Minor Triads

In our introductory look at triads we learned about the four major types of triads and dove a little deeper into the major triad. In this installment we’ll take a look at the minor  triad.

The major triad is made up of the root, major third and perfect fifth. The minor triad is composed of the root, minor third and the perfect fifth. The only difference between the two is that the third is a half-step lower in the minor triad.

Another way to think of minor triads as three notes separated by two intervals: a minor third (root to minor third) and a major third (minor third to perfect fifth). In the key of A, the notes in the minor triad are A (the root), C (the minor third) and E (the perfect fifth).

The Shapes

A minor triad shapes

If you go back and compare these shapes to the major triads, you should see that each shape only varies by one note: the third. In a minor triad the third is always one fret lower than a major triad.

Putting Them Into Practice

Knowing these shapes up and down the neck is a really powerful tool. If you’re comping a rhythm part and find that your guitar is clashing with the vocals or another lead instrument, knowing how to get the same tonality in a different part of the neck (and range) is tremendously useful. A lot of jazz players use triad shapes when playing chord melodies or chordal solos, so having a command of these shapes is essential.

Even metal guys can use these shapes. Here’s a fast lick up the neck of G minor triads in various inversions. See if you can pick out each of the minor triads shapes as you play it:

G minor triads up the neck

These kinds of licks often use a lot of sweep picking in order to efficiently traverse strings. I have a whole lot to say about that topic, but we’ll save that for another time.

Horizontal and Vertical Visualization

I would encourage you to learn these shapes up and down the neck (vertically), but also to learn the across the neck (horizontally). Take a look at these A minor shapes around the fifth fret:

A minor triads across the neck

As you move from left to right, note how the top two notes of each shape form the bottom two notes of the next shape. Another thing to pay attention to is how each move across takes the bottom note and moves it up an octave. For example the move from the far-left shape to the second-from-left shape involves take the lowest note (the ♭3rd) and moving it up an octave. Obviously as you move the other direction, the reverse is true.

At first, these will probably feel just like random shapes you have to memorize. But as you learn these shapes, try to pay attention what notes they are composed and why the shapes are that way. If you keep doing this, the fretboard will start to make more sense to you.