Understanding Guitar Triads

In depth look at how to build triad chords and easily move them across the neck of the guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
triads are a great tool for a guitarist for both playing rhythym and lead, and they are fairly easy to understand. A triad chord is any chord consisting of 3 notes First... I'm going to teach you how to build a major chord. Major chords consist of the 1st, or the root note, the 3rd, and the 5th notes of the root's major scale. Since I am focusing the lesson on D triads I will give you the notes of the D major scale.
1    2    3    4    5    6    7
D    E    F#   G    A    B    C#
Take the 1rst, 3rd, and 5th or the D, F#, and A, and those are the notes that make up a D major chord. Now, that we have a little theory out of the way, lets learn how to play major triads on each consecutive grouping of 3 strings and how to easily move through the inversions. There are 3 triad shapes that you will need to learn.. D major triads
"D" shape       "A" shape           "E" shape

e--2--  3rd      e--5--  5th       e--10--  Root
b--3--  Root     b--7--  3rd       b--10--  5th
g--2--  5th      g--7--  Root      g--11--  3rd
d-----           d-----            d------
a-----           a-----            a------
E-----           E-----            E------
To move these shapes up the strings you simply take the highest pitched note, in these examples the high notes are on the 1st string (the high E), and drop it an octave... To do that you move it from the high E string to the D string... And you get...
"D" shape         "A" shape               "E" shape

e-----             e-----                  e------
b--3--  Root       b--7--  3rd             b--10--  5th
g--2--  5th        g--7--  Root            g--11--  3rd
d--4--  3rd        d--7--  5th             d--12--  Root
a-----             a-----                  a------
E-----             E-----                  E------
And now the highest pitched note is on the 2nd string, so you drop it an octave to the 5th string
"D" shape          "A" shape               "E" shape

e-----              e-----                  e------
b-----              b-----                  b------
g--2-- 5th          g--7-- Root             g--11--  3rd
d--4-- 3rd          d--7-- 5th              d--12--  Root
a--5-- Root         a--9-- 3rd              a--12--  5th
E-----              E-----                  E------
And last but not least... Drop the high note from the 3rd string down an octave to the 6th string and you get...
"D" shape           "A" shape               "E" shape

e-----               e------                 e------
b-----               b------                 b------
g-----               g------                 g------
d--4-- 3rd           d--7--- 5th             d--12--  Root
a--5-- Root          a--9--- 3rd             a--12--  5th
E--5-- 5th           E--10-- Root            E--14--  3rd
It is a good idea to try and learn the notes so you can easily change the chord from a major to a minor, or whatever other chord you want to play. Also helps when going from a triad shape into a scale run. Usually a small alteration to the major chord changes the chord name... For example, if you drop the 3rd back a half step, or you may hear it called "flat the 3rd" and leave the Root note and the 5th the same, then you are playing a minor chord. The notes of the D major scale again(as a quick reference)
1   2   3   4   5   6   7  
D   E   F#  G   A   B   C#

Common triads:                      Formulas:

D major                        1, 3, 5    or  D, F#, A
D minor                        1, b3, 5   or  D, F,  A
D diminished                   1, b3, b5  or  D, F,  Ab
D augmented                    1, 3, #5   or  D, F#, A#
D sus4                         1, 4, 5    or  D, G,  A
D sus2                         1, 2, 5    or  D, E,  A
Now lets look at how to alter the major triads to get each of these triad shapes. I'm only going to show you one shape, I think you can figure out the rest of the inversions
  Dmaj      Dm         Ddim        Daug        Dsus4        Dsus2
e--2-- 3   --1-- b3    --1-- b3    --2-- 3rd   --3-- 4th    --0-- 2nd
b--3-- R   --3-- Root  --3-- Root  --3-- Root  --3-- Root   --3-- Root
g--2-- 5   --2-- 5th   --1-- b5    --3-- #5    --2-- 5th    --2-- 5th
d-----     -----       -----       -----       -----        -----
a-----     -----       -----       -----       -----        -----
E-----     -----       -----       -----       -----        -----
That's pretty much it, hope it helps. This is my first lesson, please let me know how I did, and if this lesson was helpful. Or if you have any questions feel free to post a comment.

