In part one of guitar triads we looked at major triads and how you can learn these triads based on string groupings and the CAGED guitar system. In this lesson we’ll do the same with minor triads. If you need a review of triads and how they’re formed, check out part one again. Otherwise, let’s get started!
Minor triads are built from the 1st (root), 3rd (minor 3rd), and 5th (perfect 5th) degrees of the minor scale.
As is the case with major triads, these intervals are all a 3rd apart and the number of semitones between each interval determines the quality. With a minor triad we have the following stacked thirds.
- Minor 3rd = 1 1/2 tones (3 semitones / 3 frets)
- Major 3rd = 2 whole tones (4 semitones / 4 frets)
|Quality||Stacked 3rd Intervals||Semitones||5th Quality|
|Minor||Minor 3rd + Major 3rd||7||Perfect|
Note how this differs from a major triad, which stacks a minor 3rd on top of a major 3rd.
Counting out the semitones of the first 3rd will give you the following:
- Root to major 2nd = 2 semitones
- Root to minor 3rd = 1 semitone
- 3 total semitones (1 1/2 whole tones)
Counting out the semitones of the second 3rd will give you the following:
- Minor 3rd to perfect 4th = 2 semitones
- Perfect 4th to perfect 5h = 2 semitones
- 4 total semitones (2 whole tones)
Minor Triads on the Fretboard
We can build the minor triad shapes using four groups of 3 strings (1-2-3, 2-3-4, 3-4-5, 4-5-6). This is perhaps the easiest way to identify the patterns.
When learning the triad shapes, be sure to note the root note position for each. This will allow you to quickly identify triad shapes across the neck and know the name of each triad.
For each group of three strings, there are three distinct triad shapes that can be formed.
The examples below are G minor triads, but the shapes and relative note positions will apply to all minor triads.
Minor Triad Shapes on Strings 1-2-3
On strings 1-2-3, you get the following note arrangements:
- Shape 1 (1st inversion): 3rd on string 3, 5th on string 2, root on string 1
- Shape 2 (2nd inversion): 5th on string 3, root on string 2, 3rd on string 1
- Shape 3 (root position): 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.
The following diagram and tab outlines all three triad shapes on strings 1, 2, and 3 on the guitar fretboard.
Minor Triad Shapes on Strings 2-3-4
On strings 2, 3, and 4 you get the following note arrangements:
- Shape 1 (root position): root on string 4, 3rd on string 3, 5th on string 2
- Shape 2 (1st inversion): 3rd on string 4, 5th on string 3, root on string 2
- Shape 3 (2nd inversion): 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.
The fretboard diagram and tab below outlines the three triad shapes on strings 2, 3, and 4.
Minor Triad Shapes on Strings 3-4-5
On strings 3, 4, and 5, the note arrangements look like this:
- Shape 1 (2nd inversion): 5th on string 5, root on string 4, 3rd on string 3
- Shape 2 (root position): root on string 5, 3rd on string 4, 5th on string 2
- Shape 3 (1st inversion): 3rd on string 5, 5th on string 4, root on string 3
Again, these shapes repeat up and down the fretboard.
Below is a diagram and tab for the three triad shapes on strings 3, 4, and 5.
Minor Triad Shapes on Strings 4-5-6
On strings 4, 5, and 6, the note arrangements look like this:
- Shape 1 (1st inversion): 3rd on string 6, 5th on string 5, root on string 4
- Shape 2 (2nd inversion): 5th on string 6, root on string 5, 3rd on string 4
- Shape 3 (root position): root on string 6, 3rd on string 5, 5th on string 4
Below is the full neck diagram and tab for the three triad shapes on strings 4, 5, and 6.
Learning minor triads with the CAGED system
If you’ve previously learned the CAGED major triads, then learning the minor triads will be a simple process of replacing the major 3rd with the minor 3rd.
Note that the first diagram for each form is the full chord. The subsequent diagrams are the triads that can be derived from that position/chord shape.
Using minor triads in your playing
Similar to major triads, a quick way to learn to utilize minor triads in your guitar playing is to substitute them for full chords in songs you already know. Try doing this for all of the triad positions to see how the different voicings can affect the feel of the song. For some easy songs to apply this to, check out 52 Easy Songs for Beginners.
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Cheat Sheet: Minor Triads
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