Guitar Triads: 3-Note Chords Simplified

Are you ready to enrich your musical palette? Discover the power of guitar triads—your gateway to chords, melodies, and harmonies.

Understanding guitar triads is a fantastic place to explore. Triads are fundamental, versatile, and worth every guitarist’s time to master.

Guitar Triads

Three-Note Wonders

If you’re starting with triads on guitar, keep it simple: 3 notes, 3 strings, 3 fingers.

While guitar triads can be positioned anywhere on the fretboard using all fingers, for a beginner-friendly triad lesson, let’s start by focusing on just three strings.

  • 3 Notes — Triads are simply the “Do-mi-so” of solfege syllables. This should make learning guitar triads easier for beginners, like learning the familiar ABCs.
  • 3 Strings — Begin on the top three strings (G, B, and e strings). These are the treble strings and are often used for melodies and lead guitar playing. Mute the lower strings (E, A, and D strings) to isolate the sound of your triads.
  • 3 Fingers — Good news: Triads are like open chords—you’ll primarily use your index, middle, and ring fingers.

What Are Triads?

Triads, at their core, consist of three essential notes: the root, the third, and the fifth.

These seemingly simple combinations form the foundation of countless musical compositions, both timeless classics and contemporary hits.

Deconstructing Triads

These three notes are typically taken from a scale and are separated by intervals.

  • Scale Degree — 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  • Scale — Do re mi fa sol la ti (do)
  • TRIAD1 (do), 3 (mi), 5 (so)

C Major Scale: C D E F G A B

  • Major Triad (1, 3, 5): C E G
  • Minor Triad (1, b3, 5): C Eb G

The Root Note (1) — Every triad starts with its root note, which serves as its foundation. It’s the note from which all other harmonies spring forth. In essence, the root note defines the chord’s identity.

The Third (3) — Next in line is the third note, which determines whether the triad is major or minor. A major third creates a bright and uplifting sound, while a minor third imparts a melancholic or subdued quality to the chord.

The Fifth (5) — The final piece of the puzzle is the fifth note, which adds depth and stability to the triad. It’s called “perfect” because it harmonizes beautifully with both the root and the third.

Four Main Types of Triads

The most common types of triads are major, minor, augmented, and diminished.

1. Major Triads

  • Root, Major Third, Perfect Fifth (R, M3, P5)
  • 1 3 5

2. Minor Triads

  • Root, Minor Third, Perfect Fifth (R, m3, P5)
  • 1 b3 5

3. Diminished Triads

  • Root, Minor Third, Diminished Fifth (R, m3, b5)
  • 1 b3 b5

4. Augmented Triads

  • Root, Major Third, Augmented Fifth (R, M3, #5)
  • 1 3 #5

Forming Guitar Triads Shapes

Out of the four main types, start your triad journey with major and minor triads, the backbone of most mainstream music.

Guitar Triads for Beginners

You might already know some of these shapes; they aren’t new but simplified versions of the full chords you’ve previously learned. They contain the same notes; the only difference is they’re played on just three strings.

Looking at a barre chord, you’ll observe that, even though it involves all strings, it fundamentally consists of three notes that repeat on each string.

Note:

  • Play on the highest strings, 1, 2, and 3 (strings G B e) only, and mute the low strings 4, 5, and 6 (strings E A D).
  • Focus on major and minor triads, where the main distinction is the 3rd note—a flat 3rd in minor triads.
  • Learn three familiar shapes: E-shape, A-shape, and D-shape. Just like barre chords, these shapes repeat up and down the fretboard.

Major Triads

Root (R), Major 3rd (M), Perfect 5th (5)

E-Shape (from the E-shape barre chord)
1st string, 2nd fret (R)
2nd string, 2nd fret (5)
3rd string, 3rd fret (3)
A-Shape (from the A-shape barre chord)
1st string, 2nd fret (5)
3rd string, 4th fret (R)
2nd string, 4th fret (3)
D-Shape (from the Open D Major chord)
3rd string, 2nd fret (5)
1st string, 2nd fret (3)
2nd string, 3rd fret (R)

Minor Triads

Root (R), Flat 3rd (♭3), Perfect 5th (5)

Em-Shape
1st string, 2nd fret (R)
2nd string, 2nd fret (5)
3rd string, 2nd fret (♭3)
Am-Shape
1st string, 2nd fret (5)
2nd string, 3rd fret (♭3)
3rd string, 4th fret (R)
Dm-Shape
1st string, 1st fret (♭3)
3rd string, 2nd fret (5)
2nd string, 3rd fret (R)

Moving Guitar Triads

Memorizing guitar triad shapes is a breeze—they’re familiar, easy three-note chords.

