What is a triad on a guitar?
Three note chord, made up of the root, 3rd, and 5th interval
Intervals in guitar chords are the space between two notes, where the lower one is considered the root note. A triad is a root note, plus a 3rd and 5th interval, making a three-note chord. Some music theorists, namely Howard Hanson and Carlton Gamer, extended the definition to any three note chord, without regard to interval.
A triad is an important concept when it comes to guitar chords, and it sounds sort of complicated when you look at the music theory involved. But in simple terms, a triad is a chord with three notes, namely the following:
- A root
- Third interval
- Fifth interval
As mentioned in the box above, music theorists Howard Hanson and Carlton Gamer would consider any three notes to be a triad. This is a definition that I'd recommend most guitar and piano players adopt.
Simple Definition of a Triad
Here's a quick reference for the multiple definitions of a triad.
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So you can ignore the complexities if you want, but it's as simple as understanding that an interval is a note that is a certain distance away from a root note. The interval concept is definitely valuable to learn, whether you're playing guitar or some other instrument.
Example of a Formal Triad
Here's a diagram with labels that explain all three notes in a triad.
Here are a couple examples of triads. Both are formally correct, with the root, third, and fifth intervals. These diagrams also show which finger you would use to fret each note, which isn't totally relevant to this article but we'll just roll with it.
This next one is kind of like a power chord triad, again with the stacked third intervals and finger labels.
The following diagram is basically just a D major chord, with three consonant notes. This fits our informal version of a triad, if you ignore the open D string.
Here are a couple guitar tabs based on triadic chord shapes. They can often be very simple.
Here's a tab of a formal triad, with all three notes. The chord is in the first bar, while the arpeggio (notes in succession) is in the second bar.
More Triad Resources
Triads are simple and an important part of learning the basics of guitar. They're also really important for piano players, which is my musical background. If you take the time to learn them, along with the concept of intervals, it'll help you put the fretboard together and make it easier to navigate through melodic patterns and chord progressions.
Here are some additional chord and interval resources that can also help you with learning triads:
If you have questions about triads or other guitar chord concepts, drop a note in the comments section below. We answer every comment and would love to hear from you. Thanks so much for hanging out and trusting our content!