Learning Triads Pt 2 - Minor Triads, Learn to build, play and expand on minor triads in the practice room.
The Professor
Feb 11 2013, 02:35 PM
Theory Instructor
Posts: 888
Joined: 8-January 13
From: Manchester UK
When first learning to play the guitar, there are two basic chords that we work on, major and minor chords.

But, as we progress in our development as players, we can sometimes forget about these triads, moving on to 7th, 9th, 11, 13th and all sorts of fun and complex chord shapes.

While open-position chords tend to be easier to get under our fingers than other, more complex shapes, our exploration of triads shouldn’t end there.

In today’s lesson, we’ll be looking a the commonly used minor triad, how it is built, all of the different inversions in closed-position for minor triads around the neck, and take them a step further by exploring spread voicing triads as well.

Not only is this lesson good for those just beginning their journey to learning the guitar, but it will act as a refresher and reminder for more advanced players at just how important and in-depth simple triads can be.

If you want to check out the first part in this series, visit the "Major Triads for Guitar" lesson.

What is a Minor Triad?

Just like the major triad that we looked at in the first lesson of this series, the minor triad has three notes, the root, 3rd and 5th, often written as 1-3-5.

The difference here, is that the minor triad has a b3 in it’s construction, meaning that the 3rd of a minor chord is a half-step (1 fret) lower than that of a major chord.

To make it easy to build a minor triad, you can think about it as being the first, 3rd and 5th notes of the natural minor scale.

Here is how that would look like on paper, building a minor triad from the minor scale.

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_1.mp3 ( 318.69K ) Number of downloads: 518

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After you have checked this chord out from a C root, try writing out the other 11 possible minor chords and see if you can build them on the fly.

If you want to post your results below this lesson, I will be glad to go over your work and see if you are on the right track.

What is an Inversion?

Now that you understand how to build a minor triad in it’s root position, you can now work it through the other two inversions for this chord.

An inversion is simply the same notes of the triad, 1-b3-5, but with the other two non-root notes as the lowest note in the chord.

So, here is how the three inversions for a minor triad would be spelled.

Root Position - 1 b3 5

First Inversion - b3 5 1

Second Inversion - 5 1 b3

You can see that the notes are always in the same order, but each inversion just starts on a different note from that triad, producing three distinct shapes on the guitar using the same notes for each shape.

Here is how those shapes would look like on the 5-3 string set as an example.

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_2.mp3 ( 193.18K ) Number of downloads: 431

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Now that you have learned how to build minor triads and their inversions, let’s take this knowledge and apply it to the fingerboard, where the fun really begins!

Minor Triads on the Low 3 Strings

To start, let’s take a look at how to play minor triads and each inversion on the low 3-strings of the guitar.

If you have learned the major triads from my previous lesson in this way, then you will notice that these shapes are very similar, but that the 3rd has been lowered for each inversion.

When working on these, or any group of triads, make sure to memorize them in the given key from the tab/notation below.

Then, take them to other keys around the neck, and then try and play songs or progressions you know, replacing the minor shapes you normally use with one or more of these new fingerings.

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_3.mp3 ( 214.61K ) Number of downloads: 433

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Minor Triads on Strings 5-3

The next set of minor triads that we will explore are found on the strings 5, 4 and 3. Here, you will notice that these shapes are the exact same as the low 3 strings, you have just moved them up one string-group.

So, if you have learned the minor triads on the low 3-strings, then you already have these shapes down, and just need to work on finding them on the new string group.

Pretty cool right?!

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_4.mp3 ( 218.29K ) Number of downloads: 407

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Minor Triads on Strings 4-2

You can also learn to play minor triads and their inversions on strings 4, 3 and 2.

Here, the shapes start to look different as the second string comes into play. So, while you were able to use the same shapes for each inversion on the low 3 and 5-3 string sets, you now have to adjust those fingerings to get the new shapes under your fingers.

Though they are new, and different from the lower string groups, this set of minor triads sound great on the guitar, and are some of the most commonly used shapes outside of open-position and barre chords when it comes to playing minor triads up the neck.

Check these shapes and have fun with them, you will encounter them a lot as you learn new songs and expand your guitar repertoire down the road.

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_5.mp3 ( 214.61K ) Number of downloads: 391

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Minor Triads on the Top 3 Strings

To finish our exploration of minor triads in closed position around the fretboard, here are the fingerings for minor triad inversions on the top-3 strings.

Again, work these shapes out in the given key, before taking them to other keys and then using them to improvise, write a new song or alter a song you already know by inserting these shapes into your minor chord fingerings.

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_6.mp3 ( 214.61K ) Number of downloads: 401

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Spread Minor Triads on the 6th String

Besides playing triads on adjacent strings through the different inversions and string sets, you can also space out these common three-note-chords and make them spread triads.

To do this, you take the second note of any inversion and raise it up by one octave.

This would produce the following interval structures for each minor triad as compared to the closed-position shapes we looked at in the previous examples.

Root Position 1 b3 5 = 1 5 b3

1st Inversion b3 5 1 = b3 1 5

2nd Inversion 5 1 b3 = 5 b3 1

By using spread triads, you are adding a bit of sonic interest to these common voicings, as you step outside of the expected sounds and shapes for these minor chords.

But, the spread voicings do have more stretches in them then you might be used to, so make sure to go slow when first working out these shapes, and if you can’t grab a wide stretch leave it for now and come back to that inversion when you have progressed on the instrument and the wider stretches are more reasonable to grab.

To start you off, here are the different minor triad spread-voicings with the lowest note on the 6th string.

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_7.mp3 ( 248.9K ) Number of downloads: 407

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Spread Minor Triads on the 5th String

You can also play these spread voicings with the lowest note on the 5th string. Here, the shapes are slightly different from the previous set, as the 2nd string tuning comes into play, but they carry a similar sound to the other spread-triads explored in this lesson.

Work these triads in different keys, and once you have them down, try writing a chord progression, or taking on that you know, and building it with these new shapes.

This will add a new flavor to your minor chord vocabulary without stepping beyond the sound of the underlying triad itself.

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_8.mp3 ( 216.45K ) Number of downloads: 413

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Spread Minor Triads on the 4th String

The last minor triads we will look at are the spread-voicings laid out with the lowest note of each chord found on the 4th string.

As with any chord shape, work on memorizing these triads in the given key, then take them to other keys around the neck, and finally apply them to songs you know or chord progressions you are working on in the practice room.

There are some nasty stretches in these shapes, so go slow and make sure to use a metronome to make sure you are shifting from one shape to the next with relaxed hands that produce smooth transitions.

Attached File  Min_Triad_Ex_9.mp3 ( 214.61K ) Number of downloads: 375

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As you work through these different exercises and fingerings, you can see that there is a lot more to basic triads than often meets the eye.

By working out minor triads across the neck, in different keys and in all the various inversions, you will not only be learning about how these important shapes are built, but how they sit on the guitar at the same time.

This will give you more than enough material needed the next time you want to bring a minor chord sound to a composition or improvisation, and you feel like stepping outside the standard, open-position or barre-chord shapes.

What do you think of this lesson? Share your thoughts in the thread below.

Related GMC lessons/materials:
* Minor Pentatonic Scale and Minor Triads lesson
* Minor Pentatonic Scale Boxes and Triads
* Practice backing track: Attached File  E_minor_backing_track.mp3 ( 868.49K ) Number of downloads: 720

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