Tag Archives: upperstructure

Triads – Easy 3 note Jazz Chords

Using triads to play jazz chords a very powerful tool. We can play a wide range of chords and they are very easy to add notes to or change notes to give us the extensions or alterations we want.

It’s a very practical and guitaristic approach but also one that I on guitar is often very practical and beautiful in a lot of musical settings.


Finding triads for each chord

Take a look at these these Cmaj7 voicings which are all an E minor triad over a C bass note.


So if we take the Cmaj7: We get these notes: C E G B so that’s a C and an E minor triad, and we can use it like that when we are comping or soloing.

Now take a look at the diatonic chords in C major:


So if you want to play the chord but not the root, you can use the triad from the 3rd. Using this concept we have these triads to play in C major:

  • Cmaj7: E minor triad
  • Dm7: F major triad
  • Em7: G major triad
  • Fmaj7: A minor triad
  • G7: Bdim triad
  • Am7: C major triad
  • Bm7b5: D minor triad.

So if you know how a chord is constructed it is easy to figure out what triad you can use to play that chord. There’s another concept that is closely related to this which is called upper-structure triads. The idea behind this is that you use a triad as the extension part of a chord to have a strong sounding voicing or melody, but that’s a little more complicated theoretically and for another lesson.

The advantage to this approach it is an easy way to play rootless chords and fever notes makes it more flexible for adding notes and making melodies within the chords.

Triad exercises – Technique

The basic exercise you need for this is to learn the triads in inversions on every set of three strings. When using them as chords I play them 90% of the time on the two top sets, but since triads are such a basic resource that you need for soloing as well as chords I’ve chosen to demonstrate all three types of triads that are found in the major scale on all string sets:


Basic II V I cadences

Of course you can make a lot more exercises with the triads, playing them in scales and different voiceleading or melodic ideas but for now I just cover the basics. You should check it out in diatonic situations, and work it through songs since triads are one of the fundamental building blocks in most kinds of music.

George van Eps has written a lot of exercises with triads in his books everything with fingerings and in all keys, worthwhile checking out and practicing from.

Let’s continue by playing a few cadences in C, so Dm7, G7, Cmaj7:


Adding extensions and alterations to the jazz chords

To make this approach work we also need to have a way to deal with altered dominants. For that I use the approach that I also talked about in my lesson on diatonic arpeggios: Altered chords and superimposing Namely taking the upper part of the tritone substitute and used that on an altered dominant.


Another way to say that is: Altered dominants: use the dim chord from the 7th degree: G7alt: F dim: F Ab B which is 7,b9,3rd

You can use some of the same substitution rules as I explained in on of the drop2 lessons, so
13 instead of 5 (example: G7/Bdim), b5 instead of 5 and to make a sus4 chord you can suspend the 3rd with the 4th.


For minor chords: 11th instead of 5th or #11 instead of 5 on major 7th chords (you could also see that as a sus4 triad in inversion being used over a C bass note, but since I did not talk about sus4 triads and inversions I won’t go furter into that. The last example is how to replace the 7th with the 6th.


 Putting it to use

Just so you get an idea about how I incorporate it, here’s an example over a trusted old I IV II V with altered dominants: Dm7 G7alt Cmaj7 A7alt

You might notice that I am trying to play with the different voices within the chords because the triad approach lends itself to this very well.


I hope you can use the material and the ideas I went over here to start using Triads in your own comping and chord melody playing. As I already mentioned it is something that I use really a lot because it is flexible and lends it self well to most situations.

If you want some more examples of how I use triad based voicings in the context of a standard you can check out the lesson here below:

Comping Etude – How High The Moon

If you want to study the examples I went over in the lesson you can of course also download them as a pdf here:


If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you want to hear.

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Rootless Voicings – Part 1 – Triads

Starting to use chords that doesn’t have the root as a bass note can be tricky in the beginning. In this lesson I want to demonstrate how reducing some voicings gives you triads and how you can practice and use that in comping. I am also suggestion a way to expand the melodic possibilities with the triads.


Chords without root bass notes

When you learn guitar you are taught a lot of chords that all has the root as the lowest note. Most of the time you are also taught to orientate by the root and thinking of the rest of the chord as a visual or physical shape on the guitar. This way of thinking about chords makes it fairly easy to learn chords but makes them less flexible and also makes it hard to play chord voicings that do not have the root as the lowest voicing.

In example 1 I have first written a fairly standard set of II V I chord voicings, and then written the same voicings but without the bass note. You might notice that the 2nd set of voicings consist of an F major triad, a B dim triad and an E minor triad. You can also try to play the example and hear that they will still convey the movement of the II V I.

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 1

The theory is fairly simple: If Cmaj7 is C E G B, then without a C it is E G B which is E minor.

Since we can use these triads to play each of the chords we can also use their inversions,so that will give us 3 rootless voicings that we can apply to any of the chords diatonic to the major scale.

If you are familiar with my lesson Jazz Chord Survival Kit You will notice that example 2 and 3 are those drop3 and drop2 voicings without the root. This way of thinking about them makes it easier to keep the root in mind without actually playing it. In the beginning I found that to be a huge help.

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 2

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 3

Example 4 is then the root position triads which, as I show in the video, you can also see as derived from a set of voicings, but some of them you might not be using that often.

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 4

In examples 2-4 I have written the chord name above the chord that this triad is used for. It can be very useful to keep them in mind when practicing this through a key.

Basic Cadences and other exercises

The first thing to check out is probably this simple set of II V I voicings with the triads.  There are several options in terms of voice-leading this, but I like these. When you play them try to relate each voicing to the root.

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 5

To create a bit more options in terms of variation of the melodies we can create with these voicings I made example 5. The idea is fairly simple, the highest note, also called the melody, of the chord is suspended with the diatonic note one step above it. If you take this through the scale with the 2nd inversion triads you get the following exercise.

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 6

In the video I play the same exercise for the two other inversion, you should try to figure them out for yourself, that is an important step in becoming more free with the triad voicings and be able to make more different sounds with this material.

I cover this more in depth in my lesson: Jazz Chord Essentials – Triads  if you want to take this further.

Using Rootless voicings

To give you an idea about how you can use the triad voicings and exercise 6 I have made 3 examples with a few different common progressions. You should try and play the examples and try to see what voicings the triads are derived from.

The first one is applying example 6 to the first part of example 4, so a melody on a basic II V I in C major.

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 7

The second example is a II V cadence to A minor. the E7 is using A harmonic minor, so it has a b9 (and a b13, but that’s not in this voicing) You can see some more info on using harmonic minor on dom7th chords in this lesson: Minor II V I cadences

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 8

The third example is a III V II V I in C. Again using the technique of suspending the melody note with the diatonic note above. The A7 is resolving to Dm so the extensions used are here also from the D harmonic minor scale: a b13.

Rootless Voicings - Part 1 - Triads - ex 9

I hope you can use the exercises and examples to start using or expanding your use of rootless voicings.

If you want to download a PDF of the examples I went over here you can do so here:

Rootless Voicings – Part 1 – Triads

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics or how I can make the lessons better then please feel free to leave on the video or  send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make thme fit what you want to hear.

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Instagram,Twitter Google+ or Facebook to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.