E+ with it’s B# should go to a chord with a C# in it to retain the chromatic line B B# C# maybe this a just a labeling issue? Thanks for this post. D.

    • The thing about augmented chords is that since all the tones are equidistant from each other, any of the three pitches can act as a leading tone, so you have three possible directions. An E+ can go easily to F because not only do you have the semitone E moving to F, but you also have the G# moving to A, with B# holding a common tone to C (B# and C are enharmonically equivalent.)

      The fact that the E+ is a colour choice is quite true, no matter where the chord eventually resolves. In #2 and #4, it acts as a “decoration” for the progression. But to answer the specific question about where it “should” go, there’s no particular need for it to go to one possible resolution chord over another. The best solutions will always be where at least one of the three tones gets to move a semitone higher.

      Hope this helps,

  4. Pingback: Interesting Links For Musicians and Songwritiers – February 19, 2014 | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

  5. I’m a sucker for using the V+ instead of the V7 as the turnaround chord in a slow bluesy song. BTW, I’ve been getting your daily blog emails for quite a while and I always enjoy them, but I have never commented before. I just want you to know that I am benefiting from them, as well as your books. I will often recall something from your blog when I am stuck while writing a song. Thanks

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