The Triads of the Major Scale (Lesson #2)
The Triads of the Major Scale
This is a second lesson in the Major Scale Series so be sure to check Lesson #1 if you feel that things aren't so clear.
In order to really understand the major scale, we need to understand its mechanism and the functionality of every chord on the scale.
Let’s start simple, with triads!
First of all, what are triads?
Triads are the most basic chords in music, these chords contain only 3 chord tones.
There are 4 basic triad chords - Major, Minor, Diminished, and Augmented.
These four basic triads share a distinctive and "simple color", you may say that Major feels happy, Minor feels sad, Diminished feels dramatic and Augmented sounds anxious and suspenseful.
Building Chords on the Major scale
Building chords in the Major scale is a rather simple thing.
All you need to do is pick any note of the scale, the one you’ve picked is your root note, now stack notes on top of it while skipping every second note, until you get 3 notes in total.
For example, in C Major scale, the notes are C D E F G A B, let’s pick the note ‘C’ and stack 2 more notes on top of it while skipping every second note → C-E-G = C Major chord.
Example 2: Let’s pick the note E and build its chord. The notes are E-G-B = Em (E Minor chord).
Each triad has its own formula:
Major chord - Major 3rd interval (2 tones) → Minor 3rd interval (1½ tones)
For example, C Major chord - C-E-G: The distance from C to E is 2 tones and the distance from E to G is 1½ tones, creating the Major 3rd - Minor 3rd Pattern.
Minor chord - Minor 3rd (1½ tones) → Major 3rd (2 tones) - C-Eb-G
Diminished chord - Minor 3rd (1½ tones) → Minor 3rd (1½ tones) - C-Eb-Gb
Augmented chord - Major 3rd (2 tones) → Major 3rd (2 tones) - C-E-G#
- For more information, check the “Musical Intervals" Article.
Understanding and Practicing triads on the guitar (Major scale)
On the Major scale, we have 3 types of these basic triads - Major, Minor, and Diminished.
When building a triad from every diatonic note, we get the following chords. These are the triad chords in C Major scale.
(diatonic note means a note from the scale)
B Diminished - B-D-F
✏️ How do I write these triads?
Major chords are written with the uppercase letter of the root note, C chord = C Major
Minor chords are written with the uppercase letter of the root note + lowercase ‘m’, Dm chord = D Minor (can be written also with a minus symbol: ‘D-’)
Diminished chords are written with the uppercase letter of the root note + lowercase ‘o’, Bo = B Diminished
We’ve already learned the “Basic Guitar Chords” and "Bar Chords" (SOON), so we’re gonna take it another step further.
We are going to learn the inverted version of every chord as well!
- Check that article before proceeding if you don’t know the basic guitar chords forms.
What are inverted chords? 🤷🏻♂️
Inverted chords are chords that their bass note isn’t the chord’’s root, but one of the other chord tones.
These are the same chords we already know but with a different note order.
For example: In C major chord, in root position, the notes are stacked like this - C-E-G
When flipping this chord we get 2 different variations: E-G-C and G-C-E
Important to remember: These chords still sound like the “mother” chord when plying with a Bass player (that plays root notes) but they can function differently in some cases (but that’s for the next lessons).
When playing with others (especially with a Bass player), someone is already playing the root note that defines the current chord, therefore you can play on top of this root note any inversion of the same chord and it will be musically correct.
Because we are dealing with triads that contain only 3 notes, we will have only 2 extra inversions for every triad chord.
Now, How to play these on the guitar?
We have 3 triad chord types in the Major scale (Major, Minor, and Diminished). Each one of them can be arranged in 3 ways (Natural, 1st and 2nd inversions). That means that we have a total of 9 chord positions altogether.
In order to be able to play these positions all over the fretboard, we will divide the strings into 4 sets of adjacent 3 strings, and practice these 9 chord positions on every string set.
Let’s start with the (C) Major chord on the first string set and start building its 3 positions.
Afterward, we will do that with the Minor and Diminished chords as well (in the downloadable PDF file👇🏽).
For a PDF File with ALL of the positions - CLICK HERE
C on string set #1:
The transition from Major to Minor chords is very simple once you've learned the Major positions.
All you have to do is lower the 2nd note of the chord half a tone (E 👉🏽 Eb in these charts)
Cm on string set #1:
The transition from Minor into a Diminished chord is also quite simple, lower the 3rd note of the chord by a half note and you'll get a Diminished chord!
In this case, G is lowered to Gb thus creating the C-Eb-Gb sequence that creates a Diminished chord (Minor 3rd - Minor 3rd intervals).
Co on string set #1:
For a PDF File with ALL of the positions - CLICK HERE
After learning these 3 positions on every set of strings, it’s time to practice them.
Exercise #1 - learning the positions.
Play every set of 3 positions back and forth over the fretboard, start with a slow 60BPM,1 position per bar and slowly move up the tempo.
Repeat that exercise on every chord and every set of strings (Major, Minor, and Diminished).
Exercise #2 - playing the Major scale on four sets of strings.
After setting these positions in your chord arsenal, start practicing the Major scale chords back and forth, from C all the way to C (one octave up) and back down.
☝️ Always start in the lowest position on the fretboard, no matter if it's root position or one of the inversions. After locating the first chord, find the next chord of the scale in the closest position.
Ex on string set #1: C Major chord is played G-C-E. The next chord in the scale is Dm and the closest position is 2nd inversion - A-D-F.
Remember: In order to properly control these positions, you need to practice just a little but DAILY! You won't progress properly when playing 6 hours once a week.