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Using Triads for Melodies, Arpeggios and Rhythm Guitar - Part 1

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Read Time: 6 min
This post is part of a series called Using Triads for Melodies, Arpeggios and Rhythm Guitar.
Using Triads for Melodies, Arpeggios and Rhythm Guitar – Part 2

The topic of this tutorial is triads. You might think of them as a “not-so-useful”, very basic concept. Today I'll show you how triads can be thought as a skeleton not just for chords, but also for arpeggio and single notes melodies.

1. Theory

As the name may suggests a triad is basically a three note structure.  It represents the bones of a chord. Most of the time you'll be asked (as a guitar player) to play just few notes of a chord, so you should know which notes are more important than others. Playing the notes of the triad will often be a good choice.

The note that gives a triad its name is called the root. A complete triad will also contain a note a third above, and a note a fifth above. Depending on the kind of third and fifth, a triad will have different names. There are four types of triads: major, minor, augmented and diminished.

A major triad is going to have notes out of the major scale, basically a major third and a perfect fifth. A minor triad will have a minor third and a perfect fifth. As you can notice the third is the only note that changes and its quality will draw the line between a major sound and a minor sound.

An augmented triad will have a major third and an augmented fifth, whereas a diminished triad will be formed by a minor third and a diminished fifth.


Speaking of triads I’d like to talk briefly about inversion.  In the following images you can see an F Major triad (F, A, C), where F is the lowest note. Rearranging the order of the notes (voicing) of the chord will give us different inversion. 

Triads have two possible inversions:

  • First inversion: the third of the chord is the lowest note.
  • Second inversion: the fifth of the chord is the lowest note.

2. Why Are Triads So Important?

I’d like to spend a few lines on the "why" of using triads.  First of all, you need to remember that often less is more. So, whether you’re composing a new rhythm progression or just playing someone else song, instead of using a lot of barre chords you could just play triads.

For example, say you’re playing in a jazz trio. By using triads you won’t get too low, where you end up occupying the bass player's register, or too high, in the same area as the piano player or vocalist. Another example is when you’re comping with another guitar player, and there's no bass player. You may decide to use triads on the lower register. So, as you can see, triads are a useful solution in multiple situations.

On the other hand, triads contains the most basic notes out of a chord. So, if you want to comp a jazz piece, but you don’t remember the altered chords very well, you can still play the triads and sound good. Of course, it’s not the ideal situation, but your audience will appreciate you playing something that still has the character of the song, instead of playing wrong notes or leaving complete silence.

3. Triad Shapes 

In this section, I'll throw a thousand different shapes of major and minor triads at you. (Well, actually 24.) It's very important to understand that while triads can be an easy concept to comprehend, it's not so easy to digest.

I subdivided the charts into sections, not by quality (major or minor), but by sets of strings. You will have major and minor triads for each set of strings—123, 234, 345, 456, where the numbers relate to the string numbers involved in the triad.

Major Triads - 123 String Set


Minor Triads - 123 String Set


Major Triads - 234 String Set


Minor Triads - 234 String Set


Major Triads - 345 String Set


Minor Triads - 345 String Set


Major Triads - 456 String Set


Minor Triads - 456 String Set


These shapes are not just important when you're playing rhythm. In fact, if you play them note by note you will get an arpeggio.

Once you get comfortable with the shapes all over the neck, you can start to create cool little moves that might help you while soloing. I'll explain what I mean in the next chapter of this series.

4. How to Practice Triads

We've just covered 24 different shapes of triads. That's a lot of work, and you are not going to remember them all in just a couple of hours. So, how should you practice?

First of all, I recommend you break it by string sets. Start off with the major triads on the 123 set of strings.

Now, you need to visualize which of the three notes is the root, the third and fifth. It's important for a musician to know the third of a triad, since it's the note that is going to tell you if you're playing a major triad or a minor one.

Once you've memorized the major shapes on the 123 string set, move the third down a half step and you will have the minor triad shapes. That's the whole game of triads: the better you visualize the notes inside of it, the easier is going to be to play around with them.

Another good practice routine you can do is to play around with common chord moves using triads. Moving from the I chord to the IV chord in the harmonized scale is really common—just think about blues. Moving from the I chord to the V chord is also common.

What does that mean? Let's keep working in the key of F major. You may want to stay in one position while playing a I to IV move. F is the I chord, Bb is the IV chord, and C is the V chord. Try to find every possible connection between F and Bb, and between F and C. Play around with those shapes. Of course, you can play inversions. Again, I recommend you to stay on the same set of string while learning them.

Here are two audio examples. In the first I play F to Bb using every shape. I play all the combinations on one string set, then move to the next.

Example 2

In the second example, I do the same thing, but this time F to C. I used a different rhythm for each string set, starting with an upbeat funky kind of rhythm, then even palm-muted eighth notes, eighth notes with an accent, and a basic rock rhythm.

Example 2

5. Conclusion

I hope this lesson has been helpful enough to start warming up to triads. I discussed the basic of this concept and I hope you understood how many solution you can have with just a bit of work and shape memorization.

Next time, I'll go into detail about less common sounds you can obtain with triads, and how to use them while soloing. Stay tuned!

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