Triads are pretty much a guitarist’s best friend.
We start out learning to play open chords on the guitar, built from triads, and if we expand our playing into the classical, jazz or improvised music realm, these three-note chords expand to take on a whole new meaning and level of significance in our playing.
While you may be familiar with open-position chords, and other closed-position triads across the neck (where all three notes fit within one octave), few players explore triads beyond these standard voicings and applications.
In this article I will introduce you to spread voicing triads.
We’ll look at how they are built, apply them to chord-scale exercises and dig into using these voicings to develop right-hand control and dexterity. So, let’s dig in to spread-voicing triads!
Spread Voicing Triads
Spread triads are built by taking a normal, closed-position triad, and raising one or more of the notes by an octave.
In this lesson we will focus on raising just one note at a time, but if you want to take things further you can try moving both up to see where it takes you in the practice room.
In the first bar you can see a closed-position C major triad. This triad is built Root-3rd-5th, and in bar two, the third (E) has been raised up an octave to produce a triad that is now spelled Root-5th-3rd.
Try playing the first bar followed by the second bar to begin to notice the difference in timber between these two voicings.
The third bar in the example features a triad where the fifth has been raised an octave.
So, it has the same interval order as the first bar, Root-3rd-5th, but the fifth is now placed one octave higher than normal.
Play through the first bar, followed by the third bar, to begin to get this new sound in your ears and under your fingers.
Once you have checked out all three voicings, you can begin to practice all three together.
As well, you can take this approach to any key, sticking with major triads if you like, or to other triads such as minor, diminished and augmented voicings.
The approach is always the same, start with a closed-position triad and then raising one or more notes to create the spread version of that triad.
As well, you can apply spread voicings to any string set, so triads on the 6-5-4 strings or the 3-2-1 strings, as well as to any inversion, such as first or second inversion.
Once you start to take these spread voicings into different keys, different chord qualities, different string sets and different inversions, you can really see the exponential quality of this approach to playing three-note chords.
Spread Triad Scales
One of the ways that I like to practice triads is by running a particular voicing through a chord scale.
A chord scale is exactly what the name implies.
It is a scale featuring all the chords that are a part of the particular key you are practicing.
In the case of the example below, I have taken a C major scale, C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, and harmonized the scale by placing a triad on top of each note in the scale. This produces a C major chord scale as such:
C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C
I then played through each of these triads, moving the scale across the 5th string, using the first version of a spread voicing from the example above, Root-5th-3rd.
I kept this fingering for each chord in the scale, which allows me to not only learn the C major chord scale, but I am practicing three different triads in the course of one exercise, major-minor-diminished, at the same time.
Try playing through this example as is.
Then, when you are comfortable, play through the C major chord scale using the second spread voicing from the previous section of this article.
Then take it to different keys, different string sets and different inversions.
The sky really is the limit with how far you can take this lesson in the practice room.
Right Hand Exercise 1
As well as using spread triads to develop your left hand and harmonic knowledge, they are great for developing your right-hand technique, especially finger independence.
In the following three exercises I have laid out different ways that you can bring your right hand into the equation when practicing spread-triad chord scales.
In the first example I split the triad into two parts, the upper voice and the lower two together.
This is a great way to begin putting more focus on the melody line in your chordal playing, as well as train your right hand to think of chords as a collection of individual lines rather than a chunk of notes.
For all of these exercises, practice playing the single note louder than the other two.
This will further develop your ability to separate notes within a chord voicing, as well as build volume control in your picking hand.
Right Hand Exercise 2
In the second version of this exercise you will be separating the middle voice from the outer two.
This is the hardest of the three exercises, so you might want to practice those ones first before attempting to take this one into the woodshed.
Right Hand Exercise 3
The final exercise separates the lowest note from the upper two.
This is probably the easiest exercise to do because we tend to play bass notes louder than the upper notes naturally.
If you want to take this exercise to the next level, reverse the accents.
So, play the single note quietly and the other two notes loud, putting more focus on developing your thumb, which is something that we could all spend more time on in the practice room.
Spread triads may not be as common as their closed-position relatives, but they are a great way to quickly and easily expand your chord vocabulary, while sticking to three-note chords in the process.
Check these voicings out in the practice and see what you think of these cool sounding three-note chords.
Do you have a favorite voicing for spread triads or an experience with these chords in your own playing? If so, please share it in the comment section below.