Guitar Triads, Part 1: Major Triads

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Triads are the building blocks of chords. If you’re used to playing only full chords, triads will help expand your playing and allow you to create more unique voicings and tones. They’re a great way to spice up your playing by allowing you to easily add little embellishments to your rhythms. Jimi Hendrix is a perfect example of this. In this lesson we’re going to focus only on major triads, but future lessons will address minor triads.

Let’s start with answering the question, “What is a triad?”


Triads are a group of three notes comprised of the 1st (root), 3rd, and 5th degrees of a scale. Each degree is a 3rd apart. They can be of four qualities:

  • Major
  • Minor
  • Augmented
  • Diminished

Major Triads

Major triads are built from the 1st (root), 3rd (major 3rd), and 5th (perfect 5th) degrees of the major scale.

Major scale triad intervals

Each of these intervals is a third (3 notes) apart and the number of semitones between each interval will determine the quality of the triad.

  • Major 3rd = 2 whole tones (4 semitones / 4 frets)
  • Minor 3rd = 1 1/2 tones (3 semitones / 3 frets)

Note that 1 semitone is equal to 1 fret.

Quality Stacked 3rd Intervals Semitones 5th Quality
Major Major 3rd + Minor 3rd 7 Perfect

Counting out the semitones of the first 3rd will give you the following:

  • Root to major 2nd = 2 semitones
  • Major 2nd to major 3rd = 2 semitones
  • Total of 4 semitones (2 whole tones)

Counting out the semitones of the second stacked 3rd will give you the following:

  • Major 3rd to perfect 4th = 1 semitone
  • Perfect 4th to perfect 5th = 2 semitones
  • Total of 3 semitones (1 1/2 whole tones)
Intervals of major triads

Learning major triads with the CAGED system

If you’re already familiar with the CAGED major chord shapes, learning the major triads will be a breeze. We can simply break apart the CAGED chord shapes into their smaller triad shapes.

Note: In each set of triads, the first diagram represents the full chord and the subsequent diagrams are the triads that can be derived from that chord form/position.

C Form

C shape CAGED major triads

A Form

A shape CAGED major triads

G Form

G shape CAGED major triads

E Form

E shape CAGED major triads

D Form

D shape CAGED major triads

Using triads in your playing

You can begin incorporating these triads into your playing by simply substituting them for full chords. For instance, take any of these easy songs and use triads in place of the full chords. Experiment with playing them in different positions outside of the original voicings.

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