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Using Triads for Melodies, Arpeggios and Rhythm Guitar – Part 2

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Read Time: 8 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 1
Using Triads for Melodies, Arpeggios and Rhythm Guitar – Part 3

Welcome to the second part of our triads madness series. If you enjoyed Part 1, you'll be impressed with the tools you acquire from this tutorial.

Last time we barely scratched the surface of the variety of sound you can get with triads. This time we will get into some heavier stuff. Again, even when the concepts basic, stay focused and try to understand what you're doing. You'll be rewarded.

1 - Harmonized Scale

Harmonized scale? Well, yes. For those who might be already familiar with what the harmonized scale is and how to play it, pardon me if I waste one chapter of this tutorial to explain how it works. If you don't know what this is, great! Let's begin.

Let's take a C major scale. It has nothing but major and perfect intervals so, in order, the notes are: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and then C again. Let's stack notes a third apart on the top of each other until we get a a triad. So we'll have:


Those chords, specifically triads, are all in the key of C (diatonic), and together they form the harmonized scale. There are different way you can play the harmonized scale both horizontally or vertically on the neck. I suggest you to practice both ways in different key to really open up the neck and, at the same, spread your knowledge no matter what's the fretboard zone you're playing in.

Here are three ways to play the harmonized scale along the neck, and one way of staying in the same position:





As you can see there's one oddball: the diminished triad. Last time I just gave you a brief explanation of how this type of triad is built, but I didn't give you a chart. We'll discuss how to derive those shapes in the next section.

2 - Different Colors

In the last tutorial I explained four different types of triad: major, minor, augmented and diminished, but I only gave you the charts for major and minor (24 shapes). The reason is obvious: I thought memorizing 48 shapes was just too much for one lesson and you would ended up thinking triads are just a bunch of nonsense charts. 

Diminished and Augmented Triads

I think that, once you have your major and minor shapes well-stored in your brain, you just need to use your theory knowledge to modify them and get the diminished and augmented shapes.

What I mean by that is really simple: A diminished triad is formed by the root, the b3 and the b5, and a minor triad is root, b3 and perfect 5th. Those sounds have two notes in common so the only thing you have to do is taking a minor triads shapes and move the fifth down an half-step.

Same idea with the augmented sound, but this time you need to start with a major triad shape and raise the fifth up an half-step.

Diminished Triads

Here are charts for every minor triad for every set of string, and the relative diminished next to it:












Augmented Triads

Here are the charts for the augmented triad. Notice that you just need to memorize one shape per set of string, because of the symmetry hidden inside the augmented sound.












Suspended Triads

This idea of stretching and shrinking the intervals inside a triad can be applied not just to the fifth, but to the third as well. In this case it doesn't really matter whether you start from a major or a minor triad since in both cases you're going to substitute the note that defines the quality of the chord (the third) with a different one.

For instance, let's just take a major triad. If we lower the major third a whole step, we will get a triad that has a root, a fifth and a major second. We can call it a sus2 triad because the third is suspended by the second.

We can apply the same logic to create a different kind of suspension. Take a major triad again, and this time, raise the third up an half-step. The triad contains now, a root, a fifth and the perfect fourth. We name it as a sus4 triad.

Suspended Fourth

Here you have the sus4 triad shapes laid out per set of string:












Suspended Second

And here are all the sus2 shapes:












The concept behind these charts is not to make you crazy with tons of different kind of triads. You just need to be really comfortable with all the major and minor shapes, and work your way from there in order to obtain augmented, diminished, sus2 or sus4 sounds.

3 - Cycles

The topic of triads is so simple and so huge at the same time, that everything you play, no matter which instrument, has something to share with triads. I'd like to invite you now to keep experimenting with the idea of breaking up a triad into notes, visualizing every note, and creating a progression. Specifically, you can follow a certain criteria to come up with a progression that is going to help you practice this breakdown process.

Let's work in the key of C, just to make it simpler. We'll change chords by always moving a third above the previous one, staying in one key (C major).

Start with a C major root position on the 123 set of strings, where C is on the G string at the fifth fret, E is on the B string, still fifth fret, and G is on the E string at the third fret.

Now, a third above C is E, and precisely E minor, because the chord built on the third degree of a major scale is minor. Take note of how to move from C to E, staying in position as much as possible. You can play an Em chord just by moving the root of the C major triad down a half step. If you followed me, you should end up playing B on the fourth fret of the G string, E on the fifth fret of the B string and G on the third fret on the E string (as in the following chart).

So we can derive a rule: Moving the root down to the previous note in the key will give us a chord a third above, diatonic to the key. So, now we have E minor second inversion, with the root on the B string. If we move E down to D on the second string we have a G major triad, which is indeed a third above E minor. You can keep playing this game until you come back to C.

Here is the sequence of chords and how to play it:
Cycle of 3rdsCycle of 3rdsCycle of 3rds
I started off cycling in thirds, since you only have to change one note each time to have a new chord. Same idea if you cycle in sixths. It can get a bit trickier once you start doing it in fourths and fifths, since you will have two notes changing and one that remains the same.

Here are all the progressions for those cycles, and where to play them:
Cycle of 6thCycle of 6thCycle of 6th

Cycle of 4thCycle of 4thCycle of 4th

Cycle of 5thCycle of 5thCycle of 5th
Covering this material can take longer that you expect, but I guarantee it will be super rewarding. You're basically covering every possibility of diatonic chord changes on the neck, which will give you the ability to read a chart without a problem, or improvise chord progressions without any concern. It's also very cool to do it as a practice routine, since most of the time you will hear sections of chord progression that are in popular songs.

Why do it? Because most of the time guitar players learn chord without really understanding the connection between them. Music is a language, and we need to understand which word we want to put next in our phrase in order to make sense.

There are some connections that are stronger than others, and every chord we play will have a certain character that is going to affect our audience. A piano player, for example, will be more conscious of how to change chords, because while he moves from one to another he really sees which notes stay the same and which ones don't. We guitar players need to develop the same awareness.

4 - Superimposing

Finally, we got to the playing section. Here I've included a short recording of how to over superimpose triads, as well as a backing track you can practice with.

I played over a basic rock groove in D natural minor. I played around with basically all the triads that are diatonic to the harmonized scale, specifically I used: Dmin, Cmaj, Fmaj, Bbmaj, Amin and Gmin. You don't have to use them all, but the concept is that you can always use the triads that are in the key to create both a turnaround, a lick, or simply some harmonic line.

Keep in mind that every triad you will use will have some particular sound that has to relate to the chord holds in the background (Dm in this example). For example, don't hold a diminished triad for two minutes unless you want to give everyone in the room a panic attack.

The rock lick

The backing track


I hope you enjoyed this tutorial even more than the first. Stay tuned to learn how to use triads for soloing, and some other "ear candy".

This tutorial should have taught you:

  • to help you to start thinking about the notes you're playing, instead of just seeing shapes.
  • to develop the way you visualize triads all over the neck, adding some different flavors to your playing.
  • to develop a practice schedule that will help you explore this topic even more.
  • to have more options when comping using the superimposing concept.
  • to sound authentic just using basic diatonic triads.

How did you go?

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