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Sam Bell Rhythm Guitar Concepts Part 8: Using Triads To Create Melodic Movement Within A Part

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 60 **

Welcome to the eighth instalment of my rhythm guitar concepts column. Last lesson we took a look at using spread triads to help facilitate smooth voice leading between chords in our composition. In this issue we’re going to dive back into the world of triads, but this time over a static groove. The main concept that I find most interesting is that whenever we are met with a tonality, say in this columns case A7, we have 7 available diatonic triads that we can play relative to that A root. These triads played over that root are going to give the ‘sound’ of the tonality. A7 is a 5 chord in the key of D Major, the triads we can get from D Major are:

D – Em – F#m – G – A – Bm – C#dim

If we are playing an A7, then we can use these triads around that root, for example, if you played the C#dim triad (C# - E – G) over an A root, we would get an A7 (A – C# - E – G or 1 – 3 – 5 b7). When we start playing around with the other triads, we start to highlight some upper extensions, for example if we played an Em triad (E- G – B) those notes would highlight the 5th, 7th and 9th or F#m (F# - A – C#) which would highlight the 13th, Root and 3rd. Rather than go through all the options, see if you can figure out which extensions each triad highlights. Practice by playing over a static bass groove, or you can create your own by just letting the A string ring out whilst playing triads on the higher pitch strings. You may have noticed a lot of these small triad shapes do appear in larger grip voicings of extended chords, for example: If we took an E shape A13 chord played at the 5th fret, we can see a 2nd inversion F#m triad on the G, B and E strings. You’ll start to notice small triads in everything from this point onwards, it’s very useful to be able to see them, name them and understand the intervals they are highlighting in these cases. It also gives us the option of breaking down the larger grip chords to their main component parts when playing in a busy arrangement.

Using this information we can create parts that move around melodically above the root note, this is useful for creating movement in static grooves (sections where the chord stays the same for an extended amount of time) this is very common in Funk, RnB, Fusion and Rock. In the video I have demonstrated some improvised grooves using different triads from our tonality of A7. I have transcribed out the triad inversions that I am using.

It’s good to mix up the inversions of the triads you are using, for example, you can get some interesting results from using 1st and 2nd inversions in tandem, and this creates a very close almost piano style movement of voices. Rather than just using one particular inversion up and down, although this does work nicely as well and many Motown guitar parts follow this idea. Of course some of the movements between certain voicings does create technical challenges, if this happens, see if you can find the same triad on a different string set to see if it changes the feel of the riff.

Be sure to get creative, this idea can be moved around to different key centres and used in moving chord sequences to create parts that don’t necessarily keep stating the same chord. You could of course even apply the spread triads from the last column to this same concept for very interesting and fresh results. Don’t forget either that just because its rhythm playing, doesn’t mean you have to strum through everything, you can use this concept whilst playing the triads as arpeggios within our riff, or we could even take string pairs from each triad to create even more detailed movement within the riff.

Have fun, and until next time. Happy Practicing!


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