Using Triads for Melodies, Arpeggios and Rhythm Guitar – Part 3


This will be the third and final part of our series about triads. I'd like to end this journey with some additional voicings you may not be playing every time you pick up your guitar. So pick up your guitar and start experimenting!

1. Open Voicing

Triads formed by notes belonging to the same octave are called closed voice. As we discussed in the previous tutorials, these kind of shapes are the most common and used ones, so it's absolutely fundamental to learn them well.

That being said, once you're very comfortable with them, you may start spreading the intervals out—you can place the three notes of the triads in different octaves. Whenever you have a triads formed by three notes which are in different octaves, you call it an open voice.

Open-Close Voice

This may be considered a more jazzy approach to guitar, but if you start thinking about notes and intervals instead of shapes on a piece of paper, you won't need any new diagrams to learn "cool sounding chords". Here are some shapes I came up with, but my suggestion is to try to challenge yourself to find every possible spot where you can play the notes of each triad.




The advantage of applying yourself to this process is that you start to sound less predictable. Also, if you start expanding your chord vocabulary along the neck, you'll start messing around with seventh chord instead of regular triads, but still play just three notes at the time. The variety of sound you can get is endless, and I'm sure you can find a perfect spot for one of them, maybe in your song or in someone else's song.

Here is some 12-bar blues I recorded. Since I want it to sound like authentic blues, I played an open voice version of a dominant seventh chord, just by playing the root, the third and the minor seven. I've also included the chart with the voicing I used, and a similar rhythm to the one I played.

Almost every time I switched from one chord to another I moved to the note I have to reach chromatically. You may want to experiment with that too. Also, you have notes in the higher register of you chord that you might want to play around with while comping.

12-bar blues (download PDF chart)

2. One-Five-Three Voicing

Let's continue with the concept of spreading out triad intervals. For instance, we can start with the following progression:

Bmin Progression

You should be able to play this progression using different triad devices. Try playing it up and down the neck, staying in one position, and using different voicing / set of string. All these things you learned are definitely useful, but I want to give you a new insight about how you may arpeggiate those chords, and it's up to you to find the right context to do it.

Instead of playing closed voice triads, experiment what I call a one-five-three voicing. Visualize it like a power chord, but with the third an octave above. Below isa chart with the shapes with the root on the 6th, on the 5th and on the 4th string for both major triads and minor. It's a very cool device because of the open sound it has, and also, it allows you to play with some distortion without getting too muddy.




Below you'll find the charts for the progression I wrote earlier, and an audio sample to give you a hint of what kind of sound you can get with these voicing. Don't get too scared for the odd meter I put in the chart. If you have already dealt with odd meters, you'll be able to count the bar of five. If you haven't, then try to understand and learn the flow of the riff, without caring too much about the odd meter bar.

Bmin ProgressionChart

B minor progression

3. Slash Chord

This section is going to be a bit outside the scope I had in mind for this tutorial. Still, it's definitely related to triads, and I hope you find it interesting.

A slash chord is simply a non-root position chord. We discussed them previously when we talked about inversion. I'd like to spend some time on a particular kind of slash chord: where the triads is played over a bass note that doesn't belong to it. Let's pretend you're playing a Gmaj triad and you put a C note in the bass. C doesn't belong to Gmaj so the chord that it comes out creates a really interesting harmony.

This kind of slash chord gives you the typical "fusion sound", since it implies an uncommon harmony most of time, still keeping the well-known sound of triads on top. Here are charts for the most common slash chords you may encounter.

V / I


II / I


bVII / I




Slash chords often give a cool, unresolved sound, an interesting harmony transition. I'd like to get into the details and show you how to analyze those chords.

Let's consider for instance G/A. The proper way to process and analyze this chord is to relate every interval to the bass note. So instead of thinking it like some kind of G chord, when analyzing, I suggest you to think about it like some sort of A chord. So, if you consider A as the root, then you just have to refer every note of a G triad (which are G, B, D) to A. As you might have already understand G is the minor seventh, B is the second (or the ninth) and D is a perfect fourth. You can call this chord an A9sus4.

If you encounter this chord in a progression, which scale do you play over it? The answer is simple: Whatever scale that has those notes in it. A scale with a root, a minor seventh, a two, and a perfect four. This chord by itself can either be major or minor, so probably you would need other chords to explain and contextualize his harmonic function better. For now, you might want to try to play A mixolydian over it, since it has all the intervals we listed.

