Jazz Chord Essentials: Triads with Jens Larsen

author: jenslarsen date: 08/20/2014 category: guitar chords
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Jazz Chord Essentials: Triads with Jens Larsen
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.

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

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.
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