Usually, you connect Jazz with chords with a lot of extensions and alterations. But Triads are still an amazing resource that you can create beautiful lines with and something you definitely want to check out. In fact, you can use triads to add some things to your playing that are essential to Jazz and not just about what notes you play over a chord.
Of course, there are more than two things that are great about triads, but the two I talk about here are really useful for Jazz, but If you have other suggestions why triads are great and how you can use them then leave a comment.
Diatonic Triads – The Raw Material
Before you start using the triads then you should also have an overview of them and two things you can work on to have that overview would be to practice the diatonic triads in the scales:
and also check out the triads on string sets like this:
This is simple and basic stuff, you want to know diatonic triads and 7th chords for all scales that you need for soloing, and please start with major scales because you need that the most.
Triads Can Help Your Rhythm
First I want to show you how you can use triads to create more interesting rhythms in your lines. One problem that many students run into, and I know I did, is that when they figure out how to play changes, then everything starts to sound heavy and obvious when it should be light and swinging.
So you don’t want to sound like this
What is missing here is that the rhythm and the melodies are predictable and all move to and from the heavy beats
And instead, you want the accents to be on off-beats more syncopation and more surprising and a lot lighter. Since triads are 3 notes they are really good for having melodies that shift accents and make the solo dance more. Something like this:
So I am playing triads to create a pattern of 3 notes that shifts on top of the 4-4 meter and in that way sound a lot better.
And you can explore this in many ways, you can also add chromatic passing notes and not only use triads but still get a great effect:
To come up with lines like this then it is useful to find the triads that sound great over a chord. Then you have some options to create the licks that sound great.
I am going to give you an easy way to explore that, before covering the other great triad trick you that is super useful for so many other things as well. There is a very easy way to do that by writing the scale out in 3rds.
So for Dm7, this is coming from the C major scale, which you can write in 3rds like this:
C E G B D F A C E G
The Dm7 chord is here: D F A C, and the triads we can use would be
Dm, F, Am, and C which you can see still contain some basic chord tones and also adds some beautiful extensions.
The G7 that you heard in the examples was coming from the C harmonic minor scale, so in fact, you are borrowing the dominant from minor to get some interesting notes, and also some really great sounding triad options:
So here you have the C harmonic minor scale written out in 3rds.
C Eb G B D F Ab C Eb G
The G7 is here! and then you have the triads G Bdim and Ddim, but Eb augmented works as well and you can make some really interesting melodies with them.
Writing out stuff like this is incredibly useful for your overview of the scales and will give you a ton of options to use in your solos.
Change The Chords!
The other thing that triads do really well is that you can get your melodies to make sense by playing the triads of a super-imposed progression and in that way create a sort of counterpoint to the original chord progression. Because you are playing something that works but also moves differently.
This is pretty easy, you can do this on a single chord like this:
Here I am playing a short walk up Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 just using the basic triads and since Em sounds great on C major then the Dm triad just becomes a diatonic passing chord used in the melody that resolves back into the sound of the Cmaj7. But it really adds some movement instead of just playing up and down a Cmaj7 arpeggio.
More Chord Progressions
The same type of concept used on a II V I could give you something like this:
Here I am using triads from both C major and C harmonic minor, first walking up Dm and Em and then Fm and G from harmonic minor adding a Ddim before resolving. In this way, you have a line that shifts on top of the meter with 3-note groupings and also adds a different kind of movement in the chords.
Notice how using stepwise movement is a pretty easy and strong way to create these progressions.
This is a variation of the same idea, but now moving down from F to Dm and then using a D dim triad to get the G7(b9) sound.
If you really want to open up this type of thinking then you want to also add the triads in the altered scale, that gives you something like this:
Here the chord progression is F and Am on the Dm7 and then Abm and Db on the G7alt . You can hear how this also might work as chords:
And you sort of can turn the G7alt into a tritone II V using Abm7 Db7.
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