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The Definitive Guide to Guitar Triads

Guitar triads are probably the first thing you ever learned how to play on the guitar.

C, G, Dm, Am, are all examples of triads that we learn in the first few days of picking up the guitar.

But, while learning how to play open-position chords is essential knowledge, the mistake many guitarists make is to stop their study of guitar triads at that point.

By doing so, they cut off a huge amount of potential in their rhythm and solo guitar knowledge and performance.

By expanding guitar triads beyond open chords, you’ll open up the fretboard, expand your rhythm guitar knowledge beyond standard shapes, and increase your lead guitar vocabulary all at the same time.

Triads are small, three-note shapes, but they produce huge results when worked on beyond the open position.

In this lesson, you’ll study the four types of guitar triads, learn how to play them on guitar, and practice applying them to your rhythm and lead guitar lines.

 

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Guitar Triads (Click to Jump to Each Triad)

 

 

 

 

Though triads seem like an easy, small shape on the guitar, they can open up new directions in your rhythm guitar and guitar soloing phrases.

Take your time with each triad in this lesson, and work them from both a harmonic (chord) and melodic (single note) angle in your guitar practice routine.

Triads are small but mighty shapes that can transform your guitar playing, so have fun with them!

 

 

How to Practice Guitar Triads

 

As you work through the different guitar triads in this lesson, you can practice them in a number of ways on the fretboard.

When first memorizing these shapes, there are three main ways to work these triads on the guitar that you can practice as both chords and single notes.

The first is to play the three inversions for any triad quality you are studying up and down one string set.

Here’s an example of how that would look if you were studying the C major triad on the 654 string set.

 

guitar triads 1

 

 

You can also play up the fretboard, from the 6th to 1st string, such as in this example.

When doing so, you’ll be crossing string sets as you play up and down the inversions vertically on the fretboard.

 

guitar triads 2

 

The third way to practice guitar triads is to play each triad quality for any string set and inversion you’re studying.

Here’s an example of how that would look starting on a Caug triad, then lowering one note at a time to form C, Cm, and Cdim triads in the same inversion on the 654 string set.

From there, you would repeat this exercise in other inversions on the same string set, and on other string sets in your studies.

 

guitar triads 3

 

As you can see, you can use these three exercises to internalize any guitar triads that you are studying in the woodshed.

While working these exercises is important, don’t forget to put on backing tracks and jam along with these triads in your rhythm and lead guitar lines as well.

 

 

 

Major Guitar Triads

 

Major triads are a staple of any modern music.

From Blues, to Rock, to Pop, to Jazz, and everything in between, you can find the major triad being used in rhythm and lead guitar situations.

Because of it’s popularity, learning how to play and apply major triads is essential knowledge for guitarists in any genre of music.

In this section of the lesson, you’ll learn how to build a major triad, how to play major triads on the guitar as both chords and arpeggios, and study examples of how to use major triads in musical situations.

 

 

What is A Major Triad

 

The major triad is  three-note shape that you can play both as a chord, plucked or strummed, or as a single-note line, plucked or picked.

The interval pattern for a major triads is:

 

R-3-5

 

In the key of C the notes would be:

 

C-E-G

 

Because the major triad contains the Root, M3 and P5 intervals, they are used to solo and comp over Major Family Chords, such as major, maj7, maj6 and maj9.

If you want to take this shape one step further in your playing, you can use a major triad to solo and comp over m7 chords if you play them from the b3 of any m7 chord.

This means that if you have a Dm7 chord, you can solo or play over that chord with an F triad, sounding out the b3-5-b7 intervals of that chord.

Approaching m7 chords with a major triad, and producing a rootless outline of the chord, is a great way to bring a Jazzy sound to your triad comping and soloing phrases.

 

 

Major Triads – One Octave Shapes

 

Now that you know how to build a major triad, and how to apply it to both major family and m7 chords, you’ll learn how to play major triads on the guitar.

When learning one-octave major triads, work them as harmonic shapes.

This is where you play all 3 notes at once like a chord.

As well, practice major triads as melodic shapes, which is where you pluck each note in a row like an arpeggio.

Here are four fingerings for root position major triads that you can explore from both a harmonic (comping) and melodic (soloing) perspective in your studies.

The red note is the root of the chord.

Whichever note is red, that’s the name of the major triad you’re playing.

For example, if you play the red note on the 5th fret of the 6th string it’s an A major triad.

If you play that same shape from the 10th fret of the 6th string, it’s a D major triad.

 

major guitar triads 1

 

 

You can now move on to learning four fingerings for the 1st inversion major triad on the guitar.

