RCM Rudiments – identify triad, dominant 7th, diminished 7th, Quartal, polychord chords

How to identify chords

Here is sample question in RCM advanced Rudiments exam –

Identify each of the following chords as Major chord, Minor chord, augmented chord, diminished chord, dominant seventh chord, diminished seventh chord, quartal chord, polychord, or cluster.


(Quiz, answer is at the end of this document)

This might sounds overwhelmed, so let’s take a step back and explore what those  chords are before answering the questions.

1. What is chord

  • Chord is a group (typically three or more) notes sounded together, as a basis of harmony.
  • Chords are built off of a single note, called the root.
  • For RCM exam, you need to know 3-note chords (Triad)  and 4-note chords

2. The Triads

The very basic chords are called triads, consisting of a roo, a third, and a fifth. When in root position (i.e. the root note is on the bottom) each note is a third steps away from the last note. (If intervals are new to you, check out the intervals tutorial). There are 4 basic types of triads:

i) Major Triad: Major 3rd + Minor 3rd  (+3  -3) , for example: C, E, G

ii) Minor Triad: Minor 3rd + Major 3rd (-3 +3 ), for example:  C, Eb, G

iii) Diminished Triad: Minor 3rd + Minor 3rd (-3 -3), for example:  C, Eb, Gb

iv) Augmented Triad: Major 3rd + Major 3rd (+3 +3) for example:  C, E, G#


The caveat

Sounds easy, right? But wait! There’s some pitfall! After you’ve figured out which notes can be in a chord, those notes can actually come from any octave. They don’t have to be in scale order! In other words, the root note does not have to be played in the root position. This is called inversion (if inversion are new to you, check out “inversion tutorial“). So when you are asked to figure out a chord that is in 1st or 2nd inversion, you have to convert them into root position.

3. The 4-note chord

i) The “fake” 4-note (still Triad)

Perhaps the easiest way to create a chord with four notes would be to “repeat” one of the notes in a triad. The following C Major Triad (C, E, G) remains a C major chord even we have 4-note


ii) The 7th chord

If we add one third above a triad, the result is a four-note chord or a 7th chord; the interval between the bottom and top notes is a seventh.

RCM Advanced rudiments exam only asks you to tell what is Dominant 7th and Diminished 7th

* Dominant 7th chord   : Major Triad + Minor 7th,  (Chord degree: +3 -3 -3)


* Diminished 7th chord: Minor Triad + Minor 7th, (Chord degree: -3 -3 -3)


The following two 7th chords are for your knowledge only

Major 7th chord: Major Triad + Major 7th, (Chord degree: it’s Major 3rd + Minor 3rd + Major 3rd, or as simple as +3 -3 +3)


Minor 7th chord: Major Triad + Major 7th, (Chord degree: -3  +3  -3)


iii) The other type of 4-note chords

In RCM exam, you will also be asked to identify the following chord, it’s quite simple

a) Quartal chord: Most chords are constructed from major or minor thirds. Quartal chords are chords that are built from fourths.


b) Polychord: a combination of two or more different chords


c) Cluster: a chord consists of at least three adjacent notes of a scale


Answers to the quiz

Quiz 1 (the one on the top)


Quiz 2 & answer


More practices:

I recommend you do more practices, this website is pretty good.

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