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    A2 and A4 are the same as Asus2 and Asus4 you can play an add9 chord which adds the same note as the sus2, in the examples above, the 2nd note of the scale is E, the only difference is, in the sus2 chord, you substitute the 3rd for the 2nd...in the add9, you play both notes, so you are actually playing 4 different notes....the formula for the sus2 chord is 1, 2, 5....the formula for the add9 is 1, 3, 5, 9. The scale degrees start over at 8..in other words the 8th note is the same as the root, the 9 is the same as the 2 and so on so forth. Likewise anytime you see an 11 in a chord name, that note is the same as the 4. I can post a lesson further explaining how to build more advanced chords if you would like....but you really need to understand the major scale first...i'll post a lesson on that too if you want. hope that helps
    Dude you explained it awesomely but please explain according to the triads the open a chord ends on c# note instead of open 5th string, and also what's the formula for a 7th and 9th chord
    what is the name for a chord that replaces the 4 with a 5. for example: e-2-----| B-3-----| G-0-----| D-0-----|
    Please tell me if any one knows because I have understood the whole thing except for this one thing
    You are correct, iamakshayc00l, in the "A" shape A major chord, the notes in order are E - A - C#, You still have the 3 notes that make up an A major present, so it is still an A major chord, they are just not in consecutive order. There is nothing that says the notes in the chord have to be in order. When you mix up order of the notes, you're playing what are called "inversions" of the chord. Try playing through the different positions (or voicings) of A chords and you will hear that while they are all still the same chord, they do all have a slightly different sound, so picking a good voicing to fit the moment is always fun, and not to mention, when you're jamming with your friends and run through a simple 1,4,5 chord progression and you play each of the three chords in 4 different places around the neck, you're still only playing 3 chords, but your friends will be amazed at your abilities, because it will look like you're doing a whole lot more than you actually are
    Really helped but according to the A shape chord the open A chord would end on C# instead of A on 5th string
    Great lesson! i have no musical knowledge what so ever and this lesson i actually understood! i"d love to see another lesson like this!
    livingtime, the word arpeggio means "broken chord". simply put with an arpeggio, you play the notes of the chord individually, which you can do with pretty much any chord shape. Think of an arpeggio as more of a technique. the triads are just general shapes, whatever technique you use to play them is up to you.
    account, the best place that i can tell you to start is with the major scale....everything that you will need to know in music theory is compared to the major scale and it really is not that complex...check out my lesson called chord building 101, then check out my learning the fretboard lesson, that should help clear some things up for you
    what is the difference of people who are used to play guitars without knowing what they are playing to those who play guitars reading a chord chart? cause im the first i mentioned. but i know alot of chords but i dont know how to use them. i read some lessons here. but im sorry to say i cant understand.
    to answer your question canvasdude, you kind of need to know the role each note plays within the chord. The 1 is the root note, the 3 establishes whether the chord is major or minor, when you play upper extension chords such as a C13 for example, the formula for that is 1 3 5 7 9 11 13 that is 7 notes, you only have 6 strings...you can't possibly strum that chord, the trick is knowing which notes to drop. the 5th is actually the least important note within the chord, so it will be the first note to drop. the chord that you listed could be called something like Dadd11 or even Dadd11(no5)
    *btw, if anyone knows leave a comment explaining on my profile b/c I will forget about this article*
    not sure i understand the first question bass man...but to answer the 2nd question..the triad shapes do not "have to be" played on consecutive strings...you can skip strings as long as you get all 3 notes in the triad chord that you are playing
    Nice lesson, Dude.... Is their any chords like A2 and A4? are they the same with Aadd2 and Aadd4?
    and i just thought of something else, do the triads have to be on consecutive strings like E-A-D or can u skip strings like E-A-G
    the only thing i didnt understand is that when you said that u can move the shapes up the strings but u just dropped the highest note one octave its not really going anywhere u can move the form up an octave on the same strings but thats about it
    Hey man nice work i was looking for these chords for so long !!! KEEP GOING
    i don't understand your shapes... aside from that, it's a good lesson. but not very important to talk about. hehe!!! peace!!!
    in all 3 examples you actually play the same shapes as the D, E, and A chords "D" shape "E"shape "A"shape e--2-- ----- ----- b--3-- ----- --2-- g--2-- --1-- --2-- d----- --2-- --2-- a----- --2-- ----- E----- ----- ----- does that help?
    Thanks for this, it makes alot of sense! I have just one question which may be a bit stupid: What do you mean by the D,E & A shapes? Cheers!