 

major guitar triads 2

 

 

Here are four fingerings for the 2nd inversion major triad on the fretboard.

 

major guitar triads 3

 

 

When you have these major triad shapes under your fingers, play them with a metronome and along with a backing track.

This way you’ll get these major guitar triads under your fingers, as well as practice them in musical situations in your practice routine.

 

 

Major Triads – Two Octave Shapes

 

With the one-octave major triad shapes you were able to use them in both a harmonic (comping) and melodic (soloing) context.

To continue your study of major triads, here are four two-octave major triad shapes that you can use in your soloing and single-note studies on the guitar.

Because these shapes have more than one note on certain strings, you can only practice these major triads as single notes.

 

major guitar triads 4

 

 

Once you’ve these triads under your belt, put on a backing track and solo with these shapes over a major family chord, or the b3rd of a m7 chord.

 

 

Major Triads – Applications

 

To help you take these shapes from the technical to the practical side of your practice routine, here are two examples of how to apply major triads to both a comping and soloing situation.

The first example shows how you can apply a major triad to the iim7 chord in a C major ii-V-I chord progression.

 

Click to hear major triads 1

 

major triads 5

 

The next example uses the same chords, and same F triad over Dm7, but this time in a guitar solo lick.

 

Click to hear major triads 2

 

major triads 6

 

Once you have these samples down, put on a backing track and play over these changes using the major triad over the iim7 chord in a similar fashion.

 

 

Minor Guitar Triads

 

 

Along with major triads, minor triads are found in every genre of modern music.

Because of this, they are essential learning for any guitarist, from both a rhythm and lead guitar standpoint.

By learning how to play minor and major guitar triads, you’ll give yourself the shapes you need to play countless songs in Rock, Pop, Funk, Folk, and other styles of music.

In this section of the lesson, you’ll learn how to build minor triads, how to play these shapes on guitar, and how to apply them to your rhythm and lead guitar playing.

 

 

What Are Minor Triads

 

Minor triads are three-note shapes that you can play both as chords, plucked or strummed, or as single-notes, plucked or picked.

The interval pattern for minor triads is:

 

R-b3-5

 

In the key of C these notes would be:

 

C-Eb-G

 

Notice how minor triads are only one note different from major triads?

If you take any major triad shape you know, lower the 3rd by a fret, you’ll build a minor triad on the fretboard.

Because these minor triads contain the Root, m3 and P5 intervals, they can be used to solo and comp over minor family chords, such as minor, m7, m6 and m9.

As well, if you want to take them one step further in your playing, you can use minor triads to solo and comp over Maj7 chords if you play them from the 3rd of any maj7 chord.

This means that if you have a Cmaj7 chord, you can solo or comp over that chord with an Em triad, sounding out the 3-5-7 intervals of that chord.

Approaching maj7 chords with a minor triad, and producing a rootless outline of the chord, is a great way to bring a jazzy sound to your triad comping and soloing phrases.

 

 

Minor Triads – One Octave Shapes

 

Now that you know how to build minor triads, and how to apply them to both minor family and maj7 chords, you can learn these shapes on the guitar.

When learning one-octave minor triads, you can work them as harmonic shapes.

This is where you play all 3 notes at once like a chord.

You can also practice them as melodic shapes, where you pluck each note in a row like an arpeggio.

To begin, here are four fingerings for root position minor triads that you can explore from both a harmonic (comping) and melodic (soloing) perspective in your studies.

 

minor guitar triads 1

 

 

You can now move on to learning four fingerings for 1st inversion minor triads on the guitar.

 

minor guitar triads 2

 

 

Here are four fingerings for 2nd inversion minor triads on the fretboard.

 

minor guitar triads 3

 

 

When you have any/all of these shapes under your fingers, put on a backing track apply these shapes to your rhythm and lead guitar practicing over a chord progression or full song.

Learning concepts such as guitar triads is cool.

But.

If you don’t apply them to a musical context, then that knowledge is wasted.

So make sure to practice any triad in this lesson with both a metronome and backing track in your studies.

 

 

Minor Triads – Two Octave Shapes

 

 

As was the case with the major triad two-octave shapes, you can only learn and play these minor triad two-octave shapes as single notes.

Because of this, make sure to work them with a metronome, and run them in your lead guitar practice sessions as you solo with these shapes over chords, chord progressions, and full songs.

 

diminished guitar arpeggios 1

 

 

Once you have these triads under your belt, put on a backing track that moves between major and minor chords.

Then, solo over those two chords using the major and minor triads that you’ve learned up to this point in your studies.

