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Guitar Lesson 6

Triads

 

Triads form the starting point of all chords and are the first step to understanding harmony on the guitar. By taking a look at how different triads can be formed from a given key, a great deal can be learned about chord progressions and song formation. The following theory may seem a bit long-winded, seeing as you already know how to play some chords containing more than three notes, but an understanding of why these chords sound as they do will save you a lot of trouble trying to work it all out later when you come to writing songs of your own.

Taking the scale of A Harmonic Minor, write out all of the notes in a line. Take the 1st note, 3rd note and 5th note to create the first triad A-C-E. Now move one note along to get the next triad B-D-F. See figure 1.

Figure 1: Creating triads from the A Harmonic Minor scale

If this process is repeated along the entire scale then we get seven triads from the scale, numbered I-VII.

Triads

i A C E
ii B D F
iii C E G#
iv D F A
v E G# B
vi F A B
vii G# B D

The tricky bit!

Think back to the sound of the minor scale and its pattern of steps and half steps. So, if we take any note and follow that pattern then we get a minor scale. The same can be said for the Major interval formula. If we do this for each of the triads then we can determine their character and so how they will sound. Figure 2 shows how to line up the first triad in terms of interval spacing.

When lined up as above we can see the interval pattern that the triad A-C-E follows (whole step-half step-whole step-whole step)

Figure 2: Triad intervals

This is the beginning of the harmonic minor interval pattern (see lesson 5 figure1)

 

You can see that the second note of the triad, C, is flat compared to the major interval pattern. Because the triad follows the minor interval formula, the chord that it forms will be minor in character. Figure 3 shows how the notes of the triad are written to denote character. It is important to remember that the note numbering always refers to how they compare to the Major scale. (It is confusing but this is how all music theory works!)

Figure 3: Triad note numbering

The chord of A Minor contains all of the notes A, C and E and is built from the first triad of the A Harmonic Minor scale.

 

So we have taken the first triad of the scale and worked out how it will sound by taking into account the interval pattern that it follows. Now we can do this for the rest of the triads. Don’t worry – you don’t have to work this out on your own because hundreds of people have done this for you – but now you should understand what it means when the triads are described as having a ‘character’

 

Triads of the A harmonic minor and their character.

i A minor
ii B diminished
iii C augmented
iv D minor
v E major
vi F major
vii G# diminished

All Chords on the guitar are a combination of three pitches- a triad. The chords below have been built using only notes in the triads of the A Harmonic Minor scale and each has a certain feel –minor, major, diminished or augmented.

 

             

 

                        

 

                     

Almost all chords are built from triads in this way, with many of the notes duplicated or played on open strings. By using triads in a certain key and choosing them for their character you can create a naturally flowing chord progression.

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