Guitar lesson 6: Major and minor triads

The triad is a three-note chord where the notes are stacked in Major and/or Minor thirds. Altogether there are four types of triads: Major, minor, augmented and diminished. The two most commonly used are Major and Minor.

Learn more about triads in this guitar lesson. Photo: dreamatico.com
Learn more about triads in this guitar lesson. Photo: dreamatico.com

The first note is called the root because it is the starting point. The second note of the triad is called the 3rd and the third note is called the 5th. This is because the triad is most often based on an underlying mode or scale has has 7 notes in an octave.

 1                      3                        5
(root)              (third)                (fifth)                           (octave)
1          2           3           4           5          6           7           8
C          D          E          F           G          A          B          C
   ←-– M3 –-→     ←-– m3 –-→

The Major Triad

The Major triad consists of a Major 3rd (M3) with a Minor 3rd (m3) stacked on top of it. The interval between the root note (first note) and the third note is a perfect fifth (p5).

If we start the triad from the root we say it is in root position. Starting on C it would look like this:

←––– p5 –––→
       E         G
 ←M3→ ←m3→

 

Inverting the Major Triad

The Major triad can also be inverted. There are two different inversions possible: one starting on the third (called the first inversion) and one starting on the fifth (called the second inversion).

To invert a Major triad the first time you take the bottom note (the root) and put it at the top. Now the triad starts with a minor 3rd followed by a perfect 4th (p4). The interval between the bottom and top notes is now a minor 6th (m6).

Now we say the triad is in first inversion because it starts on the 3rd or first note after the root:

  ←–– m6 ––→
E         G         C
←m3→ ←p4→

 

To invert a triad the second time you again take bottom note (the third) and put it at the top. Now the triad starts with a perfect 4th (p4) followed by a Major 3rd (M3). The interval between the bottom and top notes is now a Major 6th (M6).

Now we say the triad is in second inversion because it starts on the 5th or the second note after the root: 

←––––M6––––→
G           C            E
←p4→     ←M3→

 

Take some time to understand the theory above before you begin to apply it to the guitar.


Major third triads and inversions on guitar

Understanding triads on the fretboard helps to understand how guitar chords are constructed.       

Exercise 1: Major triad on a single string using the sliding technique


Exercise 2: Major triad exercise on two strings in 4/4


Exercise 3: Major triad exercise on three strings in 3/4

     

Note: Exercises that are limited to one or two strings are worth doing at all stages of your development as a player.


The Minor Triad

The Minor triad consists of a Minor 3rd (m3) with a Major 3rd (M3) stacked on top of it. This is the opposite of the Major triad. The interval between the root note (first note) and the third note is a perfect fifth (p5) like in the Major triad.

1                        3                        5
(root)                (third)               (fifth)                          (octave)
1          2           3           4           5          6           7           8
C         D          Eb         F           G         Ab        Bb         C
    ←– M3 –→        ←– m3 –→

 

If we start the triad from the root, we say it is in root position.  Starting on C it would look like this:

 ←––––– p5 –––––→
C             Eb            G
← M3 →     ← m3 →

Inverting the Minor Triad

The minor triad can be inverted in exactly the same way as the Major triad. To invert a minor triad the first time you take the bottom note (the root) and put it at the top. Now the triad starts with a Major 3rd followed by a perfect 4th (p4). The interval between the bottom and top notes is now a Major 6th (M6).

Now we say the triad is in first inversion because it starts on the 3rd or first note after the root:

←–––– M6 ––––→
Eb         G           C
← M3 →   ← p4 →

 

To invert a triad the second time you again take bottom note (the third) and put it at the top. Now the triad starts with a perfect 4th (p4) followed by a minor 3rd (m3). The interval between the bottom and top notes is now a minor 6th (m6).

Now we say the triad is in second inversion because it starts on the 5th or the second note after the root:

←–––– m6 ––––→
G           C           Eb
← p4 →     ← m3 →

 

Take some time to understand the theory above before you begin to apply it to the guitar.


Minor triads and inversions on guitar

Understanding triads on the fretboard helps to understand how the guitar chords are constructed.

Exercise 4: Minor triad on a single string using the sliding technique


Exercise 5: Minor triad exercise on two strings in 4/4


Exercise 6: Minor triad exercise on three strings in 3/4

  


Conclusion

Exercises that are limited to one or two strings are worth doing at all stages of your development as a player.

Practicing both Major and minor triads in root position and first and second inversion is essential if you want to develop as a guitarist. It will help you when constructing chords and enable you to play voicings that move more smoothly. It will also help you when learning melodies because the triadic structure is often present in melodies as well. Knowing your triads will enable you to find better fingerings more easily.

If you want to improvise, a good knowledge of triads will also help you in developing more interesting lines in your playing. If you don't know your Major and minor triads, you will get confused easily and lose your harmonic orientation.

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