Using triads to play jazz chords is a great way to get the sound of the chord and have a flexible three note voicing that you can change the extensions and melody on. This video is going over 6 triads that I use for my Cmaj7 voicings and will also demonstrate how you can use them in a II V I cadence in C major. At the end of the video I go over 4 more triads that are a bit tricky to use but also yield more interesting sounds!
Finding the triads
The most important note in a Cmaj7 voicing is probably the major 3rd: E.
If we want to find the triads that can be used it is probably a good idea to just look at what options are available with the diatonic triads that contain an E.
As you can see here below I have written out the triads where E is the 3rd, the root and the 5th. Which gives us C, Em and Am triads. But we can also use the sus4 triads. The second half of the example below are the sus4 triads where E is the root, 5th and 4th.
The Bsus4 is not really diatonic to C major, but is a great sound to use for a Cmaj7(#11) or Lydian sound.
The Tonic triads
The C major triad is of course a good candidate to convey a Cmaj7 sound. The example below shows how that might be used:
The C major is of course lacking a bit of color, but it can still be used. I chose to use it with the E in the melody because if it has the root in the melody it immediately sounds like the ending of the song.
Em triads – Triad from the 3rd of the chord
A lot of very common Cmaj7 voicings are in fact just Em triads with a C bass note (as I demonstrate in the video) This of course means that yet again the structure from the 3rd of the chord is incredibly useful as a voicing for the chord.
The Am triad – C6 chords
When using the Am triad we don’t actually get a Cmaj7 sound but instead a C6 sound. As you probably already know, the two are interchangeable so this is also a useful triad to have in your vocabulary
Esus4 The super triad
A very rich Tonic sound is the Cmaj7(13) and this is what you get if you use an Esus4 triad to spell out the Cmaj7 as shown here below:
Asus4 The 6/9 upper structure
Using an Asus4 as a Cmaj7 voicing gives you an C6 chord with an added 9. This sound is very common in Bossa Nova and other Brazilian styles but is in general of course also a beautiful sound on a tonic chord and a great alternative to the more common Cmaj7 sounds.
Lydian with a Bsus4
The last sus4 triad is the Bsus4 which is in fact diatonic to G major not C major. Bsus4/C gives us a maj7, 3rd and b5 (or #11) which is a lydian sound.
Combining the triad sounds
Now that we have 6 different ways to play the Cmaj7 chord we can combine them to get a varying set of colors on the tonic chord.
This is shown in the example below where I am first resolving to Asus4 then Am and further on to Esus4. This small move on Cmaj could also be a riff for a song with a period of static Cmaj7.
The second example is starting with a very basic II V voicing set. From there it resolves to C using Asus4, then an inversion of Asus4 that moves up to a Bsus4 and on to Esus4 before it resolves to a Gsus4.
The Gsus4 is a great choice for a Cmaj7 but it is a little more context sensitive as it does not contain an E.
The secret triads
There are four more triads that I often use for voicing a Cmaj7, but these last ones are a litte more difficult to work with because they are more incomplete or very specific in the sound that they convey.
The four triads are shown here below:
The first three are difficult because they don’t contain an E, and the last one is tricky because it has the #5 of C in the voicing.
The beautiful incomplete voicing – Gsus4
In the example here below I am using the Gsus4 triad. The Gsus4 mostly works as a C voicing because the fact that is missing the E is somehow compensated by the C in the voicing.
G/C Upper-structure triads
This voicing is fairly open sounding and not too specific as a Cmaj7 sound. This comes from it only containing the upper part of the chord. One way that it still sounds great as a Cmaj7 voicing is to have it preceded by a G7alt, because the strong pull from the G7 will then automatically make it sound like a resolution.
The Lydian Upper-structure
Another example of only using an upper structure is the D major triad. This triad spells out the 9th, #11 and 13th over the chord. Since we are missing both 3rd and 7th it is not really giving us the sound of the chord, at the same time the Lydian sound is so heavily represented that it is still fairly clear what is going on.
The Augemented Maj7 – E/C
In this last example the chord sound is actually altered, but since it is by now a very common sound I chose to include it anyway. The E major triad is in fact a Cmaj7#5 without a C, so it is in that respect a very clear sound. That said you should probably be a bit careful with what is going on in the music before you start using this sound.
How to use these 10 triads
This exercise is mostly and overview of what triads you have available as voicings but it should give you some idea on what you can try to use.
You probably want to spend some time with each one that you want to get into your vocabulary and work on them one at a time to get used to how they work in different contexts.
This can ofcourse also be applied to solos, so maybe that is something to do a video on at some point.
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