TRIADS ARE BASED OFF OF THREE
pitches. Technically any collection of three
pitches defines a triad, but more commonly
the word “triad” refers to tertian triads: a
three-note chord that can be stacked in
thirds. This produces four possibilities
[Ex. 1]. Of the four triads, the major and
minor are arguably the pillars of Western
harmony and normally mutually exclusive,
i.e. we don’t say, “This song is in the key of D minor major.” It’s either one or the other.
But for dominant 7 chords that contain
a #9, playing major and minor tonalities is
normal and sounds great. Take for exam-
ple the ever-popular “Hendrix” chord: E7#9
in Ex. 2. Borrowed from the jazz vernacu-
lar, this type of harmony can be found in
most genres of music today. Notice that this
chord has within it the major and minor
3rds, G# and G respectively (even though
it is enharmonically labeled #9, the pitch is
still G.) This parallel major/minor ambiguity can serve as the launching point for some
very creative single-note and chord ideas.
Most of time, the major and minor 3rds
are within the same octave and, over dom-
inant chords, give a very familiar blues
sound [Ex. 3]. In this lesson however, we
will separate the major and minor 3rds in
register to create some twisting single-note
lines and then smash them into tight clus-
ters for some wicked chord voicings. We
are going to use E7#9 as the implied har-
mony for the remaining examples. Once you understand the concepts you can move
them anywhere you wish.
Ex. 4a begins by alternating full E major
and E minor triads, and Ex. 4b reverses the
order. Try accenting the G and G# notes
throughout these examples. By separat-
ing the major and minor 3rds in register,
the ear has a chance to perceive each triad
individually rather than blurring the two
tonalities like in Ex. 3. It’s subtle, but brings
about a very modern and angular sound
using a very simple concept. Bonus: They also make a nice sweep picking exercise.
Examples 5a and 5b take this concept and
use hammer-ons and pull-offs with string
skipping. Note that they each begin with a
different triad quality and there is a strangely
symmetrical nature to the fingerings. For
Ex. 6, I add the b7 into the mix, thus hit-
ting all the pitches in the E7#9 chord (E,
G#, B, D, G).
Ex. 7 shows some of the true potential of
this concept. It covers almost three octaves,
begins with two closed-voiced E major and
minor triads followed by two open-voiced
E major and minor triads, and still main-
tains a descending line!
It's time to bring the funk in Ex. 8. Here,
we have our first fragment of the E7#9 chord
at the end of the first measure (the G-G#
diad). It’s super angular and very funky.
What happens if we take this concept
and try to make chord voicings? Ex. 9 shows
four really usable voicings that sound very
modern and fit over E7#9. The remaining
three figures in Examples 10-12 demonstrate
how to mix single-note lines and chord frag-
ments to generate really interesting musi-
cal ideas. These should get you thinking
in a different way and add a new element
to your playing. Keep experimenting!
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