Triads: Constructing Memorable Melodies pt. 1
Yes, you read correctly: this is an article on triads. I know what you are thinking, “I already know about triads…1s, 3s, 5s…how is this even USEFUL?!” Fear not, young shredder. You have much to learn.
Triads are constructed through combining the 1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees of a scale. Some examples would be a C major chord (C-E-G) and an A major chord (A-C#-E). There are 4 different triad tonalities which include major, minor, diminished, and augmented. Here are their formulas:
- Major – 1, 3, 5 (ex. C-E-G – C major)
- Minor – 1, b3, 5 (ex. C-Eb-G – C minor)
- Diminished – 1, b3, b5 (ex. C-Eb-Gb – C diminished)
- Augmented – 1, 3, #5 (ex. C-E-G# – C augmented)
Another way of looking at intervals is through their intervallic construction:
- Major – starting note, major 3rd, minor 3rd
- Minor – starting note, minor 3rd, major 3rd
- Diminished – starting note, minor 3rd, minor 3rd
- Augmented – starting note, major 3rd, major 3rd
With that basic primer out of the way, now let’s look at how we can practice triads to create memorable melodies. Keep in mind, however, that melodic content must be paired with good rhythmic phrasing in order to sound both mature and memorable. Click here for an article on how to improve your phrasing.
So, why practice triads?
1) Melodic Memorability. The listener’s ears are already conditioned to hear triads through the evolution of tonal harmony. This is why chords already sound pleasing to us. Triads are an auditory gold mine, just waiting to be tapped by those who are ready and willing!
2) Outlining chord progressions. Do you often play unaccompanied? In this case, you can fill sonic space by mastering triad shapes.
3) Learning to structure tension versus release. If you are aware of what notes are in the chord you are playing over, you can create tension through playing notes that are NOT in the chord. Furthermore, you can resolve these notes as you desire. You will essentially have far more control.
As mentioned in the master class on phrasing I tend to favour slow, multistage approaches in order to learn and teach things more completely. For this lesson, we will focus on using triad positions on the top 3 strings (G,B,E).
Here is a 4-step approach to implementing triad-work into your practice routine:
Choose a triad (ex. C major). Record yourself vamping on that chord, and use it as a backing track. Practice creating melodies ONLY one inversion of this chord, then switch to the 2nd inversion, and then the 3rd inversion.
Use the same backing track, but now you will practice switching between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd inversion of your triad. Remember, we are only using one triad for now.
Now create a backing track with a 2-chord vamp (ie. C major to G major). Create melodies using only the notes in each chord (over C major play only C-E-G, over G major play only G-B-D). Try using both efficient and inefficient fingerings for your triads.
Using your 2-chord backing track, create melodies using both triad tones and non triad tones. You should notice that your playing sounds more intentional, and you will begin to develop an unconscious process for structuring tension and resolution.
Practicing triads is a great way to develop musicianship across metal, country, rock, and blues genres. Both Jason Becker’s “Altitudes” and Brent Mason’s “Hot Wired” are stylistically polarized but rely on triads to create interesting lines, for example. Many working professionals and artists use triads to structure tension and release (or resolution) in their phrasing. Try it for a month, and see what you come up with! You will be pleased with the results.
Comment below if you love triads, or have any cool expansions on the exercise outlined above. Look out for more articles on triads in the near future!