Chord Construction – Part 1 – Triads (Inversions)

[EDITORS NOTE: If you don’t read music (“notes” on the staff) and if you’ve never encountered any music theory in the past, this is a good place to start. Go slow, read on and don’t be afraid to ask questions!]

In the course of this series about chord construction, you’ll find some music theory info about triads and sevenths chords, how to add extensions, chord equivalents, diatonic chords and finally a neat theoretical process to understand what extensions are “allowed” on chords.

The goal here is to have you realize that you already know thousands of chords. (that is, if you already play a little bit) Why? Since any single chord can be put to use in many different contexts, it’s not a matter of learning more chords… it’s a matter of finding more USES for the ones you already know!

Generalities

• “Chord” means that all the notes are sounded together, at the same time.
• The major scale serves as reference when identifying chords by scale degrees… and that’s exactly what numbers mean on this page.For instance, 1 3 5 means to play the first, third and fifth notes of the major scale. It goes for any chord found on this page. Degrees are raised by a sharp symbol (#) and lowered by the flat symbol (b).
• Chords are built in intervals of ascending THIRDS (2 or more)This works 99% of the time. A third is the space (called “interval”) between two non-consecutive scale notes, up or down. For instance C-E is an ascending third (say “C D E” in your mind). Same thing works descending: C-A is a third (say “C B A” in your mind) but with chords, we won’t deal with descending intervals.
• So, a chord will usually contain ODD numbers like this 1 3 5 7 9 11 13, up to a maximum of 7 notes (on this website at least)

Triads (Chord Inversions)

Triads are built of three notes. This is like the prequel to chord construction theory. There exists four main types of triads: major, minor, augmented and diminished. The reason behind this is simple: triads are three notes stacked up and between each note lies the interval of a third.

Triads construction:
1st NOTE -[space]- 2nd NOTE -[space]- 3rd NOTE

The [space] is the interval of a third. This interval can be qualified to be either major or minor.

Since there only exists two “types” of third interval, we are left with only four possible combinations of triads.

• MAJOR TRIAD: 1 3 5
Intervals : maj3rd then min3rd (as in C-E-G)
• MINOR TRIAD: 1 b3 5
Intervals : min3rd then maj3rd (as in C-Eb-G)
• DIMINISHED TRIAD: 1 b3 b5
Intervals : min3rd and min3rd (as in C-Eb-Gb)
• AUGMENTED TRIAD: 1 3 #5
Intervals : maj3rd and maj3rd (as in C-E-G#)

Other types of triads also exist such as SUS4: 1 4 5 and SUS2: 1 2 5. You can expect to see those two quite a lot in popular songs. The “SUS” means suspended, and in fact the note replacing the “3” in both cases is said to be a suspension of that “3”.

The two oddballs that I personally wish to leave with no names for now are 1 3 b5 and 1 b3 #5 … these are not common at all.

36 Triad (Chord Inversion) Shapes

To help you get started in taking these shapes to the fretboard, here are 36 chord inversions for major and minor shapes on the fretboard, all written out in C or Cm.

Closed Major Triads

To begin, here are closed shapes for major inversions. Closed guitar chords are those where the root position, and all inversions, fit within the space of one octave.

Closed Minor Triads

We’ll now move on to the minor closed position inversions on three different string sets to experiment with during your practice routine.

Major Triad Spread Voicings

You can now move on to exploring major chord inversions with spread voicings, which are shapes that expand beyond an octave but keep the same 1-3-5 construction.

Minor Triad Spread Voicings

Lastly, here are those same spread shapes but written for minor chord inversions.

Last Words

As you can see, having a strong understanding of chord inversions will allow you to play any major or minor triad, in any area of the fretboard, and on any string set, which will open up your knowledge of the fretboard and of chord construction at the same time.

Chord inversions also play an important role in harmonizing melodies, as the root position of a chord is not always in the immediate area of the melody note, which is where chord inversions come to the rescue.

If reading and seeing fretboard examples is you’re preferred way learning, check out Gianca’s post at FaChords.com.  It explains triad construction in a simple, although different, manner that also includes fretboard visualizations.  Be sure to check out his online guitar games while you’re there, as well. I’ve found them to be excellent training aids and use them in my practice routine nearly every day now.

For further experimentation on the fretboard, see these excellent triad building videos:

Easy Triads By String Sets

Triads On Guitar

For eager beavers, here’s a huge hi-def chart of *all* of the triad voicings that you can have blown up and hang on a wall.  Just right-click to save it to your computer or device.:

Triad Chords Chart

Next we’ll discuss adding sevenths into our triads. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

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