Triads – How To Make Jazz Licks and what to Practice

Triads are one of the strongest melodies that we have and in this video I am going to show you some triad exercises and how you can use them to make strong and more interesting triad jazz lines. Triads are used all the time in jazz by people from Wes Montgomery to Kurt Rosenwinkel and Lage Lund and everybody else.

Every scale exercise you play should be something that is a melodic building block. It is important to remember that besides playing the right notes you also have to create strong melodies to play a good solo. 

For each of the triad ideas I will go over a lick using the inversion or pattern and I will also give you some exercises that will test your abilities with both triads and scales since some of them are really difficult to play.

Practicing Arpeggios The Right Way

One of the most effective ways to practice your arpeggios is to practice them in the scales as diatonic scale exercises. When you are improvising you are not only thinking of the arpeggio but also about the scale that surrounds, so learning the arpeggios in that context is very important.

Super-Impose Diatonic Triads

This first example is an jazz lick that demonstrates how you can super-impose diatonic triads over the chords in a II V I in C major.

On the Dm7 I am using an F major triad which is the top notes of a Dm7 chord. In general you want to check out what all the triads are against the different notes in the scale. That wil give you a lot of ideas for creating lines with this material.

The G7 bar is using the basic G triad which of course is also a great option for making lines.

Finally the Cmaj7 bar is made entirely out of super-imposed triads. Em followed by Am and finally a G major triad.

Exercises for Basic Diatonic Triads

There are two basic exercises to check out when it comes to triads. The triads in a scale position as shown here below:

And it is also very useful to practice the triads along the neck on a string set:

When playing these exercises then try to keep track of what triads you are playing.

1st Inversion Triads

A good melody to add to your vocabulary is 1st inversion triads. In this example I am using a 1st inversion Dm triad in beginning of the lick. This is followed by a 1st inversion Am triad later in that bar. Notice that the Am triad adds the 9th to the sound: Against D: Am – A(5th), C(b7), E(9th).

On the G7 the triads are coming out of the Altered scale. The first triad is a B augmented triad which is in root position. The next part of the line is a first inversion Db major triad.

For G altered (or Ab melodic minor) we have these diatonic triads:

Gdim, Abm, Bbm, Baug, Db, Eb, Fdim

On the Cmaj7 the line is using first a C major 1st inversion and then an Am first inversion triad.

1st Inversions Triad exercises

A good but also slightly difficult is to play 1st inversion triads through the scale. For me it was very difficult to think triads from the 3rd, but after a few times you also get really used to hearing the melody and the exercise becomes something you can do in the scale by ear.

The 2nd inversion Triad

The melody in example 6 relies heavily on shifting a 2nd inversion triad through first the major scale and then the harmonic minor scale.

I am using C harmonic minor on the G7, which yields a G7(b9,b13). The melodic idea starts on Dm7 with a 2nd inversion Dm triad and then I am adding a diatonic passing chord in the line by using a 2nd inversion Em triad. Adding chord movement in the melody like this can be very useful. Diatonic passing chords are great colours to have in your vocabulary

Inverted Diatonic Triads

Practicing the 2nd inversion triads in the scale position is really where you want to start with this. I always find that the beginning 4th interval in these inversions are great for a signal like sound in a jazz lick.

Melodic Patterns with Triads

As I talked about in the beginning of this lesson, it is important that you consider all these different triad ideas as different melodies. We too easily get caught up in a way of thinking that is only thinking of the colour they add to the harmony and not the melody.4

Therefore playing a triad as 3 1 5 is different from 1 3 5, and working with this will give you a lot of great options. A bonus feature is also that it makes sense as a melody but does not sound like a typical triad.

The first part of the Dm7 is again using the F major triad, but now in the 3 1 5 pattern. This is followed by a sus4 triad.

On the G7alt the line is using first an F and then a G diminished triad in 3 5 1 pattern. Notic how it does not really sound like a triad and has a lot of interesting skips because of the 5th interval from 5 to 1 in this pattern.

The Cmaj7 bar has an Am triad in a 3 1 5 pattern.

Practicing Melodic Patterns

Again it can be challenging to take a pattern like this through the scale, but it is a good exercise.

Picking Technique Challenge!

Spread triads or open voiced triads are a fantastic way to add larger intervals to your lines and still sound melodic. They are however a bit tricky to play since they consist of only large intervals. Spread Triads will work great both as arpeggios and as chords

The example starts with a Dm 1st inversion open voiced triad followed by a descending scale run.

The construction of the G7alt line is similar since it opens with an Eb 1st inversion spread triad. The Eb major triad is very colourful against the G7: Eb(b13), G(root), Bb(#9).

The Cmaj7 bar has a G major triad which is also played as a 1st inversion open-voiced or spread triad.

Triad Exercises from Hell!

Practicing Spread Triads is difficult for your right hand. I’d suggest you start by learning some basic inversions first:

And then also try to experiment with moving these through the scale like this:

Take Your Soloing to the next level

For me this was the best strategy to learn how to improvise over chord changes and really nail all the fast moving scales and chords. Using target notes was a huge help in thinking ahead and playing sensible melodies that move in a logical way to the next chord.

It is also the approach that has helped a lot of my students in getting this essential skill into their playing.

Rhythm Changes – Target Note Strategies

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