In much of life, theory precedes (and is often far easier) than practice.
I can tell you the basic theory behind a internal combustion engine. Fuel, sparks, pistons, explosions. But don't ask me to fix my lawn mower engine. And I can tell you about twelve different ways of losing weight. But then ask me about my gut and why it's still there: I'll change the subject. [Actually, I have lost over 100 lbs in the last few years...it's been the same 15 lbs seven times. So I'm not the biggest loser, but maybe the most repetitive...]
For most guitarists, practice precedes theory. We played a C chord long before we knew what a C chord really was. And for many guitarists, theory never makes it on the plate. Which is a-OK. But theory can be useful. As we dive into the next escape, I'm going to lead-in with a theory lesson. If you start getting short of breath and breaking out in hives, just scroll down to the practical stuff. Knowing the theory behind this technique might allow you to use it more broadly. But for some, theory just messes with their mojo. I understand.
For a brief background on what Triads are, click on the graphic to the right and you'll get taken to a larger version of it. (hit "back" on your browser return to the post).
By the way, this is a full-out training I'm developing - if you have some feedback (good, bad or ugly) for it, please drop me an email or reply to this post.
If you can't digest roots and thirds and fifths, let's start simpler. Learning the basics of triads is as simple as playing with the alphabet.
Musical notes (for us English speakers at least) are designated with lettersA - G. To learn your triads, just start skipping every other letter: A (B) C (D) E R 2 3 4 5
So the A triad is made up of notes A, C, and E. A is the Root. C is the 3rd. E is the 5th. It doesn't matter if the triad is major, minor, diminished or augmented. Later, as you get to know chord theory better, the sharps and flats will need to come into play. But for now, just get to know the letters that make the triad.
The Triad Game:
A good way to do this is just make a mental game out of it. As you're driving, sitting in study hall, waiting in line, or pretending to listen to your girlfriend--during those down times--play the "triad game." Start with C. C is like the middle of the western music universe, so it's a good place to begin. Mentally determine what notes are in a C triad: C, E, G. Then move on. But move around the circle of 5ths. C, G, D, etc. This will help you learn a whole new realm of theory without realizing it. Here's a chart to get you going. >>>>
Again, at this point, don't worry about sharps, flats, majors, minors, etc. Just get to know the basics of a triad. After you play this mental game awhile, you'll be able to rattle the triads off in your sleep.
OK, I'm starting to break out into theory-induced hives, and I love this stuff. I think it's time to get to the practice of it.
The first triad shape is one you've been playing everyday since, well, you started playing. It's the D triad. This shape is to a guitarist what a neck beard is to an Amish dude. (OK, I don't really get that analogy either.) But this shape is more than just a D chord.
If we play the triad game, we figure out that the notes in a D triad is D, F, A. In this case it's a major triad, so the 3rd is an F#. (Take my word for it at this point - the rabbit trail of theory explanation would lead us into next winter).
Why is there a "5th" designation on the chord diagram? The 5th is in the 'bass' (or lowest voice). This is also called second inversion. What would happen if we traveled up these first 3 strings too look for the next occurrence of the D triad. We'd find a slightly less familiar shape.
Lets start with the 3rd string. As we move from the A on the second fret, we find our next chord tone on the the seventh fret: a D. On the 2nd string, we move up from the D on the third fret to an F# on the seventh fret. And on the 1st string, we move from the F# on the second fret to an A on the fifth fret.
This forms a triad with a root in the bass. (This is called "root position".) If you don't quite recognize this chord, take a look at the chord diagram to the right. This triad is the top three notes of a 5th String Root D barre chord. It has always helped me to "see" triads when I relate them to larger chord they are a part of.
If we move up each string again to find the next triad, we land up around the 10th fret. This time, the third is in the bass, which is a "first inversion." This should look vaguely familiar as well. Take a look at the full chord that it's a part of: the 6th string root D barre chord.
So even though we began with a D shape, this triad isn't exclusive to on the D chord. Let's look at how the G triad on string set 3-2-1. OK, quick - what are the notes in a G triad?
Yep - G, B, D. Here are the G triads on string set 3, 2, 1:
You'll notice the same shapes, just in a different place.
So what do these triad shapes have to do with actual playing? Let's put the triads into the context of a often used chord progression.
The 1 - 5 - 6m - 4 is a popular chord progression. It is used in Matt Redman's "Blessed Be Your Name" among other popular worship tunes.
So far in the key of D, we've covered the 1 chord: D, and the 4 chord: G. Let's figure out what the triads for the other two chords in this progression.
First the 5 chord: here's the A triads on string set 3-2-1:
The 6m chord naturally occurs as a minor chord (hence, the little m) - that means we need to figure out what a minor triad looks like. Let's go back to were we started, the D shape - only this time, it's the Dm shape:
This is a shape you've likely played before. Look at how it relates to the D major triad shape. What's changed? The third is moved down 1/2 step (or one fret). This is a "flat 3rd". It's what makes a minor chord a minor chord.
In the key of D, the 6m chord is a Bm. To form a B minor triad, we need to move up the neck until we hit the B at the 12th fret.
Here are the other two B minor triads on strings 3-2-1.
Making the Escape with Triads The whole point of this series is learning how to escaping the open position frets. So let's put this into practice. We have all four triads of the 1 - 5 - 6m - 4 progression. (D, A, Bm, G). What we can do is figure out which of these different triads group together. Here's one grouping:
As you play these triads, arpeggiate (play individual notes) instead of strumming. It will help you hear the different chord tones.
Here's another grouping that takes us above the fourth fret:
These triads aren't substitutes for full chords that fill out the sound. These triads are for finding your niche in the band mix.
Try different approaches. Strum the chord. Arpeggiate. Play a steel-string acoustic (strummed in the upper frets these triads sound mandolin-ish). Play a nylon string (strummed in the upper frets these sound ukulele-ish). Use an electric guitar with a clean setting. Dirt setting. Delay (think U2).
Note: some of these voicing sound a little "square" since they are straight major or minor. In future articles, we can explore some variations of these triads. But until then, experiment with tweaking these triads to see what sonic subtleties (or not-so-subtleties) you can create.
If you enjoyed this, please tweet or like it. Thanks!