Chords and Triads

What are the Guitar Triads?

As you navigate your way through the subject of guitar theory and begin to get on to the subject of learning to play guitar chords and how they are formed, you’ll quickly touch upon the concept of triads.

For years I never really got to grips with triads. I sort of understood what they were, but I didn’t take the time to fully master them and learn how to play them in multiple positions on the fretboard. I realise now that I was missing out and that if you want to become a proficient guitarist you need to be able to play triads on guitar in any position and to be able to do this without having to think too hard about it. Your goal should be to know your instrument so well that you can improvise these at will.

So what are triads then?

A triad is a chord that contains three different notes.

“Is that it?” I hear you ask. Well, yes actually – the triad is just about the most basic guitar chord there is (except maybe for the power chord). But for such a simple concept, there are still a lot of guitarists who aren’t able to formulate them without reference to a chord dictionary, one of the many guitar chord books available or other crutch.

It’s important to understand that all standard major chords are triads. And all other chords, no matter how elaborate, can be considered simply as variations or extensions of these basic guitar triads.

Knowing this, it is obvious then that a good knowledge of all of the major triads will provide a firm foundation for learning all the other chords of the guitar. If you want to learn guitar chords, don’t rely too heavily on that nice pull-out guitar triads chart that came free with the latest edition of your favourite guitar magazine. Sure, refer to it and learn from it, but try to work out the triads you’re practising without referring to the chart and you’ll find that the concepts will stick in your head better and you’ll be able to recall the correct finger positions more easily just from memory. It will be difficult and slow at first but it will pay off big time further down the line.

How to Play a Guitar Triad

Now you know that there are just three notes in a triad, it’s time to cover which three notes they need to be.

For a major triad, the first, third and fifth notes of the major scale make up the triad.
Using the key of C as our example, the notes would therefore be C, E and G. Simple! You can work out the notes of any major triad by selecting the first, third and fifth notes of the major scale that has the same starting note as the chord you’re creating.

But I have 6 strings to Play – Isn’t It A Waste Only To Play Three of Them?

Well, yes, it would be a waste if you only ever played three strings, and you’d be missing out on creating a fuller sound that utilizing all 6 strings can give you.

The solution is to play some of the notes more than once, doubling up in this way gives a lot more oomph!

For example, the open E chord contains the notes E, B, E, G#, B, E. You can see from that description that E (the root note) is played three times, B (the fifth) is played twice and G# (the third) is played once. This does make for a good, full sound.

Advanced Triads

Now that you understand the concept of the triad, it’s time to really go to work and learn them inside out. Devise, learn and practice as many different fingerings of these little beauties as you possibly can.

Learning guitar chords in lots of different positions will give you the flexibility to allow for smoother chord changes, variations in tone and will add interest to your music. Doing this will also help you become more familiar with your instrument and where the different notes are on the guitar. This will help to improve your improvisational skill and, believe it or not, your lead playing.

So off you go and practice these basic guitar chords; they really are the building blocks for all other chords and you should learn them well. And don’t stop until you can play any triad in any position with your eyes closed. And then practice some more!

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