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Guitar Triads – The Definitive Guide

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

C, G, Dm, Am, are all triads that guitarists learn in the first few days of picking up the instrument.

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

By doing so, you cut off a huge amount of potential in your rhythm and lead guitar performances.

By expanding beyond open chords, you open up the fretboard, expand your comping knowledge, and increase your lead guitar vocabulary at the same time.

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

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

 

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Guitar Triads (Click to Jump to Each Triad)

 

 

 

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

Take your time with each triad 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 will transform your guitar playing, so have fun with them!

 

 

 

 

How to Practice Guitar Triads

 

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

When memorizing these shapes, there are three ways that you can practice them as both chords and single notes.

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

Here’s an example of how that looks for 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 this example.

When doing so, you’re crossing string sets as you play the inversions vertically on the fretboard.

 

guitar triads 2

 

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

Here’s how that looks starting with a Caug triad, then lowering one note at a time to form C, Cm, and Cdim triads in the same inversion on the 654 strings.

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

 

guitar triads 3

 

You can use these three exercises to internalize any guitar triads that you’re studying in the woodshed.

While working these exercises is important, don’t forget to put use 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 jazz, and everything in between, you find the major triad being used in rhythm and lead guitar situations.

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

In this section, you’ll learn how to build a major triad, play major triads, and use major triads in musical situations.

 

 

What is A Major Triad

 

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

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, they’re used to solo and comp over major family chords, such as major, maj7, and maj9.

If you want to take this shape further, you can use a major triad over m7 chords by playing them from the b3 of any m7 chord.

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

Approaching m7 chords with a major triad, 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 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.

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 learn 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 backing tracks.

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

 

 

Major Triads – Two Octave Shapes

 

With one-octave major triads 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 triads that you can use in your soloing and single-note studies.

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

 

major guitar triads 4

 

Once you have these triads under your belt, 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 to the practical side of your practicing, here are two examples of how to apply major triads to 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

 

triads guitar 1

 

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

 

triads guitar 2

 

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

 

 

 

 

Minor Guitar Triads

 

Minor triads are found in every genre of modern music.

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

By learning minor and major guitar triads, you can play countless songs in rock, pop, funk, folk, and other styles of music.

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

 

 

What Are Minor Triads

 

Minor triads are three-note shapes that you play 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, lower the 3rd by a fret, you build a minor triad on the fretboard.

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

If you want to take them a step further, 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 Cmaj7, you solo or comp over that chord with an Em triad, sounding out the 3-5-7 intervals.

Approaching maj7 chords with a minor triad, brings 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 apply them to minor family and maj7 chords, you’ll learn these shapes on the guitar.

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

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

You’ll 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 to explore from both a harmonic (comping) and melodic (soloing) perspective.

 

minor guitar triads 1

 

You’ll now learn 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 of these shapes under your fingers, 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, that knowledge is wasted.

Make sure to practice any triad in this lesson with both a metronome and backing tracks.

 

 

Minor Triads – Two Octave Shapes

 

As was the case with the major triads, you’ll learn minor triad two-octave shapes as single notes.

Make sure to work them with a metronome, and solo with these shapes over chords, chord progressions, and full songs.

 

minor guitar triads 4

 

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

Solo over those two chords using the major and minor triads that you’ve learned in your studies.

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

By working on this skill early, you’ll be juggling major and minor shapes in your playing in no time.

 

 

Minor Triads – Application

 

To help you take these shapes to the practical side of your practicing, here are two examples of minor triads in both a rhythm and soloing situation.

The first example applies a minor triad to the Imaj7 chord in a C minor ii-V-I chord progression.

 

Click to hear minor triads 1

 

triads guitar 3

 

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

 

triads guitar 4

 

Once you have these down, put on a ii-V-I backing track and comp and solo over 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 and the 3rd of a Dominant 7th chord.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to build diminished triads, play them as chords and single-notes, and apply them to comping and soloing situations.

 

 

What Are Diminished Triads

 

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

The interval pattern for diminished triads is:

 

R-b3-b5

 

Or in the key of C the notes would be:

 

C-Eb-Gb

 

Because diminished triads contain the Root, m3 and D5, they’re used to solo and comp over diminished family chords, such as dim7 and dimMaj7 chords.

You can also use diminished triads over 7th chords, if you play them from the 3 of any 7th chord.

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

Approaching 7th chords with a diminished triad, brings 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 apply them to dim7 and 7th chords, you can learn these shapes on the guitar.

When learning one-octave diminished triads, work on them as harmonic shapes, as well as melodic shapes.

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

 

diminished guitar arpeggios 1

 

You can now learn four fingerings for 1st inversion diminished triads on the guitar.

 

diminished guitar triads 2

 

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

 

diminished guitar triads 3

 

When you have any of these shapes down, 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 with confidence, put on a I IV V blues backing track and play with diminished triads from the 3rd of any 7th chord.

 

 

Diminished Triads – Two Octave Shapes

 

With one-octave diminished triads, you were able to use them in 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.

 

diminished guitar triads 4

 

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

When that’s comfortable, challenge yourself by soloing over a blues chord progression with these two-octave guitar triads.

 

 

Diminished Triads – Application

 

Here are two examples of how to apply diminished triads to both a comping and soloing situation.

The first example applies a diminished triad to the V7 chord in a C major ii-V-I chord progression.

 

Click to hear diminished triads 1

 

triads guitar 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

 

triads guitar 6

 

Once you have these samples down, put on a ii-V-I backing track and play over these changes using the diminished triad in a similar fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

Augmented Guitar Triads

 

Though not a popular chord, the augmented triad is used in jazz or fusion rom the root of an 7#5 chord or from the 3rd of a m7th chord.

Though you won’t use them that often, having a few augmented triads under your fingers makes sure you’re ready when they come up in a musical situation.

In this section, you’ll learn how to build augmented triads, play them on the fretboard, and study rhythm and lead examples that use this very cool triad.

 

 

What Are Augmented Triads

 

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

The interval pattern for augmented triads is:

 

R-3-#5

 

Or in the key of C the notes would be:

 

C-E-G#

 

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

As well, 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 Dm7, you solo or comp with an Faug triad, sounding out the b3-5-7 intervals.

Approaching m7th chords with an augmented triad, is a cool way to bring a jazz fusion sound to your rhythm and lead lines.

 

 

Augmented Triads – One Octave Shapes

 

Now you can learn augmented triad shapes on the guitar.

When learning one-octave augmented triads, work on them as harmonic shapes, as well as melodic shapes.

Here are four fingerings for root position augmented triads to explore 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 augmented triads are built by stacking major 3rds, dividing the octave into three equal parts.

Because of this, the shapes for each augmented triad produce the same fingering on the fretboard.

This makes 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 learn 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 of these shapes down, put on a m7 backing track and comp and solo with an augmented triad from the 3rd.

This means playing Daug over a Bm7 chord, for example.

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

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

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

So, prepare your ears by working with backing tracks before using 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 single-note studies.

 

augmented guitar triads 4

 

Don’t forget to work these triads over a backing track to get used to playing augmented triads in both a rhythm and lead situation.

 

 

Augmented Triads – Application

 

Here are two examples of how to apply augmented triads to both a comping and soloing situation.

The first example applies an augmented triad to the iim7 chord in a C major ii-V-I chord progression.

 

Click to hear augmented triads 1

 

triads guitar 7

 

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

 

triads guitar 8

 

Once you have these lines down, put on a ii-V-I backing track and play over these changes using the augmented triad in a similar fashion.

 

Triads are small musical devices, but they produce huge results in your playing.

Exploring triads, beyond playing open-position and barre chords, opens up the fretboard, increases your chord vocabulary, and builds your soloing chops.



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