Learning how to mix triads together in your solos, or rhythm guitar playing, is tough.

By working on this skill early and often, you’ll be able to juggle major and minor shapes in your guitar playing in no time.

 

 

Minor Triads – Application

 

To help you take these shapes from the technical to the practical side of your practice routine, here are two examples of how to apply minor triads to both a rhythm and soloing situation.

The first example shows how you can apply a minor triad to the Imaj7 chord in a C minor ii-V-I chord progression.

 

Click to hear minor triads 1

 

minor triads 5

 

The next example uses the same chords, and same Em triad over Cmaj7, but this time in a soloing setting.

 

Click to hear minor triads 2

 

minor triads 6

 

Once you have these samples down, try putting on a ii-V-I backing track and comping and soloing over these changes using the minor triad over the Imaj7 chord in a similar fashion.

 

 

Diminished Guitar Triads

 

Though not a popular chord in Rock or Pop, the diminished triad is often used in a Jazz setting from the root of a Dim7 chord as well as from the 3rd of a Dominant 7th chord.

In this lesson you’ll learn how to build diminished triads, how to play them as chords and single-notes in one and two-octave shapes, as well as study examples of how to apply them to practical comping and soloing situations.

 

 

What Are Diminished Triads

 

Diminished triads are three-note shapes that you can play both as chords, plucked or strummed, or as single-notes, plucked or picked.

The interval pattern for diminished triads is:

 

R-b3-b5

 

Or in the key of C the notes would be:

 

C-Eb-Gb

 

Because these diminished triads contain the Root, m3 and D5 intervals, they can be used to solo and comp over diminished family chords, such as dim7 and dimMaj7 chords.

As well, if you want to take them one step further in your playing, you can use diminished triads to solo and comp over 7 chords if you play them from the 3 of any 7th chord.

This means that if you have a G7 chord, you can solo or comp over that chord with an Bdim triad, sounding out the 3-5-b7 intervals of that chord.

Approaching 7th chords with a diminished triad, and producing a rootless outline of the chord, is a great way to bring a Jazzy sound to your triad comping and soloing phrases.

 

 

Diminished Triads – One Octave Shapes

 

Now that you know how to build diminished triads, and how to apply them to both dim7 and 7th chords, you can begin learning these shapes on the guitar.

When learning one-octave diminished triads, you can work on them as harmonic shapes, where you play all 3 notes at once like a chord, as well as melodic shapes, where you pluck each note in a row like an arpeggio.

To begin, here are four fingerings for root position diminished triads that you can explore from both a harmonic (comping) and melodic (soloing) perspective in your studies.

 

diminished guitar arpeggios 1

 

 

You can now move on to learning four fingerings for 1st inversion diminished triads on the guitar.

 

diminished guitar triads 3

 

 

 

Here are four fingerings for 2nd inversion diminished triads on the fretboard.

 

diminished guitar triads 3

 

 

 

When you have any or all of these shapes under your fingers, put on a 7th chord backing track and comp and solo over that chord with a diminished triad from the 3rd.

After you can do that over one chord with confidence, put on a I IV V Blues backing track and play over those changes with these diminished triads from the 3rd of any 7th chord.

 

 

Diminished Triads – Two Octave Shapes

 

With the one-octave diminished triads you were able to use them in both a harmonic (comping) and melodic (soloing) context.

To continue your study of diminished triads, here are four two-octave shapes that you can use in your soloing and single-note studies on the guitar.

 

diminished guitar triads 4

 

 

Once you have these triads under your belt, put on a backing track and applying to the root of a dim7 chord or the 3rd of a 7th chord in your improvisations.

Again, when that’s comfortable, challenge yourself further by soloing over a Blues chord progression with these two-octave guitar triads.

 

 

Diminished Triads – Application

 

To help you take these shapes from the technical to the practical side of your practice routine, here are two examples of how to apply diminished triads to both a comping and soloing situation.

The first example shows how you can apply a diminished triad to the V7 chord in a C major ii-V-I chord progression.

 

Click to hear diminished triads 1

 

diminished triads 5

 

The next example uses the same chords, and same Bdim triad over G7, but this time in a soloing setting.

 

Click to hear diminished triads 2

 

diminished triads 6

 

Once you have these samples down, try putting on a ii-V-I backing track and comping and soloing over these changes using the diminished triad over the V7 chord in a similar fashion.

 

 

Augmented Guitar Triads

 

Though not a popular chord in popular music genres, the augmented triad is often used in a Jazz or fusion setting from the root of an 7#5 chord as well as from the 3rd of a m7th chord.

