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Triads: Constructing Memorable Melodies pt. 2

In our last triad lesson, we looked at how to apply basic triad forms vertically along the fretboard. While triads may seem fairly elementary, when applied to improvisation they can be incredibly powerful. For example, a player who is familiar with triads will have an easier time structuring melodic tension and release. In other words, by mastering triads a soloist could more effectively structure “safe” notes against dissonant or “outside” notes.  As Greg Howe demonstrates in his video on improvisation, contrast is paramount in creating interesting solos.

Last week we looked at vertical triad patterns, meaning triads across adjacent strings. This week, we will examine horizontal triad patterns across single strings. Again, we will use a multi-stage approach to work on a few of the many possibilities that triad-based soloing can facilitate.


As in the last triad lesson, you should begin by creating a backing track. Choose a triad (ex. E major) and simply vamp on it for a minute or two. Once your backing track is set, begin to solo on one string using ONLY the notes of that triad.

Over an E major vamp, you could use E, G#, and B as follows:


Now we will extend this exercise to the B-string. Using the same backing track now use only E-major notes on the B-string, as follows:

Also try the remaining 4 strings:


Having become more comfortable with horizontal triad patterns, now try applying two different triads to a single string. Record a backing track using E major and F# minor, and begin to improvise using the appropriate triad notes (E-G#-B for E major, and F#-A-C# for F# minor).

Wrapping up

Try applying triad based lines to your usual soloing and improvisation. Where does this system work well? Where does it fail? Does this system work better with some genres rather than others?

By focusing on triads we are establishing a system by which you will learn to quickly recognize consonant and dissonant tones. Good melodies and solos offer the listener some measure of contrast, and structuring chord tones against non chord tones is one way to provide this. Furthermore, most guitarists are trapped within the confines of tired scale patterns. Learning to use triads effectively should help soloists break out of old patterns.

-Matt Shelvock


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