Online Guitar Lessons Online Guitar Lessons

Home > Guitar Styles


Guest Teacher Series
Darrin Koltow


Blues Triad Mastery

By Darrin Koltow


"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:

  • Blues-based melody
  • 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 diminished triads.
  • 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.

Click to listen.
F major, ascending and descending, string 1

Here's a progression using the focus note or target note approach.

Click to listen.
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 greater flexibility.

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 one.

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 and practice.

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 I chord.

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 types.

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, 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 is here. Also, check out the Slash and Burn article on

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.

F Major String E
  String B
  String G
  String D

Here's the checklist for all the triad progressions you'll want to play using the target note approach:

F major
E string Note F
  Note A
  Note C
B string Note F
  Note A
  Note C
G string Note F
  Note A
  Note C
D string Note F
  Note A
  Note C

All content 2002 Darrin Koltow

Free Guitar Ebook

Guide to Playing Guitar Songs

Guide to Playing Songs on the GuitarJust want to Play Songs on the Guitar?

Learn the 3 key ways to learn guitar songs.

Learn secret sources for free high quality sheet music....and more.


Web Analytics