Though you might not use them that often, having a few augmented guitar triads under your fingers will make sure you’re ready for them when they come up in a musical situation.

In this section of the lesson, you’ll dig into how to build augmented triads, how to play them on the fretboard, and study rhythm and lead guitar examples that use this less common, though very cool, triad.

 

 

What Are Augmented Triads

 

Augmented triads are three-note shapes that you can play both as chords, plucked or strummed, or as single-notes, plucked or picked.

The interval pattern for augmented triads is:

 

R-3-#5

 

Or in the key of C the notes would be:

 

C-E-G#

 

Because these augmented triads contain the Root, M3 and A5 intervals, they can be used to solo and comp over augmented family chords, such as 7#5 and maj7#5.

As well, if you want to take them one step further in your playing, you can use augmented triads to solo and comp over m7 chords if you play them from the b3 of any m7th chord.

This means that if you have a Dm7 chord, you can solo or comp over that chord with an Faug triad, sounding out the b3-5-7 intervals of that chord.

Approaching m7th chords with a augmented triad, and producing a rootless outline of the chord, is a cool way to bring a Jazz Fusion sound to your rhythm and lead guitar lines.

 

 

Augmented Triads – One Octave Shapes

 

Now that you know how to build augmented triads, and how to apply them to both Augmented and m7th chords, you can start learning these shapes on the guitar.

When learning one-octave augmented triads, you can work on them as harmonic shapes, where you play all 3 notes at once like a chord, as well as melodic shapes, where you pluck each note in a row like an arpeggio.

To begin, here are four fingerings for root position augmented triads that you can explore from both a harmonic (comping) and melodic (soloing) perspective in your studies.

Notice that each inversion for the augmented triad has the same shape, the root note has just moved to a different string.

This is because the augmented triad is built by stacking major 3rd intervals, which divide the octave into three equal parts.

When doing so, the shapes for each augmented triad produce the same fingering on the fretboard.

This can make it easy to learn these inversions, you just need to be aware of where the root is and you’re all set.

 

 

augmented guitar triads 1

 

 

You can now move on to learning four fingerings for 1st inversion augmented triads on the guitar.

 

 

augmented guitar triads 2

 

Here are four fingerings for 2nd inversion augmented triads on the fretboard.

 

augmented guitar triads 3

 

 

When you have any/all of these shapes under your fingers, put on a m7 backing track and comp and solo over that chord with an augmented triad from the 3rd.

This would mean playing Daug over a Bm7 chord for example.

Doing so will allow your ears to get used to the tension that augmented triads create when used over m7 chords.

Tension is not a bad thing in music, it can be used effectively to create interest and energy in your playing.

But, if your ears aren’t used to that tension, and you bust out an augmented triad in a jam, you’re gonna have a bad time.

So, prepare your ears for that tension by working with backing tracks in your practice routine before busting this triad out on the bandstand.

 

 

Augmented Triads – Two Octave Shapes

 

With the one-octave augmented triads you were able to use them in both a harmonic (comping) and melodic (soloing) context.

To continue your study of augmented triads, here are four two-octave shapes that you can use in your soloing and single-note studies on the guitar.

 

augmented guitar triads 4

 

 

Once you’ve worked these shapes with a metronome, don’t forget to work them over a backing track to get used to playing augmented triads in both a rhythm and lead musical situation.

 

 

Augmented Triads – Application

 

To help you take these shapes from the technical to the practical side of your practice routine, here are two examples of how to apply augmented triads to both a comping and soloing situation.

The first example shows how you can apply an augmented triad to the iim7 chord in a C major ii-V-I chord progression.

 

Click to hear augmented triads 1

 

augmented triads 5

 

The next example uses the same chords, and same Faug triad over Dm7, but this time in a soloing setting.

 

Click to hear augmented triads 2

 

augmented triads 6

 

Once you have these samples down, try putting on a ii-V-I backing track and comping and soloing over these changes using the augmented triad over the m7 chord in a similar fashion.

 

Triads are small musical devices, only three notes big, but they can produce huge results when applied to your rhythm and lead guitar playing.

Spending time to shore up your triads, beyond playing open-position and barre chords, will open up your fretboard, increase your chord vocabulary, and build your soloing chops at the same time.

 

Do you have a question about the these guitar triads? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.



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1 Comments

  1. Ted, August 16, 2015:

    Hi Matt.

    Thank you kindly for the stage by stage exercises.
    This approach will help me to make steady progress without any fuss.
    I would recommend it everyone who just start taking interest in Jazz.
    Regards.
    Ted

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