Jazz Chord Essentials: Triads with Jens Larsen

A lesson explaining and demonstrating how to play jazz progressions and chords with Triads.

Ultimate Guitar
In this lesson I'd like to demonstrate how you can play jazz harmony only using triad voicings.

It's a very practical and guitaristic approach but also one that I on guitar is often very practical and beautiful in a lot of musical settings.

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So if we take the Cmaj7: We get these notes: C E G B so that's a C and an E minor triad, and we can use it like that when we are comping or soloing.

So if you want to play the chord but not the root, you can use the triad from the 3rd. Using this concept we have these triads to play in C major:
  • Cmaj7: E minor triad
  • Dm7: F major triad
  • Em7: G major triad
  • Fmaj7: A minor triad
  • G7: Bdim triad
  • Am7: C major triad
  • Bm7b5: D minor triad.
So if you know how a chord is constructed it is easy to figure out what triad you can use to play that chord. There's another concept that is closely related to this which is called upper-structure triads. The idea behind this is that you use a triad as the extension part of a chord to have a strong sounding voicing or melody, but that's a little more complicated theoretically and for another lesson.

The advantage to this approach it is an easy way to play rootless chords and fever notes makes it more flexible for adding notes and making melodies within the chords.

Triad exercises

The basic exercise you need for this is to learn the triads in inversions on every set of three strings. When using them as chords I play them 90% of the time on the two top sets, but since triads are such a basic resource that you need for soloing as well as chords I've chosen to demonstrate all three types of triads that are found in the major scale on all string sets:

Of course you can make a lot more exercises with the triads, playing them in scales and different voiceleading or melodic ideas but for now I just cover the basics. You should check it out in diatonic situations, and work it through songs since triads are one of the fundamental building blocks in most kinds of music.

George van Eps has written a lot of exercises with triads in his books everything with fingerings and in all keys, worthwhile checking out and practicing from.

Let's continue by playing a few cadences in C, so Dm7, G7, Cmaj7:

A few useful ideas

To make this approach work we also need to have a way to deal with altered dominants. For that I use the approach that I also talked about in my lesson on diatonic arpeggios: Altered chords and superimposing. Namely taking the upper part of the tritone substitute and used that on an altered dominant.

Another way to say that is: Altered dominants: use the dim chord from the 7th degree: G7alt: F dim: F Ab B which is 7, b6, 3rd.

You can use some of the same substitution rules as I explained in on of the drop2 lessons, so 13 instead of 5 (example: G7/Bdim), b5 instead of 5 and to make a sus4 chord you can suspend the 3rd with the 4th.

For minor chords: 11th instead of 5th or #11 instead of 5 on major 7th chords (you could also see that as a sus4 triad in inversion being used over a C bass note, but since I did not talk about sus4 triads and inversions I won't go further into that. The last example is how to replace the 7th with the 6th.

Putting it to use

Just so you get an idea about how I incorporate it, here's an example over a trusted old I IV II V with altered dominants: Dm7 G7alt Cmaj7 A7alt.

You might notice that I am trying to play with the different voices within the chords because the triad approach lends itself to this very well.

Here's the recording of my playing this from the video:

Here's a downloadable version of the examples: Jazz Chord Essentials - Triads

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About the Author:
By Jens Larsen. There are more lessons on his website. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Subscribe to his YouTube channel and feel free to connect with him via Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Justified Death
    I just love when you show off jazz chords man. Don't have a clue what you're talking about but I just learn them and make it my own somehow. Always a pleasure, Mr. Larsen!!!
    Thank you! I guess I need to work on my explanations? But great that you get something out of it!
    Great lesson! Do some stuff on altered scale.
    Thanks! I'll do a lesson on the altered scale. You could check my youtube lesson on dominant 7th scales it's in there in one of the examples, and I also made one on Lydian dominants which are closely related to altered dominants
    Great lesson, Jens! I have been following you for a while, and this is great fundamental guitar. You are obviously an excellent teacher. Keep it up!
    Justified Death
    I meant the video at the end, I'm sorry.
    Thanks! Sorry I think that's going to be too much work, but even if you don't know the theory you could figure out some of it by ear? I know it's probably difficult, but since I don't remember how I played it I would have to do that too if I was to write it out. Jens
    Justified Death
    JENS!!! I finally remembered the password to my account, hahahaha. Is there any way you could tab out the Youtube clip on here? I love it so much. I've downloaded it into an mp3, and constantly play it. I don't know any theory so if you were to say "oh well just recognize the chords and blah blah blah" I would not be able to understand anything, hahaha. I just...man, I love your version better than the original! Thanks so much. Hope you read this.
    very cool. im in the process of an origanal that revolves around this. Lesson will certainly help, an give me some thinking. thanks
    Great that it fits what you are already busy with! Let me know if you have a recording of the song!
    This is such a weird coincidence, I stumbled across your video of 'I fall in love too easily' two days ago on YouTube and now you've appeared on the homepage of UG! Great lesson and fantastic playing! Thanks
    You're very welcome! I am glad that you like the lesson, and probably happier that you like my playing
    This is just what I needed to master the fretboard. Thank you for this lesson, you are a good guitar teacher; which actually means a lot because there are a lot of goofballs here in UG and in Youtube and it's actually hard to find someone that will teach you something so useful like this.
    Nice lesson again. Eric Johnson is using this approach a lot, for rythim and lead
    Glad you like it! Actually it's very common in a lot of styles. I think you'll find that the Eric Johnson sound is more the open-voiced triads. There's a lesson coming about that on UG and it is already on my YT channel.