What Are Augmented Chords? A Complete Music Theory Guide

what-are-augmented-chordsIn the colorful world of music theory, augmented chords hold a special place for their distinctive sound and their ability to add tension, drama, and a sense of movement to a piece of music.

These chords, though less common than their major and minor counterparts, play a crucial role in creating emotional depth and harmonic interest.

This guide delves into the nature of augmented chords, exploring their structure, usage, and effect in music composition and analysis.

What are Augmented Chords?

At its core, an augmented chord is a type of triad consisting of a root note, a major third, and an augmented fifth. The augmented fifth is what sets this chord apart, being a half step higher than the perfect fifth found in a major chord.

This alteration creates a chord that is both major in quality and uniquely dissonant, due to the equidistant spacing between the notes.

The Structure of Augmented Chords

An augmented chord can be symbolized as “aug” or with a “+” sign following the chord name (e.g., C+ or C aug denotes a C augmented chord). The formula for constructing an augmented chord from a major scale is straightforward: take the root (1), the major third (3), and raise the perfect fifth (5) by a semitone.

For instance, a C augmented chord comprises the notes C (root), E (major third), and G# (augmented fifth).

Augmented Chord Symbols

Augmented chords are typically notated in sheet music and chord charts using specific symbols to denote their augmented quality. Here are the common symbols used to represent augmented chords:

C+ or Caug: The “+” sign or the word “aug” after the chord name indicates an augmented chord. For example, “C+” or “Caug” both represent a C augmented chord, consisting of the notes C, E, and G#.

C+5 or Caug5: These symbols specify that the fifth of the chord is augmented. While not as commonly used as the simple “+” or “aug,” they clearly indicate the nature of the augmentation.

C(♯5): This symbol, read as “C sharp five,” also denotes that the fifth of the chord is raised by a half step, making the chord augmented. It explicitly shows the alteration of the fifth interval.

C+7 or C7♯5: In the context of seventh chords, a “+” or “♯5” added to a 7th chord symbol (like “C7”) indicates that the chord is a dominant seventh with an augmented fifth. This chord includes the notes C, E, G#, and Bb.

Cmaj7♯5 or Cmaj7+5: These symbols are used for a major seventh chord with an augmented fifth, including the notes C, E, G#, and B. It specifies that both the chord is major seventh quality and the fifth is augmented.

Remember, the root note (in these examples, “C”) can be replaced with any other note to indicate the chord’s root, such as “G+” for a G augmented chord or “Faug” for an F augmented chord. These symbols allow musicians to quickly identify and play augmented chords within a piece of music.

Examples of Augmented Chords

Here are three examples of augmented chords, including their notes:

C+ (C augmented chord): This chord is built from the C major scale and consists of the notes C (root), E (major third), and G# (augmented fifth). The G# note is a half step higher than the perfect fifth (G), which gives the chord its “augmented” quality.

G+ (G augmented chord): Following the same structure, a G augmented chord includes the notes G (root), B (major third), and D# (augmented fifth). The D# is the note that augments the chord, raising the standard perfect fifth (D) by a semitone.

E+ (E augmented chord): Similarly, an E augmented chord is comprised of E (root), G# (major third), and C (augmented fifth). The C note is a semitone higher than the perfect fifth (B), which creates the distinctive augmented sound.

Augmented chords have a unique, somewhat dissonant sound due to the raised fifth, and they are often used to add tension or drama to music before resolving to a more stable chord.

Usage in Music Composition

Augmented chords are used by composers and songwriters to introduce tension and propel the music forward.

They are often found at pivotal moments in a composition, creating a sense of suspense or leading into a new section or key change.

Because of their symmetrical structure, augmented chords have a unique property: every note within the chord can serve as the root, allowing for modulations and transitions that are both smooth and surprising.

Harmonic Function and Progressions

Unlike major and minor chords, augmented chords do not naturally occur within the diatonic scale, lending them a more ambiguous harmonic function.

They are frequently used as passing chords to enrich chord progressions or to modulate between keys. In jazz and classical music, augmented chords might appear in sequences that exploit their instability, resolving to more stable chords for dramatic effect.

Augmented Chords in Different Musical Contexts

In classical music, composers like Wagner and Debussy utilized augmented chords for their expressive potential, often to depict tension or unresolved emotions.

In modern pop and jazz, these chords add complexity and color, contributing to the genre’s rich harmonic palette. Their distinctive sound can evoke a sense of unease or anticipation, making them a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled composer or arranger.


Augmented chords, with their intriguing structure and harmonic properties, offer a world of possibilities for creating tension, color, and movement in music.

While they may not be as commonly used as major or minor chords, their impact is undeniable, providing a unique sonic texture that can transform a piece from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Understanding augmented chords is essential for any musician or composer looking to explore the depths of musical expression and harmonic complexity.

Frequently Asked Questions

What role do augmented chords play in music composition?

Augmented chords are used in music composition to introduce tension and drama, often serving as a bridge to lead the progression from one key to another or to heighten emotional intensity. Their unique dissonant sound creates a sense of expectation that can be resolved by following the chord with more consonant harmonies.

How can augmented chords be identified in a musical score?

Augmented chords can be identified in a musical score by looking for chord symbols such as “C+” or “Caug” or by spotting notes that form a major third and an augmented fifth interval from the root note. These chords stand out due to their distinctive structure and the visual pattern of equidistant spacing between the notes.

Can augmented chords be used in any genre of music?

Yes, augmented chords can be used in virtually any genre of music, from classical compositions and jazz improvisations to pop and rock songs. Their versatility and ability to evoke strong emotional responses make them a valuable tool for composers and songwriters across diverse musical styles.

What is the difference between an augmented chord and a diminished chord?

An augmented chord is formed by raising the fifth note of a major chord by a half step, creating a broader, dissonant sound, whereas a diminished chord involves lowering both the third and the fifth notes of a major chord, resulting in a tense, closer sound. The key difference lies in the interval structure and the resulting tonal quality, with augmented chords sounding more expansive and diminished chords more contracted and tense.

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