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Spread Triads on Guitar

Spread triads, or open voice triads, are a variation of the more commonly used standard triads, or closed voice triads. The intervalic relationship between the notes of open voiced triads creates a more melodic structure that’s a bit less linear. They’re also quite versatile, being used by guitarists from Eric Johnson to David Gilmour, so they can fit many different styles of music.

In this lesson we’ll take a look at what spread triads are, how to build them, and some exercises you can use to practice them.

How to Build Spread Triads

The most common way to build spread triads is to take the 2nd note of a closed voice triad and raise it an octave. By doing this, you change the order of the notes in the triad and create a larger intervallic gap between each compared to closed voice triads.

Root Position

For example, if we take a G major closed triad in the root position and raise the 2nd note (∆3) an octave, we get the following open voiced triad.

Closed voice to open voiced triad in the root position
Root Position
ClosedRoot∆3p5
OpenRootp5∆3

1st Inversion

Going through the same process from the 1st inversion we get the following:

Closed voice to open voiced triad in the 1st inversion
1st Inversion
Closed∆3p5Root
Open∆3Rootp5

2nd Inversion

Finally, with the second inversion we get the following:

Closed voice to open voiced triad in the 2nd inversion
2nd Inversion
Closedp5Root∆3
Openp5∆3Root

The examples above used major triads to demonstrate the spread voicing construction, but it’s the same process with minor triads.

Open Voice Triads on the Fretboard

As you may have noticed in the examples above, unlike closed triads, spread triads result in skipping a string in order to finger all of the notes This is due to the larger intervals between the notes.

Therefore, the triad shapes on the fretboard are a good bit different from their closed versions. In some instances, there are multiple variations for fingering them. Which one you use is entirely up to you and will likely depend on the application.

Major Spread Triads

We’ll start with the major spread triads. Triads will be grouped by the string in which the bass note of the triad is located (6th, 5th, and 4th strings). Just like closed triads, there will be three variations for each group: root position, first inversion, and second inversion.

For review, major triads consist of the root, major 3rd, and perfect 5th intervals.

Bass Note on String 6

With the bass note on the 6th string, we get the following spread triads:

Major spread triads with bass note on the 6th string
Major spread triads with bass note on string 6
Guitar tab for major spread triads with bass note on 6th string
Major spread triads bass note on 6th string

Fingering Variations:

With the bass note on string six, fingering variations exist for the 1st and 2nd inversions:


Bass Note on String 5

With the bass note on the 5th string we get the following spread triads:

Major spread triads with bass note on the 5th string
Major spread triads with bass note on string 5
Guitar tab for major spread triads with bass note on 5th string
Major spread triads bass note on 5th string

Fingering Variations:

With the bass note on string five, fingering variations exist for the 1st and 2nd inversions:


Bass Note on String 4

With the bass note on the 4th string we get the following major spread triads:

Major spread triads with bass note on the 4th string
Major spread triads with bass note on string 4
Guitar tab for major spread triads with bass note on 4th string
Major spread triads bass note on 4th string

Fingering Variations:

With the bass note on string four, fingering variations exist for the 1st and 2nd inversions:


Minor Spread Triads

Just like the major spread triads, we’ll group the minor spread triads according to the bass note location. The minor spread triad consists of the root, minor 3rd, and perfect 5th.

Bass Note on String 6

With the bass note on the 6th string we get the following minor spread triads:

Minor spread triads with bass note on the 6th string
Minor spread triads with bass note on string 6
Guitar tab for minor spread triads with bass note on 6th string
Minor spread triads bass note on 6th string

Fingering Variations:

With the bass note on string six, we get the following variations for the root position and 1st inversion:


Bass Note on String 5

With the bass note on the 5th string we get the following minor spread triads:

Minor spread triads with bass note on the 5th string
Minor spread triads with bass note on string 5
Guitar tab for minor spread triads with bass note on 5th string
Minor spread triads bass note on 5th string

Fingering Variations:

With the bass note on string five, we get the following variations for the 1st and 2nd inversions:


Bass Note on String 4

With the bass note on the 4th string, we get the following minor spread triads:

Minor spread triads with bass note on the 4th string
Minor spread triads with bass note on string 4
Guitar tab for minor spread triads with bass note on 4th string
Minor spread triads bass note on 4th string

Fingering Variations:

With the bass note on string five, we get the following variations for the root position and 1st inversion:


How to Practice Spread Triads

As with anything, there are many approaches you can take to learn opened voice triads. The method I always turn to is to play through each groupings until you have the basic shapes down, then apply them to the harmonized major scale. So let’s start by getting the basic shapes down.

Exercise 1: Root position and inversions

In this first exercise, we’re simply going to play through the opened voice triads for each string group, going through the root position, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion for each. The examples here are only using the major triads, but it should be performed for both major and minor.

Note that in the examples below include arpeggiated triads and chords.

Bass on String 6 – Chords

Guitar tab for major spread triads with bass note on 6th string, chords

Bass on String 6 – Arpeggiated

Guitar tab for open voice triad exercise with bass note on 6th string

Bass on String 5 – Chords

Guitar tab for major spread triads with bass note on 5th string, chords

Bass on String 5 – Arpeggiated

Guitar tab for open voice triad exercise with bass note on 5th string

Bass on String 4 – Chords

Guitar tab for major spread triads with bass note on 4th string, chords

Bass on String 4 – Arpeggiated

Guitar tab for open voice triad exercise with bass note on 4th string

Exercise 2: Harmonized major scale up the neck

In this exercise, we’re going to harmonize the major scale and play through each spread triad for the G major scale. The sequence of triads is as follows:

Scale Degree1234567
TriadGAmBmCDEmF#°

The examples below included both arpeggiated and chord versions of the exercise.

Bass Note on String 6: G major Scale

Guitar tab for G major scale harmonized with spread triads, chord version
Guitar tab for G major scale harmonized with arpeggiated spread triads

Bass Note on String 5: C major Scale

Guitar tab for C major scale harmonized with spread triads
Guitar tab for C major scale harmonized with arpeggiated spread triads

Bass Note on String 4: F major Scale

Guitar tab for D major scale harmonized with  spread triads
Guitar tab for D major scale harmonized with arpeggiated spread triads

Exercise 3: Positionally harmonized major scale

If you’ve read the lesson Positional Playing on Guitar, you know I’m a fan of getting the most out of a given position on the guitar. This spread triad exercise takes that approach by working out of the first position of the G major scale. This approach requires you to apply the triads across different string groupings instead of just playing them horizontally up the neck.

Guitar tab for positional spread triad exercise out of the G major scale

If you want to take these exercises a step further, you can take the same process and apply it to the inversions.

Wrap up

In this lesson we took a look at spread, or open voice, triads. While still containing the root, 3rd, and 5th, these structures sound a good bit different than their closed voice counterparts. Because of the intervallic jump between notes, the stretch required to play them cleanly can be a challenge at first. Work through the exercises slowly and develop your technique and ear. Once you get a feel for them you can begin working them into your playing and you’ll likely start to recognize them in the music you already play and listen to.

spread triads cheat sheet thumbnail

Cheat Sheet: Spread Triads

Download the cheat sheet for this lesson: