Introduction to Triads

After our long look at intervals, it’s time to build on our knowledge and move on to triads.

Triads are the building blocks of more sophisticated chords and arpeggios. But they are also commonly used by themselves. For a taste, the opening chords of “Roxanne” by The Police is played entirely with triads:

“Roxanne” by The Police is a great example of triads in action

“Roxanne” by The Police is a great example of triads in action

As you might have guessed, triads are groups of three notes. You can either play these notes all at once, or one at a time. What makes a triad is the relationship between the three notes.

There are four basic triads you need to know:

  • major
  • minor
  • diminished
  • augmented

In this installment, we’ll start by looking at the major triad.

The major triad is made up of the root, major 3rd and perfect 5th degrees of the major scale. In the key of A, those notes would be A, C♯ and E. In the key of C, those notes would be C, E and G.

You can play these notes in any order. In sequential order (A, C♯ and E in the case of A) we call this the root form. If you start with the third, you get C♯, E and A. This is called the first inversion. If you start with the fifth degree, you get E, A and C♯, which is called the second inversion.

These inversions all have the same basic tonality. You can play the same bass note under each (whack the open A string or have your bass player play an A for you) and each of these triads have the same basic “A major” sound to them:

A major triads up the neck

A major triads up the neck

These are the basic triad major shapes on the fretboard. Note that as you keep inverting, you just repeat the cycle further up the neck.

Major Triad Shapes (in A)

Major Triad Shapes (in A)

Again, because of the odd tuning difference between the 2nd and 3rd strings, the shapes are little different depending on what strings you’re playing.

In future installments we’ll look at the other triad types. These are good to get under your fingers as it will unlock a lot of the fretboard for you both melodically and harmonically.

You may even recognize some of these shapes in the chords you already know. If not, don’t worry, you will recognize them soon enough!