"As if there weren't enough articles and lessons on triads already!
What...we need another one?" Nah, you don't need the Blues Triad
Mastery (BTM) lesson. I created BTM because I wanted to learn
triads in a way that was fun for both fingers and ears.
I wanted something Bluesey. I wanted to play *music* and not
a monotonous, "mah-ching up and down the fretboard" (Say with
a John Cleese accent) lesson as boring as cardboard. I couldn't
find a lesson like this, so I wrote one.
What specifically is it?
Blues Triad Mastery is two examples of ii-V-I based chord progressions
that illustrate each inversion of three of the four fundamental
triad types, using a melody soaked in the Blues. Here's a summary
of the features of BTM:
Musical context: Two-five-one progressions
Triads in all inversions
Frets from 0 to 12, strings high E through D covered
Two types of 251 progressions: target tone and scale-style
Major, minor, diminished triads covered
How does it help me?
Here are some specific benefits that BTM provides:
Builds facility with triads in all inversions.
Shows you how to make triad practice engaging with the Blues.
Provides the basis for understanding more complex chords.
Grows your ears by conditioning you to the major, minor, and
Enhances skill in playing the essential ii-V7-I progression.
Who's it for?
Blues Triad Mastery is intended to help beginning to intermediate
level guitarists. But, even advanced guitarists might enjoy and
benefit from BTM.
Some of the specific skills you'll want to have before tackling
this lesson include knowing the notes on the fretboard; understanding
some music theory; and feeling comfortable playing shapes all
over the fretboard.
Here are the two progressions. The by-string approach is first.
You can hear how these progressions sound by clicking the pics.
F major, ascending and descending, string 1
Here's a progression using the focus note or target note approach.
F, String 1, focus note A
Discussion: The Blues
Triad Mastery Approach
The progressions in Blues Triad Mastery are approached in two
ways, so you'll be less likely to get stuck knowing just one way
to play them. Even so, after you master these progressions, you'll
want to write your own triad exercises using new approaches for
First, we move along the high E string, playing each inversion
of the major triad, ascending and descending. Next, we flow melodically,
in the same musical phrase, from the major triad to the minor
We do the same with the minor triad as we did with the major:
playing each inversion, ascending and descending the string. After
the minor, we flow into the diminished triad. Last, we flow from
the diminished back into the major triad.
Note that we're covering only one string here. You'd want to
maximize your triad skills by transposing the by-string approach
to strings B, G, and D. See the checklist later in this article
for a summary of all the triad progressions you'll want to create
The second way we approach triad skill building is as follows:
We focus on a particular note, which I call a target note; play
a major triad with that target note in the top voice of the chord;
flow into the minor chord, whose top note will be as close to
the major chord's target note as possible; flow from the minor
into the diminished, again staying close to the target note; last,
flow back into the major chord, into its target note.
Note that we're only using focus note A here. You'd want to
transpose the focus note progression given here to make progressions
for each note in the F major triad: F, A, and C.
Why the Blues? Why ii-V-I?
In both approaches, a ii-V-I progression is used, and so is the
Blues. Why a ii-V-I? It occurs in so many pieces of music, you
might almost think you were hearing noise if you heard a tune
without a ii-V-I progression in it.
In other words, it's so common that you have to know it to achieve
mastery of music. The ii-V-I is kind of like the eggs in a cake.
You *could* make the cake without the eggs, but I'm not coming
to your house to eat it.
Note that the actual progression used is not a ii-V-I, but is
related to ii-V-I. We're using a ii-vii-I in these progressions.
The V has been swapped out for the vii because the V is a major
triad; we already have a major triad in the progression, via the
We'd rather work another triad type, such as the diminished,
to avoid using only two of the four triad types. With the ii-vii-I,
we still get a ii-V7-I feeling, and we get three of the four triad
You need one more triad type...
So, where's the fourth triad type? *What* is the fourth triad
type? It's the augmented triad, which does not occur naturally
in the major scale, though it does occur in the Melodic Minor
scale. I wanted to emphasize the major scale here because of its
relatively greater popularity in Western music.
Also, learning the augmented chord is a piece of cake once you've
learned the other triad shapes. Play the A augmented triad --
notes A, C#, and F -- through each inversion, with the top note
on the high E string, and you'll see what I mean. Who says playing
guitar is hard?
Why the Blues?
Why inject the Blues into Blues Triad Mastery? This one is tough
to answer because it seems so natural to include the Blues in
any kind of practice routine. Going back to the food analogy,
the Blues is the butter in "bread and butter." Or, maybe it's
the bread. I don't know.
In either case, any music exercise becomes engaging the moment
you add the Blues to it. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating:
the Blues is how you get maximum emotional output of music from
minimal physical effort.
Also, knowing where the Blue notes are in *anything* you play
is just being practical. Popular music still has a lot of Blues
in it. So, if you want to play jazz, rock, bluegrass, or pop,
learn as much Blues as you can. More specifically, learn the "Blues
potential" of those things you play that don't yet have the Blues
in them: scales, chords, etc.
Discussion: Why triads?
Why bother learning triads? What benefits do you get from learning
chords with just three notes, when you could learn bigger, more
colorful chords? There are lots of reasons to learn triads.
First, they make learning more complex chords easier. Visualizing
a three note shape is easier than a four or five note shape, and
visualizing the note *names* in a triad is also easier compared
to chords with more than three notes.
And, if you haven't discovered this yet, you will learn that
visualizing the many shapes that music takes on the fretboard
is a crucial factor in making music well with the guitar. Learning
triads help you achieve this visualization.
Don't trust just one source to learn the importance of triads.
In guru William Leavitt's vital guitar reference, Modern Guitar
Method, Volumes 1, 2 and 3, Leavitt gives triad exercises even
in the advanced volumes 2 and 3.
This includes 8 separate exercises just in volume 2. That fact
*alone* would make knowing triads seem important to me. On WholeNote.com,
another important resource for guitarists, about 200 results come
back when you enter "triads" in their search engine.
Triads are also important to know when you're reading slash chord
notation. Once you know triad shapes well, these shapes will come
readily to your mind's eye when you read "Cm/B" or a similar slash
chord in sheet music.
To learn more about slash chords, check out the excellent series
of slash chord articles at CyberFret. The first in the series
Also, check out the Slash
and Burn article on MaximumMusician.com.
For more triad chops:
Use the following checklists to show you which other strings
and focus notes you'll want to create your own Blues triad progressions
for. You can create your own progressions by transposing the two
in this lesson.
Here's a checklist summary for all the triad progressions you'll
want to learn using the by-string approach.
Here's the checklist for all the triad progressions you'll want
to play using the target note approach: