Triad Chords Guitar – An Essential Guide To Triads

Triads are an important part of learning any musical instrument – let’s see how they work with guitar chords!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • Four distinct triad shapes
  • How to practice triads effectively
  • How to unlock the secrets of the fretboard with triads
  • How triads are constructed
  • How triads can help with ear training

Ready For Your First Triad Chords Guitar Lesson?

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re ready to take some big steps forward in your guitar playing.

You’ve probably been practicing your open position chords and you’ve probably got them worked out extremely well at this point.

Congratulations – you’re making huge strides on the guitar.

With this in mind, what you need is a triad chords guitar lesson to help you learn some new and extremely accessible chord shapes.

Triads aren’t your regular style of chord shape, no. These chords serve as keys to unlock all sorts of incredible secrets on the guitar – and we’re going to explore those secrets today.

triad-chords-guitar

That’s right, friends – if you’re here for a triad chords guitar lesson, you’re ready to accept the keys to the fretboard once and for all.

In this lesson, we’re going to explore why these chord shapes are so important not just for guitarists, but for all musicians regardless of their instrument.

Even if you’re a gigging kazoo player, this triad chords guitar lesson will help put your chords into perspective in a new way.

If you’re about ready to jump into it, we’re going to cover all of the bases for you.

Scroll down and get started with us with a little explanation.

triad-chords-guitar

Why Do Triads Matter So Much To Musicians?

When you take an open position chord like C major or A minor and strip it down to the bare necessities, you’re left with a triad.

A triad is any combination of three notes played together – but only those three.

Open position chords are built on this three-note principle, but they typically double up on the occurrences of those notes across the strings.

For example, a C major chord’s notes on guitar look like this in the open position (high E to low E):

E

C

G

E

C

Notice how there are only three distinct notes here, but the C and E notes repeat themselves?

This triad chords guitar lesson will focus on what happens when we remove those repeated notes.

triad-chords-guitar

Triads help us understand how our notes are laid out more easily.

When we reduce these larger chords down to just three distinct notes, we can learn chord positions for each that we can move around the fretboard to accommodate the songs we play more easily.

This helps us shake off the constraints of solely playing in the open position, and gives us more room to stretch our hands out and experiment across the fretboard.

Once you unlock the secrets in this triad chords guitar lesson, your approach to the instrument will start to change substantially.

triad-chords-guitar

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Why Are Triads Considered The “Keys” To The Fretboard?

Many chords can be broken down to their three main notes and moved around the fretboard, and that’s the first step in learning where the notes of the fretboard reside.

If we are to take the three notes of our C major chord, we can create a simple chord shape that we can move to anywhere that those three notes reside.

You’d be surprised at how compact (most of) these shapes will be for you to learn.

Let’s first start by having a look at the fretboard in full.

Pro Tip: Look for the notes C, E and G in three-string groups across the fretboard. How many patterns can you see? How many are the same?

triad-chords-guitar

Did you see it?

The C major chord is available in a few compact triad chords guitar shapes across the fretboard. If you didn’t catch it yet, take a minute and hang here to examine the fretboard before you continue.

In this triad chords guitar lesson, we’re going to examine the following triad shapes:

Major

Minor

Suspended 2nd

Suspended 4th

Each of these chords has their own distinct voice that lends itself to your overall chord vocabulary, so it’s not just important to study how to play them.

We have to study how they sound as well.

Let’s start with major chord shapes below.

triad-guitar-chords

Beginner Triad Chords Guitar Lessons I – Major Triads

Major triads are the first shape we should learn because they play such a huge role in our beginner guitar journey.

The same goes for minor chords, but we’ll get to those shortly.

Major triads are made up of three distinct intervals in the major scale:

The Root ( I )

The Major 3rd ( III )

The Fifth ( V )

 In the case of C major, those intervals would be named as follows in order:

C – I

E – III

G – V

 Let’s take a look at the main shape that we’ll be dealing with, then unpack it below.

C MAJOR TRIAD (E STRING ROOT)

Triad-Chords-Guitar

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

You may be wondering:

“Mike, how do you expect me to stretch my hand like that?” 

Let us remind you that you probably said the same thing about the C major chord in the open position when you first started playing.

All it takes is practice, and we’re going to show you how.

This triad chords guitar shape can be played on either the E, A and D strings or the A, D and G strings wherever you can play C as the lowest note.

C MAJOR TRIAD (A STRING ROOT OPEN POSITION)

Easy-Triad-Chords-Guitar

Pro Tip: You want to build this chord backwards if possible by starting with your pinky finger on the lowest string. Add your ring finger to the middle string, finish with the index finger on the highest of the three strings.

Give your fingers a chance to stretch, don’t force the chord any quicker than you should. This shape will begin to help your hand open up to wider chord shapes, so be patient and practice often.

Once you’ve figured it out, have a look at these other major triad chords guitar shapes that you can play on the D, G and B strings as well as the G, B and E strings.

From here, we’ll move on to minor triads. 

C MAJOR TRIAD (D STRING ROOT)

Triad-Chords-Guitar-lesson

C MAJOR TRIAD (G STRING ROOT)

Triad-Chords-Guitar-Tutorial

Beginner Triad Chords Guitar Lessons II – Minor Triads

Quiz question: What’s the difference between a major triad and a minor triad?

Answer: Only one note.

You read that right, there’s only one note difference between a C major triad and a C minor triad – nothing else.

Puts things in perspective a bit, doesn’t it?

With that in mind, take a look at the C minor triad shape below that can be rooted on either the E or A string.

Look for the similarities between this shape and the major triad chords guitar shapes above.

Can you spot them both?

C MINOR TRIAD (E STRING ROOT)

Triad-Chords-On-Guitar

C MINOR TRIAD (A STRING ROOT)

How-To-Play-Triad-Chords-Guitar

This triad is achieved by playing the same shape as the major triad, but using your middle finger in place of the ring finger.

With that in mind, the notes of a minor triad in terms of their intervals are as follows:

Root – C ( I )

Minor Third – Eb ( bIII )

Fifth – G – ( V )

Pro Tip: This triad chords guitar lesson is an excellent opportunity to practice some ear training!

Play a major triad like the one above, then play the minor triad on the same string set.

Listen for the differences in the tone of the chords!

Can you distinguish the two by ear?

C MINOR TRIAD (D STRING ROOT)

C MINOR TRIAD (G STRING ROOT)

Beginner Triad Chords Guitar Lessons III – Sus2 & Sus4 Triads

So far, we’ve covered the two most common triad chords guitar players will run into, but those aren’t the only important chords to learn!

Major and minor chords are considered stable chord shapes, meaning they don’t bear an overwhelming amount of tension in their tone.

Not every chord is built like this, though – in fact many chords are not.

Enter: Suspended chords 

Also known as “sus” chords, these shapes have a bit less stability to them than their major and minor cousins.

Let’s look at the sus2 triad chords guitar players will run into most commonly on the E and A strings:

C SUS2 TRIAD (E STRING ROOT)

C SUS2 TRIAD (A STRING ROOT)

Much like the minor triad compared to the major triad, there is again only one note difference between a sus2 or sus4 chord and a major or minor chord.

Take a look at the intervals of a sus2 below in the key of C:

Root – C ( I )

Major Second – D – ( II )

Fifth – G – ( V )

With this in mind, suspended 2nd and suspended 4th chords can serve as great transitional chords in a progression.

Take a look at the intervals of a Csus4 below, then try playing the triad shapes listed:

Root – C ( I )

Fourth- F – ( IV )

Fifth – G – ( V )

C SUS4 TRIAD (E STRING ROOT)

C SUS4 TRIAD (A STRING ROOT)

Pro Tip: Practice your sus2 and sus4 shapes alongside your major and minor shapes that you’ve learned in this triad chords guitar lesson to sound out the audible differences in each chord.

When we play these chords back-to-back, we can hear the differences between them more easily. This is a fantastic (and easy) ear training exercise – just make sure that you’ve tuned your guitar first!

C SUS2 TRIAD (D STRING ROOT)

C SUS2 TRIAD (G STRING ROOT)

C SUS4 TRIAD (D STRING ROOT)

C SUS4 TRIAD (G STRING ROOT)

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Beginner Triad Chords Guitar Lessons IV – How To Use These Shapes In Any Key

All chords are fixed in their structure, and if we can find a compact chord that doesn’t use open strings then we can move that chord wherever we want.

This is another reason why triads are such an effective tool for guitarists to learn.

A triad for one key is a triad for every key – any one of the shapes you’ve learned in this triad chords guitar lesson can be used in any key you like!

Now that you’ve learned four distinct triad shapes, take a look at the fretboard diagram from the beginning of the lesson once again and see if it looks a little… different, now.

triad-chords-on-guitar

Are you beginning to see the patterns forming on the fretboard?

Pro Tip: Because of their movable nature, learning triad shapes in every key will do wonders like you can’t imagine for your knowledge of the frets and notes.

This will translate to everything from your knowledge of chords to how easily you can play and identify scales in different keys.

It sounds like a tiresome practice, but it’s well worth it for the sake of learning the fretboard inside and out.

Speaking of practice, let’s look finally at how you can maximize this triad chords guitar lesson with some practice techniques for easier learning.

guitar-triads

The Best Ways To Practice Triads On Guitar

Slow and steady wins the race – plain and simple.

It’s no small feat to memorize the triad chords guitar players run into most often all across the fretboard, but it’s most definitely worth the effort.

Here are some pro tips for getting the most out of these chord shapes and learning them effectively:

  • Use wrist rotation to help sound out the shapes from this triad chords guitar lesson when your finger mutes a string that it shouldn’t
  • Use alternate picking to pick the three notes of any triad back-to-back in an arpeggio – this will help you get a feel for playing the shapes fluidly

triad-guitar-chords-lesson

  • When learning a new shape, add one finger at a time rather than all of them at once – this gives your hand more time to adjust to the new chord that you’re trying to play
  • Stretch before you practice a new shape!
    There are other intermediate triad chords guitar players will encounter in their journeys that we haven’t covered here, and it will be important for your hands to be flexible and able when the time comes to learn them. Stretching breathes more life into your guitar playing, so don’t skip it!
  • Don’t rush – practicing slowly gives your hands more time to build better muscle memory.

P.S. We love this video from Active Melody on YouTube explaining how triads can change the way you play guitar – check it out! 

triad-guitar-chords-tutorial

Improving On Triads

As in all things with music – the more we practice, the more we learn about what we play.

This triad chords guitar lesson is designed to inspire you to explore the fretboard in new and exciting ways that will unlock easier ways of approaching musical passages in the long run.

Every time you practice, you open up new avenues for understanding and improvement on your favorite instrument – treat every practice session like an adventure.

Recommended Resources

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