How to use triads in solos

This week I’ll try to give some perspective on how you can use triads in your improvisations, which includes a few scale exercises that you probably never thought of doing and some ideas on how to find triads to fit over chords.

Scale exercises

Triads are one of the stronges melodic structures available. They are the essence of the chord but also the outline of the extensions if you apply them right. One thing that strikes me is that  very often students will practice triads in root position but not very often in inversions, and in that way leave out a vast amount of possible melodies with the same notes.

Let’s first look at this F major scale in diatonic triads in example 1:

How to use triads in solos ex 1

You probably already tried to practice that at some point and is used to the order of the triads within the scale and also the melody of the triads moving like this through it.

Let’s try the same with 1st inversion triads, so now the first not you play is not the root but the 3rd of the triad and we are moving the 3 5 1 structure up through the scale.

How to use triads in solos ex 2

For obvious reasons it is good to know the 1st inversion triads everywhere in every key by playing this exercise in different positions and keys. An added bonus is that it helps you get more aware of what notes are in the triad.

Of course the same is true about 2nd inversion triads as shown here in example 3:

How to use triads in solos ex 3

Improvising with triads

To try and illustrate how to apply the triads when we are improvising it is practical to look at the construction of a chord. Since chords are made up by stacking thirds then we can take a chord with extensions and split it up into different triads that are contained within the chord. As an example look at this Gm11:

G Bb D F A C

We can extract 4 triads from this: Gm: G Bb D, Bb: Bb D F, Dm: D F A and F: F A C the higher we go in the chord the less of the basic sound of the chord we will retain, so using an F triad on a Gm chord is something you’d want to do with some care not to sound as if you are just ignoring the harmony. Notice that with these 4 triads and each in 3 inversions we already have 12 good melodies that we can use on a Gm7 chord in the key of F.

In the first example I am using a 2nd inversion Gm triad followed by a 2nd inversion Dm triad. On the C7alt chord I am using a triad pair of Gb and Ab major triads, both in 2nd inversion. Using pairs of triads with no common notes is a widely used device which I have made lessons on in the past, one aspect of such a triad pair is that you can almost look at them as a 6 note scale. On the Fmajor 7 the line consists of an A minor triad followed by a Dm triad.

How to use triads in solos ex 4

The 2nd example is again starting out with  a Gm triad, this time in root position and with the octave. That is  followed by a 2nd inversion Bb triad. On the C7 I employ the diminished scale which, as I also discussed in another lesson on using the diminished scale on dominants, has 4 major and 4 minor triads contained in it. In this line I am first using an A triad and then an Eb minor triad, giving the tensions 13, #9, #9 and #11 on the chord. On the F I am stringing together an A minor and an F major triad by playing on and continuing up the next.

How to use triads in solos ex 5

The last example is also starting with a Gm triad but this time I use it in a different sequence. Playing the notes of the triads in another order can of course be done in a lot of ways and opens up another set of possibilities, but that will have to wait for a later lesson. After the Gm triad I use a 1st inversion Dm triad. On the C7alt chord the line consists of an Ebm and a Gb triad played in a sort of descending cascading way. The line on the Fmaj7 chord is C major 1st inversion and the Dm 2nd inversion triad which resolves to the maj7th(E) of F.

How to use triads in solos ex 6

I hope you can use the scale exercises and the examples I used here to get some ideas for some new lines using triads.

As always you can download a PDF of the examples here:

How to use triads in solos

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