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How to Play Triad Chord Voicings on Your Guitar

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  • A basic chord contains three different pitches
    and is known as a triad.
  • There are four triad types,
    major, minor, augmented and diminished.
  • They are constructed using the first (root /tonic),
    third and fifth notes of a seven note scale.

Although it is possible to relate each triad type
to its own separate scale, it is much easier in the
beginning to relate them to a major scale only.

These are the four basic triad types and their
corresponding formulas with an example in
relation to the C major scale, C D E F G A B C:

C major: 1, 3, 5 = C E G
(commonly written as C)

C minor: 1, b3, 5 = C Eb G
(commonly written Cmi, Cm or C-)

C diminished: 1, b3, b5 = C Eb Gb
(commonly written Cdim or C0)

C augmented:1, 3, #5 = C E G#
(commonly written Caug or C+)

The diminished triad is sometimes referred to as the minor b5 chord. All of the basic major and minor chords on the guitar are based on triads. Even though you may play up to six strings, there will be duplications of the 1st, 3rd or 5th.


If a note other than the root is the lowest note of the chord, then the chord is said to be an inversion.

1, 3, 5 = Root position triad

3, 5, 1 = 1st Inversion triad

5, 1, 3 = 2nd inversion triad

String Sets

Groups of adjacent strings are called string sets.

6 sets of 1: EADGBE
5 sets of 2: EA-AD-DG-GB-BE
4 sets of 3: EAD-ADG-DGB-GBE
3 sets of 4: EADG-ADGB-DGBE
2 sets of 5: EADGB-ADGBE
1 set of 6: EADGBE

With these triads we are using the 4 sets of 3


Each triad exists within a CAGED bar chord shape. In some instances they
overlap two adjacent shapes.

Closed and Open Triads

The triads in this lesson are called closed position because it's not possible to insert
another 1st, 3rd, or 5th between any two notes in a closed configuration. CEG is closed, but CGE is open (since you could insert an E between the C and G).

Superimposing Triads

Triads are useful for an alternative rhythm guitar part which can easily be embellished with scale tones to create a melodic counter rhythm part or rhythm fill. They are often used to imply larger chord forms.

The D major triad played against:

  • G = Gmaj9
  • B minor = Bmi7th
  • E minor = Emi11

The D minor triad played against:

  • Bb = Bbmaj7
  • G minor = Gmi9
  • F = F6

Triads on Rhythm and Lead Guitar

For soloing, triads add greater melodic variation by suggesting note combinations and fingerings that would not normally occur in regular scale playing.

They are useful in targeting the basic 1st, 3rd, and 5th tones, which are great landing notes in soloing. In the case of the larger chord forms they can target 6th, 9th, 11th, and 13th tones.

Triads are great for visualizing and playing rhythm and lead arpeggios horizontally and vertically. Look for future lessons on how to use triads. Also, do yourself a favor and memorize them now!

© 2018 Mark Edward Fitchett

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