Spread Triads

Eric Johnson likes to use these a lot. They're cool because they sound good even when under a considerable amount of disortion. It's a cool trick to have in your back pocket.

Ultimate Guitar
I suggest having the guitar in hand when reading through this lesson, it will help to visualize the shapes, otherwise thinking through the chord shapes will get tedious. (This lesson is all chords, and I'll notate all of them like 542xxx - just fret numbers and x's from string 6 down to 1.) So what's a spread triad? A spread triad is where you take the three notes of a chord and spread them out. Sounds simple, it looks like this... Take A major for example. Its chord tones are A-C#-E. 542xxx on the fretboard is one way to play that. So that's the regular not-so-spread triad. When spread out, it becomes 57x6xx. In a spread triad, the chord tones don't go in order. 542xxx is A-C#-E, but 57x6xx is A-E-C#. This shape is also the major barre chord with half the notes and no barre (577655 to 57x6xx, see?). Here I'm going to talk about a chords that are "in the front of the grip" and "in the back of the grip". If a chord is in the front of the grip, then I mean that all the fingers playing the chord are ahead of the lowest note on the fretboard. If a chord is behind the grip, then the fingers playing higher notes are behind the lowest note on the fretboard. I'll give an example. Let's switch to G for this visualization. Start with the G major barre chord 355433. Now drop half the notes and leave the spread triad (35x4xx). This chord is in the front of the grip because 5 and 4 are ahead of 3. Obvious, I know, but here's why it matters... One of the interesting things about spread triads is that there's almost always two ways to play them that are exactly the same - usually one is "front" grip, and one is "back" grip. Play the old open G chord (320003). Now drop half the notes and make it a spread triad (3x0x0x). If you go between the front grip (35x4xx) and the back grip (3x0x0x), you'll see they're the same. If you move back up to A and eliminate the open strings it gets a little more obvious - front grip in A (57x6xx); back grip in A (5x2x2x). Depending on the situation, one of these grips is usually incredibly inconvenient. Surprisingly, there are situations where (5x2x2x) is useful. In case you're starting to think you can just drop any part of a chord to make a spread triad, unfortunately that's not true.. you have to know which notes are which and drop the right ones. A spread triad requires each chord tone to be represented exactly once, and they have to be at least one chord tone part. Now, if you're new to this idea. You might want to stop here. If you're comfortable with this, hang on, because it's about to go the exhaustive route and lay out the spread triad shapes in both their ahead grip and behind grip forms for root position, but also first and second inversions. Then I'm going to finish with a cycle of 4ths progression that is completely contained between frets 4 and 8. A major, root position: front grip: 57x6xx or x02x2x or xx79x9 back grip: 5x2x2x or x12x9x9 First inverion of A major (C# in the bass):
front grip: 9 12x9xx or x47x5x or x x 11 14 x  12
back grip:  9 x 79xx or x4x25x or x x 11 x  10 12
Second inversion of A major (E in the bass): front grip: 12x11x14x (okay, so maybe this one doesn't quite fit into my front/back grip description thing) back grip: x7x6x5 or 12x11x10x The minor versions require shifting all the 3rds down a fret. I haven't written those out yet. Anyways, here's a nifty cycle of 4ths progression using spread triads.
 A D G C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E
Haha... okay, so maybe I added an impractical one to stay between frets 4 and 8. Maybe the point of this lesson is also that while it's nice to have a few handy concepts to generalize chords, there's also a lot of value to just brute force memorizing the fretboard and knowing what and where all those damn notes are. Here's a handy trick for memorizing the cycle of 4ths progression.. the word "bead" is in the progression twice... well... it has "BEADG" in there twice. Tack a G on to the word bead. It's more obvious if you start on Bb. The first time it has flats, the second time just letters, and it finishes with C F. Look at it like this: Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G C F See? Haha... if you read this far... I'm sorry. It was either enlightening, painful, or some combination of the two. Hell, I think I even missed a few spread triads. There's a lot of them. I actually haven't played through that cycle 4's progression yet. I'm at work right now typing up lessons. I have to work on this stuff when I get home, too :-p

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is good theory, but what's the practical application?
    These types of chords get a more Eric Johnson-y sound out of any chord progression. So the practical application is to take a song you know and convert the chords you're using into spread triads and see what you think of the sound it gets. These types of chords are also a good way to learn voice leading. Piano players are much more familiar with the voice leading. Changing a chord progression into spread triads will make it sound more "classical-y" because of that. Voice leading little less common on guitar because of the way we can just learn a handful of chord shapes and jump around, and that keeps a lot of music on guitar harmonically oversimplified.
    By the way, your Ab chord is missing the Eb
    Yeah, it looks like you're right. Good call.
    nice work, i've posted a couple of lessons on basic triads and how to use them. check those out for some ideas on application.
    you should know not to call them front of grip and back of grip what the hell is that? It;s first inversion and second inversion...a majoor triad is a root a 3rd and a 5th and depending on whether root 3 or 5 comes first is how you setermine which inversion you are using...its music theory!
    ***SP CORRECTIONS*** (majoor *Major*) (setermine *Determine*) My apologies for my spelling errors in the previous post.
    David Blackbird
    flimflam27 wrote: you should know not to call them front of grip and back of grip what the hell is that? It;s first inversion and second inversion...a majoor triad is a root a 3rd and a 5th and depending on whether root 3 or 5 comes first is how you setermine which inversion you are using...its music theory!
    He's not talking about inversions, he's talking about voicings. For example, an A major triad has the notes A, C#, and E. In root position, all that matters is that A is the lowest note. It doesn't matter where the C# and E are, just that they are above the A. This lesson is about open-voiced chords, where the notes are spread out over multiple octaves. rtcx's terms "front grip" and "back grip" are just referring to the notes' location on the fretboard relative to the bass note. "Front grip" means the other notes are on higher frets than the bass note, and vice-versa for "back grip". rtcx did clearly notate different fingerings for different inversions.
    Haha. Thanks, Dave. But yeah, I can't really blame him for getting frustrated with my made up terminology (Besides, I don't want to start a music theory pissing contest with the poor kid). There's about a billion different spread triads, and just when you think you've found them all a new one pops up. I know of at least two different ways to organize them, my way just focuses on the aspect of "duplicate" shapes, and that tends to mean that whenever you grab a spread triad there's usually a way to play the exact same chord with the exact same voicing nearby.
    that's a cool lesson, I wish it had more coverage of the practical uses. Those are some cool ways to make your playing more interesting.