Understanding Guitar Triads And How to Build Them

Basic TriadsTriads are the simplest of chords that you may –or may not- have heard of yet. Before we get started on building, or even discussing triads, it is important that you know what a guitar chord is and how it is formed.

A chord is when two or more notes ring out simultaneously, creating a sound we call harmony. A triad, as you may have gleaned from the word tri contained within, is a three note chord that is built by thirds.

A third is a diatonic interval, a specific name for a diatonic semitone. These are extravagant and proper names for the count of the half steps from the root note.

The Three Types Of Thirds

There are three types of thirds; a Major third, a minor third, and an augmented third. Altogether, there are thirteen diatonic intervals. Today we will focus only on Major and minor thirds, as those are what are used to build basic triads.

A Major third is four half steps from the root, whereas a minor third is three half steps from the root. A properly stacked Major triad’s foundation is built of a Major third, and stacked on top is a minor third. A minor triad is built of a minor third with a Major third stacked on top. With any triad, you can check for proper construction by counting a perfect fifth, or seven half notes, from the root.

Together, let’s construct a proper triad. Using C Major, we will build a first inversion, second degree minor triad. In C Major, the tonic (first note) is C. The second letter name in a scale, which for C Major is D, is called the Supertonic.

A degree is simply a count of the number of notes from the tonic, represented by either a capital Roman numeral for Major, or a lower case Roman numeral for minor. All in all, every scale is comprised of seven notes, each of which has its own specific name. We will touch upon inversions and degrees further in a future article, but for now, let’s focus on the Supertonic.

Using the Supertonic, which we have now established as D, we must now build a minor triad. Since a second degree triad in a Major key is primarily minor, our triad will have a lower Roman numeral two ( ii ) below it.

At Last, The Building

Taking D and moving up a minor third (three half steps), we find ourselves at the note F (D#, E, F). If we move a Major third from F (four half steps) we arrive at A (F#, G, G#, A). To check our work, we can simply start at D and move a perfect fifth up (D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A). The fifth of our triad, A, is exactly a perfect fifth from our root. The third of our triad, F, is a minor third from our root. You have now built your first basic triad.

Now all that is left is to properly name the triad. Since we already established that this is a second degree minor triad, we already know that we will need to write a lower Roman numeral two beneath our triad. In this case, that is all we would need to do. Some triads, however, can be either diminished or augmented. But that, my friends, is a lesson for another day.

With the tools you have learned, you are now prepared to build basic triads using either the C Major or a minor scale on guitar. Test out a few of your own triads and see which sounds best for you.

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