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Shred Academy - Free Guitar Lesson by Vaughan Egan



Triad Construction

By Vaughan Egan


There seems to be a few people requesting lessons on theory lately so this is my article dealing with a very basic element of music theory, that of, how to construct the basic major chords – also known as triads.

Well, on with the show.

Let’s just take a look at what a chord actually is: a chord is any collection of notes or pitches that are played together simultaneously or near-simultaneously. I guess you can understand why it’s near simultaneously in the case of playing a guitar with a pick.

Now for a little bit of history, yes, the boring bits. The word chord comes from cord which is a Middle English shortening of accord. In the Middle Ages, Western harmony featured the perfect intervals of a fourth, a fifth, and an octave. In the 15th and 16th centuries however, the major and minor triads became increasingly common.

Now it is that last little bit of information that really concerns us, the major and minor triads. You may have guessed from the “tri” prefix that this means 3. So these are actually 3 note chords. So when someone says to play an “A” chord, what they are in essence saying is, play me a 3 note chord constructed from the “A” major scale. The “A” is the most important note in this chord, and that the A is where the focus is.

Major Triads

So how do we go about creating a major triad? I’m glad you asked because that is what this lesson is really all about. Triad Construction.

Well to create our triads we need to know a little about how the major scale is constructed. So lets take a quick look at that very topic.

The formula to create a major scale is based on the root note (the note at which the scale starts) and follows this pattern W, W, H, W, W, W ,H. Now in case you didn’t know know the “W” refers to a whole step, and the “H” refers to a half step. Now in the guitars case the whole step refers to a 2 fret space, whereas the half step is just a single fret space.

So in the case of the C major scale our root note is C. Now following the formula from C with a whole step we arrive at D bypassing C#, then the next whole step we arrive at E bypassing D#, the next step though is a half step so we go up a single fret and end on F. So to follow this through to its logical conclusion we have this:

Root: W W H W W W H
C D E F G A B C (octave pitch)

This is how the C major scale would look like on the 5th string of a guitar:

Ok, so we have our major scale so what does that have to do with chords? Well now, the major scale is the foundation for all music theory. So lets just take a look at the triads. Now to create a major triad based on the C major scale we need to know another simple formula: 1, 3, 5. These numbers refer to their placment within the scale. The first note in the scale is of course C, the third note is E, and the fifth note is G. So the C major triad is: C, E, G.

Doing this again with the G major scale gives us a different result. The G major scale consists of the notes: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. So by using the 1, 3, 5 formula, we can tell that the first note is G, the third note is B, fifth note is D. So the G major triad is: G, B, D.

The above takes care of the Major triads. But there are other types of triads as well namely Minor triads, Diminished triads and Augmented triads. So let’s talk about them too, don’t want to make them feel left out.

Minor Triads

Now that we know our formulas for creating the major scale and the formula for making major triads based on the major scale, to make minor triads then, we need to know one more formula. The formula is also based on the major scale. The formula is 1, b3, 5. Now the “b3” refers to a flat symbol on the musical staff. In this regards we take the 3rd note of the major scale and make it flat. So using the C major as our example:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (octave)

Now using the formula 1, b3, 5. We can see that the first note is C, the fifth note is G, and the third note is flattened so instead of getting E we get Eb. So the minor triad is: C, Eb, G. These triads have a sad quality about them whereas the major triads have a happy quality about them.

Diminished Triads

Just about every aspiring neo-classical guitarist has used dimished runs at one time or another without even realising it. It is because they were made popular by Malmsteen for use in sweeping.

The above is an Malmsteen type sweeping arpeggio lick using Diminshed 7th chords. Not exactly a triad as it has four notes, but, used to illustrate what can be done with diminished chords.

To create these triads we have yet another formula to be memorised 1, b3, b5. So going back to our C major scale:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (octave)

Now using the formula 1,b3, b5. We can see that the first note is C, the third note is flattened giving a note of Eb, and the fifth note is also flattened giving us a Gb. So our Diminshed triad is: C, Eb, Gb.

A “C” diminished triad is usually notated as: C°

Augemented Triads

Last but not least of the four main triadic types are the Augmented triads.

The formula for working out these triads is: 1, 3, #5. The “#” smybol is the same symbol as used on the musical staff to indicate a note that is sharpened, on guitar this would mean that the note is moved up half a step on guitar (one fret).

So to use the G Major Scale for this example we have:

G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G

Now using our formula 1, 3, #5, we can see that our first note is a G, the third note is B, and the fifth note is sharpened to D#. So our G Augmented triad is: G, B, D#

A “G” Augmented triad is usually notated as: G+


Well that’s it for the main types of triads and I hope you found the article helpful.

Happy Playing,

Vaughan Egan.

© Vaughan Egan 2007. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.


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