4. Soloing

Finally, we get to the solo section. The concept of soloing with triads may be something new to you. In any case, I assure you it's going to improve your soloing approach big time.

Why? Well, the majority of the guitar players look for a key center whether they're playing over song or a progression. They solo using that scale, no matter which note is played over which chord, since they're all correct. Soloing using a key center is not wrong. It just means you're grouping diatonic chords together and then just playing the scale you know.

I'd like to take you a step up. It will require a deeper visualization of the notes all over the neck. Whether you already have it or not, it doesn't really matter. Working your way using this tut as a guideline is probably the best option you can choose.

Let's start simple. We can take a Dm vamp, and start thinking about how to improvise with triads. As I said, you can apply whatever triad, diatonic to the key.

Now, I'd like to give you more awareness of which triad corresponds to which sound. If you're playing a Dm vamp, let's consider a Dm13 arpeggio, because it's the extended arpeggio that relates to a Dm chord. It has the following notes:

Dm13 Arpeggio

If you look at three notes at the time, you'll surely notice that those are triads. If you look at the number below the notes of the arpeggio, you will see that those are the intervals that relate to D as tonic, center, home of the progression. So if you play a Cmaj triad over the Dm vamp, you will imply the 7th, the 2nd (or 9th) and 4th (or 11th) of the chord. Why you should be aware of that? Keep reading.

While that Dm chord is being played, say instead of sounding minor (Aeolian) you want to add some Dorian mode flavor. A Dorian scale is simply a minor scale with a Major 6 instead of the b6. Playing triads derived from Dm13 arpeggio will make you sound Dorian since the 13th is just a 6th one octave above.

So now, what's really going to help you is not just learning the name of the triads to play over a Dm to sound Dorian—you need to learn them in term of intervals. Basically over a minor chord you can play a major triad off the minor third, the minor seventh and the fourth  or, a minor triad off the root, the fifth or the second.

Here's an audio example I recorded with a couple of Dorian licks. Try to write your own. Remember, in this example there's no harmony that implies the use of the Dorian scale. Over a minor seventh chord I can play whatever scale that has a root, a minor third, a fifth and a minor seven. I'm superimposing triads from the Dorian scale because I want to sound Dorian.

Dorian licks

Dorian Lick - Sixteenth

Dorian Lick - Triplets

Let's move to the major universe—take a Cmaj7 chord. The extended arpeggio you should considerer for this chord is a Cmaj13#11. The reason you have a #4 (that becomes a #11 an octave up) instead of a perfect fourth lies in the fact that in a major scale the third and fourth are just half step apart. This creates a clash between the two notes that make sound the chord really dissonant.

So 90% of the time you have a major seventh chord, you will have a #11 instead of a regular one. Once again you should write down the notes that form the arpeggio and group them in triads. This is what you should get:

Cmaj13#11 Arpeggio

Try to remember everything in term of intervals. Whenever you play over a major seventh chord, you can use major triads built from the root, the fifth and the second, or minor triads from the third, the seventh and the sixth. You could also use the diminished triads from the #11.

Once you understand that, become aware of what you are superimposing. Playing the triads I listed above implies a Lydian harmony, because the Lydian scale is just a major scale with a #4.

Here are another two major licks over a Cmaj7#11 vamp:

Lydian licks

Lydian Lick

Lydian Chromatic

Be aware of this superimposition. It will make you sound less predictable, and definitely more interesting. At the same time you need to be conscious that you can impose a group of triads over a chord—depending on the key, the progression, and also the style. Triads are a super useful tool to use, but a solo isn't made out of just triads. Try to blend those elements you learned with your scale movement, and of course, your personal style.


We've got to the end of our triad journey! I hope you've learned a lot—or at least I've given you some new ideas for a solo or your next song.

We covered:

  • Open voicings, and different ways to look at the fretboard, spreading out intervals in two octaves.
  • The 1-5-3 voicing, which will allows you to get a sound similar to the piano, create some cool rock riffs, and start developing a taste for triads soloing.
  • Slash chords—which might seem outside our topic, but are used more often than you might expect—how to play them, and how to analyze them in a progression.
  • Superimposing triads over a one-chord vamp, and which kind of harmony you will imply with the use of every triad.

I hope you will experiment further with these tools, and I can't wait to hear your sweet triads licks.

Related Posts