Triad pairs guitar lesson

Triad Pairs For Jazz Guitar - Theory, Tabs, Exercises

The triad pair system is a technique used by many jazz improviser to build modern improvised lines. It consists of playing two adjacent triads from a scale. The most used are from the major diatonic system, however it is possible to use triad pairs from other scales as melodic minor, harmonic minor and harmonic major. This guitar lesson with tabs, shapes and theory is focused on triad pairs from the major scale only.

Guitar Triads - Lesson With Shapes & Formulas (major, minor, diminished, augmented, suspended)

What's A Triad?

A triad is a group of three notes. These notes can be played one at a the time (arpeggio) or together (chord). They are built by stacking thirds giving five main types of triads that are : Major, minor, diminished, augmented and suspended.

What's a Triad Pair?

A traid pair is formed with two adjacent triads (a step apart) derived from a scale. This is a way to broke up a chord into two triads. These two triads can be seen as a hexatonic scale (6 notes), they therefore have no common notes. 

Most of the time these two triads have the same quality (minor + minor or major + major). However, it is possible to play different types of triads (major + minor).

Utility of Triad Pairs

Triad pairs are very useful to highlight particular tones of a chord, to bring new colors to your improvised jazz lines. They can be superimposed to any chord, this way they represent the upper-structure of chords.

Triads in The Major Scale

Before tackling triad pairs exercises it is primordial to understand how triads are constructed on each note of the major scale and also to know the quality of each scale degrees. 

There are four main types of triads that are :

  • minor (1 - b3 - 5) 
  • major (1 - 3 - 5 ) 
  • diminished (1 - b3 - b5) 
  • Augmented (1 - 3 - #5) 

Only three types of triads are present in the major scale system, minor , major and diminished. There is no augmented triad in the major diatonic system.

Each triad of the major scale is built by stacking thirds. There can be various combinations : 

  • major 3rd + minor 3rd giving a major triad. Degree I, IV and V of the major scale.
  • minor 3rd + major 3rd giving a minor triad. Degree ii, iii and vi of the major scale.
  • minor 3rd + minor 3rd giving a diminished triad on the vii degree of the major scale.
  • major 3rd + major 3rd giving an augmented triad (not in the major scale)

You can see in the guitar tab below the three types of triads related to each scale degree and you will notice that there are two adjacent minor triads (degrees ii and iii) and two adjacent major triads (degrees IV and V).


Major scale in triads guitar tab

Minor Triad Pairs Against Diatonic Chords

Here we will see what are the tones of each chord of the C major scale highlighted by the two adjacent minor triads of the second and third degree.


Minor triad pairs against chords of the major scale


As you can notice in the guitar tab above, when playing the two adjacent minor triads (degrees ii and iii) of a diatonic scale you highlight certain chord tones:

Minor triad (Dm) of the second degree (example in C major) you get :

  • 9  11  13 of C (I)
  • b3  5 of Dm (iim)
  • b7  b9  11 of Em (iiim)
  • 13  1  3 of F (IV)
  • b7  9 of G (V)
  • 11  b6  1 of Am (vim)
  • bbb7 of Bdim (viidim)

Minor triad (Em) of the third degree :

  • 3  5  7  of  C  (I)
  • 9  11 13  of  Dm (iim)
  • 1  b3  5   of  Em (iiim)
  • 7  9  #11  of  F (IV)
  • 13  1  3   of  G (V)
  • 5  b7  9  of  Am (viim)
  • 11  b13  1  of  Bdim (viidim)

To resume, when playing minor triad pairs related to the 2nd and 3rd degree over:

  • The I chord you highlight the 9 (2) - 3 - 11 (4) - 5 - 13 (6) and 7. Related mode : Ionian
  • The ii chord you get the 1 - 9 (2) - b3 - 5 - 11 (4) - 13 (6). Related mode : Dorian
  • The iii chord you highlight the 1 - b9 - b3 - 11 - 5 - b7. Related mode : Phrygian
  • The IV chord you obtain the 1 - 9 (2) - 3 - 13 (6) - 7 - #11 . Related mode : Lydian
  • The V chord you highlight the 1 - 9 (2) - 3 - 5 - (6) 13 - b7. Related mode : Mixolydian
  • The vi chord you get the 1 - 9 (2) - 11 (4) - 5 - b6 (b13) - b7. Related mode : Aeolian
  • The vii chord you highlight the 1 - b3 - 11 (4) - b5 - b13 (b6) - b7. Related mode : Locrian

Minor Triad Pairs Practice

The exercise below show how to play two adjacent diatonic minor triads all over the six strings of the guitar. You must practice this in all twelve keys.


