How to compose with Augmented Chords

No need for arguments about augments, we explain what’s meant by augmented and how you can use these chords to add spice to your progressions

A rare example of augmented chords in modern pop. The augmented chord is the last chord before the chorus. It feels like an intake of breath and creates suspense.

What is an augmented chord?

An augmented chord is a triad with a sharpened fifth – that is, a fifth note, raised one semitone.

So an augmented C would play C – E – G#. This sharpening of the major C triad transforms the character from a happy, clean major chord.

It’s now a little angsty, a little dissonant. Great for spicing up chord progressions.

C Chord Root Third Fifth
Major C E G
Augmented C E G Sharp

Pro Tip

If you ever find your progression sounds too bright, too cheesy – try augmenting one of your chords.

It’s super simple to do in Captain Chords. Select a major chord in your progression, such as C, go to the Custom Chord tool, and write ‘Caug’. You’ll immediately be presented with an augmented triad!

Customize your chords

Captain Chords’ Custom Chord tool is a great way to add chords that aren’t in the root key’s diatonic scale.

Notation across the nation

When writing chords down, many musicians like to use numerals. This aids transposition – check out our article on transposition here.

Augmented C Notation Triad 6th 7th 9th
Caug Caug6 Caug7 Caug9
I+ I+6 I+7 I+9

If the augmented triad is on C, it will be commonly written as Caug. That’s capital C for Major C, and aug for augmented. If we were to add a 7th notes to this chord, it would be Caug7. A 9th would become Caug9 and so on.

Numerically, this is written as Iaug. All augmented chords are considered Major, hence the ‘I’. In many cases, the suffix ‘aug’ is replaced by a ‘+’ sign:

This ‘+’ is useful as a reminder of the construction of augmented chords – they are ‘sharpened’, which means increasing the pitch by a semitone.

This is in contrast to a Diminished chord, where the fifth note is reduced by a semitone.

thinking outside box

Think outside the box

Augmented chords don’t sit in the regular Minor or Major scales. Instead, they live in the Harmonic or Melodic Minor scales.

This makes them quite an unusual choice for chord progressions, since most composers stick to minor or major scales.

However, we make a case for taking the risk and trying out one of the lesser-used scales, such as melodic minor. It sounds great and carries a colorful, rich character.

The Beatles – Oh Darling!

The first chord in the song is an augmented 7th, and perfectly illustrates the ‘leading chord ‘effect of augmented chords.

guitar aug

Rock On

Augmented chords are used in a lot of modern rock music, such as Foo Fighters – Generator.

The tense, anticipatory nature of the chords suit this kind of dramatic, progressive tension.

They are less common in pop and dance music for the very same reason.

Having said that, songs like Juju, by Wayne Shorter are good examples of augmented chord usage in the type of jazz that hip-hop artists have often sampled – so, in a roundabout way, augmented chords have made it into modern popular music.

Wayne Wonder – Juju

Wayne Shorter’s song ‘Juju’ is chock-full of augmented chords, and sounds like something Madlib might sample.

blue note vinyl

Acquired taste

In summary, augmented chords are tasty, colorful, and adventurous chords.

They can add an extra dimension to an otherwise predictable progression.

However, there aren’t too many popular modern songs out there that use augmented chords – they sound gritty and tense, which isn’t a particularly common sentiment in pop music.

But don’t let that put you off! We advocate augmented and diminished as excellent tools to breath life into a tired chord progression. And, after all, why not be a little different?

Check out the examples below

We experimented with augmented chords in the Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor scales and came up with some pretty interesting results. These chords sound great in the right context!

Dusty Hip-Hop/Jazz in the Melodic Minor scale of A

Tense, modern pop akin to Drake or Bjork in the Harmonic Minor scale of D

Add spice to your chord progressions with Captain Plugins

It’s super easy to create your own ideas from scratch. Visit the official Captain Plugins homepage and see how it will help you explore music and write your own original productions.