Locating these triads on different frets is equally straightforward. The key to shifting these shapes up and down the neck is to focus on the root note, which remains consistent for both major and minor triads.

Find and move with the Root Note (R) to easily move triad chord shapes.

  • E-Shape — The root note is on the first string, like the 6th low string. If you’ve explored naming bass string notes, this idea should be familiar.
  • A-Shape — The root note is on the 3rd string. If you know the notes on your 5th low string, you can easily find the octave notes; they’re just two frets away from the root’s position.
  • D-Shape — Here, the root note is on the 2nd string. Knowing the notes on the 5th low string can guide you to the root note in the D-shape triad. It’s also two frets two frets ahead of the root’s position.

While knowing the notes on the 6th and 5th strings is helpful, understanding the notes on the top strings and scale note intervals is even more beneficial.

Getting Hands-On: Learning and Applying Triads

So, how do you go about mastering guitar triads? Here’s a roadmap to get you started:

  • Start with Major and Minor Triads — Begin with the basics: major and minor triads. Learn their shapes, practice switching between them, and familiarize yourself with their sound.
  • Practice Chord Progressions — Work on playing chord progressions using triads. Practice transitioning between different triad shapes to get comfortable with their positions.
  • Experiment with Triad Inversions — Rearrange the order of the triad’s notes. Fresh voicings can add variety and depth to your chord progressions.
  • Apply Triads to Songs — To apply triads to songs effectively, start by identifying suitable moments within your music. Consider where a triad could replace a standard chord or enhance a melody. Then, experiment and listen to how it transforms the song’s mood and atmosphere.
  • Play Melodies — Experiment with creating simple melodies using triads. This is a great way to start incorporating triads into your lead guitar playing.

How to Play Guitar Triads for Beginners

Begin by practicing the major triad shapes for different root notes across the fretboard, and then move on to practicing minor triad shapes.

You can learn fretboard notes in two ways: by memorizing (knowing) or by understanding note relationships and finding them instinctively (internalizing). 

We aim to encourage playing for easy note recall through repetition.

 Here’s how to play it:

👉 Start with one shape at a time.

Stick with it until you can name the chord while moving the shape up and down the neck.

👉 Work on triads using a chord progression.

  • Chord Progression #1: G Em C D
  • Chord Progression #2: C G Am F

You can break down these progressions into pairs before playing the entire progression:

  • Chord Progression #1: G Em; Em C; C D; D G
  • Chord Progression #2: C G; G Am; Am F; F C
Guitar Triads Shapes

Ways to play triads:

  • Pluck each string individually.
  • Play one strum on beat 1.
  • Play two strums on beats 2 and 4 (as in reggae).

As you become more comfortable, experiment with different strumming patterns.

Why Triads Matter: The Power and Versatility

Triads are like the Swiss Army knives of guitar chords. They’re not just for beginners; even seasoned players find them indispensable. Here’s why they matter:

  • Chord Knowledge — By understanding triads, you can build and play a wide variety of chords all over the fretboard. Triads are the first step to grasping more complex chords. Most extended chords (7ths, 9ths, etc.) are built upon triads. Learning triads is like having a solid foundation for constructing elaborate chord voicings.
  • Creating Melodies and Solos — Triads are the raw material for crafting beautiful melodies, and they can help you create memorable guitar solos. They provide the essential notes that form the skeleton of any lead guitar work. Mastering triads gives you the freedom to explore the fretboard confidently.
  • Songwriting Skills — Many songs are composed using triads as the building blocks for chord progressions.
  • Harmonizing Chord Progressions — Triads form the core of chord progressions. Knowing how to harmonize a melody or create unique chord progressions relies on understanding and applying triads effectively.
  • Fretboard Navigation — Triads help you navigate the fretboard more efficiently. They allow you to find chord tones and create chord shapes in various positions on the neck.

Time to Jam!

Are you ready to take your guitar playing to the next level with triads? Start by practicing these versatile chords, experiment with them in your favorite songs, and watch your music flourish. 

The journey of mastering triads begins with your next strum or pluck. So, grab your guitar, explore, and let your musical creativity soar. Don’t wait; start making harmonious melodies today!

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