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How to Work With Overlapping Triads

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In this JGT lesson, jazz guitarist Leon Rodriguez explains a systematic way to help you move along the fretboard using triads. 

 When we learned to harmonize a major scale, we stacked 2 additional notes to each scale tone to build 3-part harmony. From that, we learned our triad diagonals. We saw that gave us a solid system and methodology to spell and invert triads in a voicing set. A systematic way to approach the theory that was logical, predictable, repeatable, and most importantly, movable along the fretboard. 

When we studied spelling those Triads, Volume III – Triads, we became aware of which notes in our triad spelling were at the top (melody) and bottom (bass) of the triad, leaving the remaining note in the middle to complete the spelling. Now is when we gain big benefits from that skillset! We’ll use one of our 3 triad diagonals.

Three notes selected by choosing every other note along the scale has given us 3-part harmony; the root, 3rd, and 5th. Let’s add a 4th note to that 3-part harmony to bring us up to 7th chords and beyond. We do NOT have to abandon what we have already systemized. Instead, we need to think: “triad +1” (triad plus one). 


Let’s begin with a 1st inversion G/B which will deliberately place the root on top. Our next note in the triad diagonal is found by taking the top note and dropping it one octave onto the bottom of the triad on the 4th string. If we add them together into a 4-note chord, we have a root on the top and bottom but it’s still a triad. (Root, 3rd, 5th) We don’t need 2 roots to complete the triad so we can think: Triad plus 1! Combining 2 adjacent triads along the diagonal gives us another predictable system! 

We can choose which root note to manipulate because the common tones B & D on the 2nd and 3rd strings support either root. Since we have 2 roots let’s lower the one on the 1st string for a G Major7 thinking “Triad plus 1”. The G triad in the {432} stringset supports the G tonality allowing us to think “triad +1”. Before we lower the 1st string another semitone for G7, remember we have 2 roots! So, think: Triad +1 

Now let’s lower the other root note in the 4th string a whole step to get this common voicing of a dominant 7th chord. The triad in the {321} stringset supports the G tonality just fine. The whole step from the other root would be less ergonomic hence; the two root choices allow ‘common sense’ fingering to prevail. Triad+1! 

Moving right up our triad voicing set that I call the triad diagonal, we see we have two 5ths with root and 3rd as the common tones, so the G major on this one is established giving us more exploratory adventure because the 3rd has a lot of aural information. 

Now let’s look at the ergonomics of the two 5th s opportunities. Our fret range is only 3 frets, inside our one finger per fret convention. The D, the 5th in the 2nd string should ascend. Let’s define those neighbor tones. As for the other 5th, in the 5th string, altered 5ths in the bass comes with a ‘danger’ sign and baggage. Let’s agree to avoid that for now. But that 5th on the 2nd string is another story. 

Our Triad +1 logic is adding to the 2nd inversion G major on the {543} stringset. So, from the 5th on the 2nd string, we move that top note to the 5th fret to add the E the 6th of G major for a G6 or an enharmonic 3rd inversion E minor7. Move it up one more semitone to the F on the 6th fret puts us in the key of C with G7/D dominant. Let’s ignore 1st string opportunity for now. 

The first thing to think about any time we see the 3rd is that it tells us if the chord is major or minor, therefore, a probable degree of a key. But here we have two of them. Yikes! Where there is conflict, resolution is near. Let’s explore the neighbor tones. 

Triad+1 thinking tells us that the ergonomics alone means the D and the B in the 3rd string are the ‘travel’ either ascending or descending for the one finger per fret convention. One fellow chord tone is throwing the other a lifeline through some pretty rough waters. Triad+1! 

Aren’t we glad we didn’t have to spell a 1st inversion G add #11 right quick? I’d rather think: Triad +1. That’s the way to go! 


A full expansion of this subject is available from my Book; Volume V – Voicings, of the Fretboard Theory series. To be released in August 2021. 

To be continued…Books and On-Line Private Lessons available at www.LeonRodriguezGuitar.com/shop


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