Triad-based chord shapes are some of the first things guitarists learn. While advancing players might focus on new sounds like seventh, ninth, and other extended and altered chords, it can be easy to forget how powerful the simple triad can be. In fact, this three-note chord type is the foundational basis of most chord progressions and melodies in American vernacular music—even bebop and other complex jazz styles. Keeping this concept in mind, you can use a triadic approach to map out the whole fretboard in ways that can help you break out of ruts and develop a deeper understanding of the guitar and music in general.
These methods are fairly simple on a conceptual level and don’t take a lot of technical skill to play, but it may take you time to internalize the sounds and their relationships. Remember that the exercises in all four weeks are interconnected, so be sure to internalize them thoroughly and in sequence.
Weekly Workout is a series of monthly guitar exercises made up of interesting technical workouts that will get your fretting- and picking-hand fingers working in different ways, and offer musical studies that will help you visualize and explore the fingerboard.
Week One: Identify the Sound of a Triad
Strange as it may sound, the focus of Week 1 doesn’t even require that you have a guitar in your hands. It’s primarily about learning to identify the sound of each member of the triad—the root, third, and fifth, or G, B, and D, respectively, for a G major triad. What do these notes sound like to you in relation to each other? Can you ascribe a color or mood to them?
To really ground yourself in the sound of those notes, it’s helpful to think of song examples that start with each of the triad tones. A couple examples of well-known melodies whose first note is the root of the chord would be “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Example 1) and “Beautiful Dreamer” (Example 2). Instances of the first note being the third are “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (Example 3) and Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” (Example 4). Among those beginning with a fifth are “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (Example 5) and “We Shall Overcome” (Example 6).
Take these song examples and really concentrate on what that first note sounds like against the chord. Hum the melody, play it on your guitar with a backing track, play it in your mind’s ear. And find your own examples of melodies that start with the root, third, or fifth—there are countless others! Then try to branch out and notice instances besides the first note where you hear those chord tones. This part of the practice isn’t even about technically mastering tunes—although good melodies are always worth learning!—it’s a deep practice for being able to quickly hear and clearly distinguish these three sounds by ear in various contexts. The implications of this for your playing are powerful.
Beginners’ Tip #1
Try flipping through radio stations/playlists and see if you can pick out which triad note the melody of a given song starts on, or which one a phrase ends on.
That’s the end of week one. The complete lesson features four weeks of workouts (plus a bonus exercise.) There are two ways to access the full video and musical examples: Join our community at Patreon.com/acousticguitarplus OR Buy the July/August 2023 issue at store.AcousticGuitar.com
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.