Major Triads on Guitar

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Major triads are the building blocks of major 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’ll dive into what triads are, what makes up the major triad, and how you can find them on the fretboard using string groupings and the CAGED system.

Triads

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

In this lesson, we’re just focusing on the major triad.

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.

QualityStacked 3rd IntervalsSemitones5th Quality
MajorMajor 3rd + Minor 3rd7Perfect

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

Major Triads on the Fretboard

Perhaps the easiest way to apply major triads to the guitar fretboard is by using string groupings. By using three groups of 3 strings (1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5), you get three distinct triad patterns per group that repeat up and down the neck.

When learning the triad shapes, it’s important to make note of the root note location. This will allow you to quickly identify triad shapes across the neck.

The examples below are G major triads, but the shapes and relative note positions will apply to all major triads.

Major Triad Shapes on Strings 1-2-3

On strings 1-2-3, you get the following note arrangements:

  • Shape 1: 3rd on string 3, 5th on string 2, root on string 1
  • Shape 2: 5th on string 3, root on string 2, 3rd on string 1
  • Shape 3: root on string 3, 3rd on string 2, 5th on string 1

If you were to continue up the fretboard past shape 3, you would get back to shape 1 again. Likewise, if you dropped back from shape 1, you would get shape 3.

Major triads on strings 1 2 3 of the guitar

The following diagram and tab outlines all three triad shapes on strings 1, 2, and 3 on the guitar fretboard.

Triads shapes on strings 1, 2, 3
Guitar tab for major triads on strings 1, 2, 3

Major Triad Shapes on Strings 2-3-4

On strings 2, 3, and 4 you get the following note arrangements:

  • Shape 1: root on string 4, 3rd on string 3, 5th on string 2
  • Shape 2: 3rd on string 4, 5th on string 3, root on string 2
  • Shape 3: 5th on string 4, root on string 3, 3rd on string 2

Like the shapes on strings 1, 2, and 3, these shapes repeat up/down the fretboard.

Major triads on strings 2 3 4 of the guitar

The fretboard diagram and tab below outlines the three triad shapes on strings 2, 3, and 4.

Triads shapes on strings 2, 3, 4
Guitar tab for major triads on strings 2, 3, 4

Major Triad Shapes on Strings 3-4-5

On strings 3, 4, and 5, the note arrangements look like this:

  • Shape 1: 5th on string 5, root on string 4, 3rd on string 3
  • Shape 2: root on string 5, 3rd on string 4, 5th on string 2
  • Shape 3: 3rd on string 5, 5th on string 4, root on string 3

Again, these shapes repeat up and down the fretboard.

Major triads on strings 3 4 5 of the guitar

Below is a diagram and tab for the three triad shapes on strings 3, 4, and 5.

Triads shapes on strings 3, 4, 5
Guitar tab for major triads on strings 3, 4, 5

Learning Major Triads on Guitar with the CAGED System

Another method of learning major triads on the guitar is using the CAGED system. If you’re already familiar with the CAGED major chord shapes, learning the major triad shapes using the CAGED system 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 shape.

C Form

The CAGED C form shape can be broken into four triads. The most commonly used triads shapes from the C form would be the last two in the diagram below.

C shape CAGED major triads

A Form

From the A form CAGED shape, you can get three triads, though the first one in the diagram below is more part of the C form than the A form. The most commonly used triad of this group is the second shape in the triad diagram.

A shape CAGED major triads

G Form

The G form shape also gives us three triads, which the most commonly used shapes are the second and third in the diagram.

G shape CAGED major triads

E Form

The CAGED E form shape also gives us three triads.

E shape CAGED major triads

D Form

The D form chord gives us three triads, two of which are shared with the CAGED chord forms above and below (E form and C 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.

AGT book of scales cover

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