Minor triad pairs on guitar


This second tab show how to play the minor triad pairs on the 6th string using the root position (1 - b3 - 5) and the two related inversions (b3 - 5 - 1 and 5 - 1 - b3).


Minor triad pairs on guitar 6th string


In the following exercise the minor triad pairs are played with bass notes on the A string.


Minor triad pairs on guitar 5th string


Minor triad pairs with bass on the D string.


Minor triad pairs on guitar 4th string


Minor triad pairs with bass on the third string (G).


Minor triad pairs on guitar 3rd string


Minor Triad Pairs - Jazz Guitar Lines - 2 5 1 Progression

Here are two easy examples using minor triad pairs over a major II V I sequence. The first exercise consists of playing Dmin and Emin triads over the iim7 chord. This way you highlight (in order of appearance) the fifth (A) - minor third (F) -  root (D) - thirteenth (B) - eleventh (G) and ninth (E) of D minor.


Triad pairs guitar exercise 1

This second example show how to use the two previous adjacent minor triads over the V7 chord of the 2 5 1 sequence in order to highlight (in order of appearance) the fifth (D) - ninth (A) - minor seventh (F) - third (B) - root (G) and thirteenth (E) of G.


Triad pairs guitar exercise 2

Major Triad Pairs Against Diatonic Chords

Now here are the notes brought out by the two adjacent major triads related to the fourth (IV) and fifth (V) degree of the C major scale.


Major triad pairs against diatonic chords


The major triad (F) of the fourth degree brings the following chord tones :

  • 11  13  1  of  C (I)
  • b3  5   b7  of  Dm (iim)
  • b9  11  b6 of  Em (iiim)
  • 1   3   5  of  F (IV)
  • b7   9  11  of  G (V)
  • b6  1  b3  of  Am (vim) 
  • b5  b7  b9  of  Bdim (viidim)

The major triad (G) of the fifth degree highlights :

  • 5  7  9  of  C  (I)
  • 11  13  1  of  Dm (ii)
  • b3  5  b7   of  Em (iii)
  • 9  #11 13  of  F (IV)
  • 1  3  5  of  G (V)
  • b7  9  11 of  Am (vii)
  • b13  1  b3  of  Bdim (vii)

To resume, when you play the two triads related to the fourth and fifth degrees over :

  • The I chord you highlight the  1 - 9 (2) - 11 (4) - 5 - 13 (6) - 7. Related mode : Ionian
  • The ii chord you get the 1 - b3 - 11 (4) - 5 - 13 (6) -  b7. Related mode : Dorian
  • The iii chord you obtain the b9 (b2) - b3 - 11 (4) - 5 - b13 (b6) - b7. Related mode : Phrygian
  • The IV chord you highlight the 1 - 9 (2) - 3 - #11 (#4) - 5 - 6 (13). Related mode : Lydian
  • The V chord you get the 1 - 9 (2) - 3 - 11 (4) - 5 - b7. Related mode : Mixolydian
  • The vi chord you get the 1 - 9 (2) - b3 - 11 (4) - b13 (b6) - b7. Related mode : Aeolian
  • The vii chord you highlight the 1 - b9 (b2) - b3 - b5 - b13 (b6) - b7. Related mode : Locrian

Major Triad Pairs Practice

Here are the two adjacent diatonic major triad pairs (F and G). Root voicing (1 - 3 - 5), 1st inversion, third in the bass (3 - 5 - 1) and second inversion with the fifth in the bass (5 - 1 - 3).


Major triad pairs on guitar

The exercise below takes the two previous triads (root voicings and inversions) with bass on the 6th string.


Major triad pairs on guitar 6th string

The same major triads on the fifth string.


Major triad pairs on guitar 5th string

Major triads with bass notes on the fourth string.


Major triad pairs on guitar 4th string

Major triads with basses on the third string.


Major triad pairs on guitar 3rd string


Major Triad Pairs over II V I Chord Progression

The two following tabs show how to apply the adjacent diatonic major triads over a II V I progression. The first example is to play a G and a F major triad over G7 the V7 chord. This way you highlight the fifth (D) - third (B) - root (G) - eleventh (C) - ninth (A) and minor seventh (F) of G.

Major triad pairs guitar exercise 1


You can see in this second exercise the two previous major triad pairs over the iim7 chord. A useful way to highlight the eleventh (G) - root (D) - thirteenth (B) - minor third (F) - minor seventh (C) and fifth (A).


Major triad pairs guitar exercise 2

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