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Rick Graham - Guitar Roadmaps Part 5: Triad Improvisation

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 6 **

Practicing scales is undoubtedly a fantastic method of unlocking the fingerboard for the advancing guitarist. However, it is not the only way to do it. One extremely effective way of helping us to gain much more fretboard knowledge is working with chord shapes and the best way to start is with the simplest type of chord: the triad.

At this point you may well be thinking 'well I already know my open chords and barre chords so how is this going to help me?' and you'd be forgiven for thinking so however, what we are going to do is approach these triads in a way which I'm sure is completely new to you.

What we are going to do is take the three major triads which belong in the key of A, which are A major(I), D major(IV) and E major(V). Our next step is really where this approach comes into its own and demonstrates the the power of limitation. What we are going to do is play these triads in that same order i.e. I - IV - V but only using three strings at a time. Starting with the E, A and D strings we play the first available A major triad followed by the closest available D triad which is then followed by the closest available E triad. By following this limitation you will be ascending through various different root position and inversion shapes of those three triads, which will eventually lead to you to the first shape that we started with but one octave higher.

Following the same principle we then move our triad shapes to the next available string group, which is the A, D and G strings. Again, we play the root position and inversion triads until we reach the first shape but one octave higher. We continue this with the D, G and B strings and finally finish by applying these shapes to the G, B and E strings.

You see what I mean? Playing triads in this fashion is something that really is overlooked far too much by guitarists as doing this can not only help unlock the fretboard for you, but can also be an invaluable tool for improving your improvising, especially when you are looking to target those chord tones.

The next step is to allocate a time frame for each of the triads within our backing track  and for this I have allocated an harmonic pace of two beats. The backing track is in common time (4/4) so it follows that we will have a cycle of A for two beats, D for two beats, E for the first two beats of the next bar and then A again for the last two beats of bar two. The cycle then repeats.

Once you have practiced those triads in ascending order and feel comfortable with all of those shapes everywhere on the fingerboard, it's time to start improvising with them. Take your time and be sure that you really know where those shapes lie. If you find yourself struggling, be sure to stop and go back to working on memorising the shapes.

When you are comfortable with that, it's time to have a go at improvising single note lines. This is even more challenging! Remember to play the notes of each given triad during the allotted time frame. No other notes are allowed.

This study is essentially what we could call a limitation exercise as we are taking only the notes of the aforementioned triads and we are limiting ourselves to them. This is an extremely challenging method of practicing but persevere with it and the rewards are well worth it. Best of luck!


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