How To Use Triad Chords - Comping Lesson

How to use triads lessonTriads are one of the first harmonic tools to study. They are very useful for comping and chordal enrichment. Learning close and open triad voicings increase your harmonic knowledge and at the same time help you discover your fretboard. In this lesson you will see the main triad chord shapes including root positions and inversions. You will also find some ideas on how to use triads over a II V I sequence, in order to create interesting melodic movement in your comping.

What Are Triad Chords?

Here is a brief introduction. A harmonic triad is a combination of three notes (root, third and fifth) stacked vertically in thirds. After having read all that follows, you should be able to spell the four qualities of triads and play them in root positions and inversions whatever the key. There are four main types of triads, you'll find them below.

What's the Difference Between a Triad and a Dyad?

A dyad is made of two notes whereas a triad is built with three notes.

Major Triads

Major triads are built by stacking three notes in thirds. You can also think of them as a one major third and one minor third stacked on each other. Interval pattern is R - 3 - 5. C major triad is represented below.

Major triad

Minor Triads

Minor triads are made up of two thirds, one major third and one minor third. Interval pattern is R - b3 - 5. You can see a D minor triad below.

 

Minor triad

Diminished Triads

Diminished triads are made up with a root (1), a minor third (b3) and a diminished fifth (b5). As you can see with D diminished below, they are built by stacking two minor thirds

Diminished triad

Augmented Triads

Augmented triads are built with two major thirds stacked. The interval pattern is 1 - 3 - #5. As its name implies it contains an augmented fifth. C augmented is shown below.

Augmented triad

Triads Within the Major Scale

One of the fundamental theoretical elements is to know how to harmonize the major scale in thirds in order to obtain seven triads built on each degree. By stacking thirds on each interval of a major scale, you get three major triads (degrees I, IV and V), three minor triads (degrees II, III and VI) and a diminished triad on the VII degree.

Degrees I II III IV V VI VII
C major scale C D E F G A B
Triads C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

 

You can notice that there is no augmented triad in the harmonization of the major scale. So, they will not be used in the exercises below. Please note that augmented triads can be found on the harmonized degree III of the harmonic minor scale, on the sixth degree of the harmonic major scale and on the third degree of the melodic minor scale.

 

Triad Chord Voicings with Neck Diagrams

Close Voicings and Inversions

Before learning how to use triads over a II V I sequence, here are some triad guitar shapes that will serve as the basis for the exercises below (except augmented forms). All the triads below are closed voiced, meaning that all the notes are placed as close together as possible, they are all included in one octave. Each triad produces two inversions with third or fifth in the bass. Each neck diagram provides three possibilities to play a triad.

Major triad and inversions

Major Triad Close Voicings

Major triad Root voicing R 3 5
1st inversion (third in the bass) 3 5 R
2nd inversion (fifth in the bass) 5 R 3

 

Minor Triad Close Voicings

Major triad Root voicing R b3 5
1st inversion (minor third in the bass) b3 5 R
2nd inversion (fifth in the bass) 5 R b3

 

Diminished Triad Close Voicings

Major triad Root voicing R b3 b5
1st inversion (minor third in the bass) b3 b5 R
2nd inversion (diminished fifth in the bass) b5 R b3

Augmented Triad Close Voicings

Major triad Root voicing R 3 #5
1st inversion (third in the bass) 3 #5 R
2nd inversion (augmented fifth in the bass) #5 R 3

Open Voicings and Inversions

What are open triads? It means that the notes are spread over more than one octave. Open triads are also called "spread triads". They can be very useful for composition or arrangement. They are also very helpful to explore the guitar neck more in-depth. Each triad generates three open shapes including a root voicing and two inverted voicings.

Open voiced triads

 

 

 

 

Concerning the diagrams below, root voicings are represented in blue, 1st inversions are in red and 2nd inversions are in green. Please note that some of the shapes are a little bit stretchy, don't hesitate to experiment your own positions.

 Major Triad Open Voicings

Root voicing (root in the bass)  R 5 3
1st inversion (third in the bass) 3 R 5
2nd inversion (fifth in the bass) 5 3 R

 

 Minor Triad Open Voicings

Root voicing (root in the bass)  R 5 b3
1st inversion (minor third in the bass) b3 R 5
2nd inversion (fifth in the bass) 5 b3 R

 Diminished Triad Open Voicings

Root voicing (root in the bass)  R b5 b3
1st inversion (minor third in the bass) b3 R b5
2nd inversion (dim. 5th in the bass) b5 b3 R

 Augmented Triad Open Voicings

Root voicing (root in the bass)  R #5 3
1st inversion (third in the bass) 3 R #5
2nd inversion (augmented fifth in the bass) #5 3 R

Triads in Seventh Chords

And now let's get to the essential point of this lesson : How to extract triads from seventh chords in order to use them over a common progression used in jazz, the II V I sequence. The first reflex would be to take the first three notes of each tetrad chords which, are obviously triads. Remember that tetrad chords are actually triads with an additional note that can be a minor seventh (b7) or a major seventh (7). But, playing these triads don't have much interest.

In order to get more intersting colors, we'll take three tetrad chords better known as seventh chords (minor 7, major 7 and dominant 7) representing the degrees II, V and I of the sequence we need and extract the triads starting on the third of each 7th chord. This is what we call a "diatonic substitution".

When we take the three highest notes of a minor seventh chord we obtain a major triad.

Minor seventh chord

When taking the three highest notes of a dominant seventh chord we get a diminished triad.

Dominant 7 chord

When taking the three highest notes of a major seventh chord we get a minor triad.

Major seventh chord

Comping with triads

How to Comp Over a II V I Sequence Using Triads

Now it's time to apply this concept to a II V I sequence in Cmajor using some of the triad positions previously seen at the beginning of this lesson. The first five exercises implies triads in their close forms. The five other triad workouts uses open voicings. 

Exercise 1 

This first II V I progression uses three triads in close positions involving three root voicings (not inverted). So, we get Fmaj over Dm7, Bdim over G7 and Emin over Cmaj7.

Exercise 2

In this example you see three triad voicings in their first inversion. The first major triad over Dm7 can be renamed Fmaj7/A. The second triad can be written Bdim/D and the third triad over CMaj7 can be named Em/G.

Exercise 3

This example takes three inverted triads. One important things when comping with triads, is to avoid unnecessary hand displacement on the guitar neck. You see below that the positions are very close to each other.

Exercise 4

This example requires mixing two inverted voicings over Dm7 and Cmaj7 and a non-inverted one over G7. Once again the triad positions are close to each other.

Exercise 5

Two inversions and one root voicing are used in it.

Exercise 6

This exercise is to play open triads using two root voicings over G7 and Cmaj7 and an inverted one over Dm7. You see that Fmaj and Bdim share one note (F) as Bdim and Emin (B).

Exercise 7

This one requires the use of two inverted open triads.

Exercise 8

Three root voicings are used here.

Triads, although they contain only three notes, must not be ignored because they can be very interesting when intelligently used. As you can imagine there are a lot of combinations. Don't hesitate to experiment your own positions and try to mix open and close voicings in order to comp over your favorite jazz progressions.

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Comments

  • rick
    • 1. rick On 12/03/2018
    thanks for the instruction
    • Stef Ramin
      Thanks for the comment ;)
  • Ray Sullivan
    • 2. Ray Sullivan On 10/18/2018
    Thank you