Vanier College Triad Pairs

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The Power of Triads

Vanier College 2011

By Dr. Brandon Bernstein


Triads have been the harmonic ‘infrastructure’ in music for the last five hundred years. Many of the great classical composers of all time have used triads as a cornerstone in their compositions. However, some of us are not too impressed with triads as they pertain to jazz; we are eager to learn 7th chords and chords that contain extensions. (Ahhh---the

7th chords and their luscious colors). After all, 7th chords are the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the

jazz repertoire. As jazz musicians we are way too hip for triads right? Think again--learning your triads well can offer fresh new sounds and perspectives on improvising and comping that one may have never thought possible. We will begin by reviewing both closed position triads and open position, (spread), triads in all keys. For now, all the examples involve just a G major triad; however, every example should be practiced with minor, augmented, and diminished triads in all keys. Practicing these examples will dramatically improve your awareness of your instrument.

As mentioned, the triads are to be practiced in every key, and in all inversions. I

recommend practicing the triads by going around the Circle of Fifths with a metronome. Start with he triad in root position, then 1st inversion, 2nd inversion, and finish back at root

position. Then go clockwise around the Circle of Fifths until you have gone through all keys. The great thing about this exercise is that you begin to know your instrument and basic music theory on a much deeper level. When that exercise begins to feel very comfortable, challenge yourself by trying to apply triads to your favorite standards. Practice this exercise by playing continual half notes using only triads through the standard. Try to use voice leading techniques (going to your nearest voice in the melody) and use different string sets through the exercise. Next, try to create continual 8th note

lines using only triads. This is a lot more challenging then you may think. (All of a sudden your improvisation sounds like a Bach study). Continue to apply this exercise to many songs until you can freely improvise in this fashion without hesitation. Below is an example of the exercise based on Jerome Kern’s standard Yesterdays and John Coltrane’s

Giant Steps. Have fun!


Major Triads Root Position

Major Triads 1st Inversion

Major Triads 2nd Inversion

Minor Triads Root Position

Minor Triads 1st Inversion


Diminished Triads Root Position

Diminished Triads 1st Inversion

Diminished Triads 2nd Inversion


Triad Practice Techniques

G Major Triad (Do the same exercise with minor, augmented, and

diminished triads.)

1. Play each inversion including the octave. Begin each triad with the lowest

possible voicing.


3. Now practice both closed position triads and spread triads using

suspensions. The Three suspensions we will use are 6-5, 4-3, and 2-1.

Practice utilizing the techniques discussed in exercises 1 and exercise 2.


Suspensions in Triad Closed Position Voicings

Suspensions in Triad Spread Voicings

Practice all of these exercises in all keys. As mentioned earlier, practice all

of these examples with major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads.


Based on the Changes of Yesterdays

Example 1: Half Notes

For seventh chords simply reduce the 7th chord to its triad without the seventh. (Example: D Minor 7 just


Based on the Changes of Yesterdays


Triad Pairs

By definition, a triad pair is two sets of triads that do not share a common note. Example: C major and D major triads are a triad pair because they do not share any of the same notes. When you combine both triads, one 6-note scale is formed (sometimes referred to as a hexatonic scale…C, E, G, D, F#, A). A C major triad and G major triad combined would not be considered a triad pair because both C and G major triads contain the note G forming a five note scale. Instead of six separate notes (C, E, G, (G), B, D).

What I like about triad pairs is that they can be a fairly easy tool to comprehend when soloing or comping. There is a wide palette of colors you can get by combining two triads together. Depending on what triads you pick to put together, you can have very “in” or “out” sounds. In this issue, we will examine the application of combining a major triad to another major triad a whole step apart. Ex. ( C Major triad and a D major triad). For the sake of clarity I will use the same two triads in all my examples. However, please practice all the examples in every key. The application of combining a major triad to another major triad a whole step apart can be used in many harmonies. The most common use is probably to get a Lydian sound over a major7 or dominant 7 chords. Below is a list of possible chords to use the C/D triads with.

C/D Cmaj7 C7#11 Bbmaj7#5 D7sus A-7 F#7alt Emin7b5 (9) Gmaj7sus Gmin/maj7

The playing examples below are ways of practicing the C/D triads and are meant to help familiarize you with triads on your instrument. I have written out a few examples in two measure phrases. Continue each pattern as far as your instrument with allow. The examples gradually get more complex. At Example 7 the triad pairs become more challenging and some are grouped in odd accented patterns . In my opinion, they are more melodic and creative in sound. I only wrote the first two measures of each phrase to give you the basic idea of the pattern. I encourage you to come up with your own

examples. Again, please practice the examples in all keys. Two books that are fantastic and explore many of the possibilities of triad pairs are Intervallic Improvisation by Walt Weiskopf and Jerry Bergonzi’s Inside Improvisation: Hexatonics. Have fun and enjoy. If you have any questions feel free to contact me at


Ex.1 ascending triad triplets Ex.2 descending triad triplets

Ex.3 ascending/descending triads Ex.4 descending triads

Ex.5 ascending triads w/repeated note Ex.6 descending triads w/repeated note


Now we will look at another commonly used triad pair, the triad pair of a minor chord and major chord a half step apart. (Example: B minor and C major). When you combine the notes of both of these triads you get the following hexatonic scale B,D,F#,C,E,G. This triad pair can be used over the following chords.

B-/C Cmaj7 F#-7b5 D7 D7sus A-7 F#7alt B-7 (phrygian) Gmaj7sus

I have written a few example patterns combining these triads. When working with triad pairs, be inventive and don’t be afraid to come up with your own patterns. With some imagination and creativity you can get some really beautiful melodies and ideas for improvisation . Again, please practice the examples in all keys.


Example 2. Repeated 2nd note triad sequence descending

Example 3. Melodic sequence beginning with leap (triads displaced)


The Power of Triads

Concordia University 2010

By Dr. Brandon Bernstein




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