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Scale-tone triads 3

Playing with another guitar player can get messy if you’re both playing the same thing. Sometimes it’s ok. If not, then scale-tone triads are a nice tool for providing some variety.

I gave you some ideas in the last post. Here’s a bit more detail. This will mean more to you if you’ve done some experimenting  beforehand.



When you play notes in a chord individually as single notes, you have an arpeggio.

Here are the G major scale-tone triads as arpeggios.


g major scale-tone arpeggios


Play through this a few times to get comfortable with it. Then move on to using it in a progression.



Loop the following progression.

g major progression

Now play any G major scale-tone triad arpeggio while the loop plays. Some will sound more dissonant than others. Find the ones that you like.

Keep the loop playing and go through the entire sequence of scale-tone arpeggios. Then try jumping randomly from arpeggio to arpeggio.

Be more specific and go from the G major arpeggio to the E minor arpeggio and back. Now go from the G major arpeggio to the B minor arpeggio. Choose any two arpeggios and use only those for the entire progression. Change the rhythm. Play only two notes from each arpeggio.


Song parts

The more simple you are about what you play, the more it will sound like a part that you wrote for the song.

Now invent a few progressions using chords in the key of G major. Loop those and go through the process above. Try to pay attention to the sounds that you like and make note of them in your notebook. These will wind up making it into your songs as unique song parts. This is how you develop a personal voice. This is how you give yourself choice beyond playing the same thing as the other guy.


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Scale-tone triads 2


Here’s the G major triad shape from the last post.


gmaj 3 note in chord box



This chord shape can be used at 3 fret locations in the G major scale that I showed you in the last post: the 3rd fret (G major triad), the  8th  fret (C major triad), and the 10th fret (D major triad).


Minor shape

The following chord is the shape for the scale-tone minor triad.  Since it’s at the 5th fret, it’s the A minor triad (remember that with these shapes, we name the triad using the note-name on the high E string – 5th fret, high E string is an A).


scale-tone min chord



In G major, this shape is used at the 5th fret (A minor triad), the 7th fret (B minor triad), and the 12th fret (E minor triad).


Chord sequence

So the sequence of the first six scale-tone triads is:


G major (3rd fret), A minor (5th fret), B minor (7th fret), C major (8th fret), D major (10th fret), and E minor (12th fret). Looking at the scale below, try to visualize the major and minor shapes at the correct frets.

single string G major scale



The diminished triad

The last chord isn’t used that much. It’s called the diminished chord. It’s the final chord of the scale-tone series, and it’s placed at the 14th fret. Finding a way to use it in your songs will give them a different flavor.


scale-tone dim chord



Things to do

There are a few standard ways to play with these:

  • as a scale, going sequentially from G major to E minor and back.
  • moving randomly from chord to chord.
  • playing just two of the notes (any two) simultaneously while moving between chords.
  • playing each note in each chord individually before moving to another chord


Record a jam track using open-string chords in the key of G. Use the ideas I just mentioned to play along with it. Depending on how you do this, it can sound like a solo, or as a background part for a song.






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Scale-tone triads 1


The next three posts are devoted to scale-tone triads. This post gives you the idea. The last two will apply it.



I’ve talked about building a chord on the first note of the scale in previous posts. and


So what about building chords on the other notes of the scale? What chords are built on those?


Before I get to that, some review is in order.



I’ve made the point elsewhere that a triad is a three-note chord. Open string chords are triads that have more than three-notes (some of the three notes are doubled). We’re going to reduce those open string triads to three notes.  For example, the G major open string triad looks like this.

Gmaj open chord

And it looks like this on the staff. There are three Gs, 2 Bs and 1 D.

Gmaj open chord staff



This can be reduced to this. There is one G, one B, and one D.

gmaj 3 note


Which looks like this on the fretboard.


gmaj 3 note in chord box



This is a scale-tone triad built on the first note of the G major scale (the G – 3rd fret, high E string). For each note of the scale, there is an individual triad. Some have this shape. Others have a different shape.


(At this point, you may be saying, “The open-string chord sounds a lot better. Why learn this other one?” Stick with me. It’ll be worth it).


Where are they?

To get the location of the triads built on the other notes of the scale, we need to know where those other notes are. To do this, we play the G major scale on the E string starting on the third fret. Here’s what that looks like.


single string G major scale


Play that a few times to get to know where all the notes are. Do it using only your index finger. Imagine that each time you play one of those notes, you’re playing a triad.


In the next post, you’ll play the actual triads as a sequence from the first note of the scale to the last.


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Ambiguous triads

Ambiguous triads sound interesting because their quality (major, minor, etc.) isn’t obvious. Open chords, which I talked about in earlier posts, fall into this category.


Major and minor triads

The main thing that determines chord quality is the nature of the third above the root. It can be either major or minor. The C major triad (for example) has these notes:


  • C E G


The C minor triad has these notes:


  • C Eb G


In these cases C/E is a major third and C/Eb is a minor third (In case you’re not familiar with intervals: count from the first note (C) to the second note (E) – C, D, E – and the number of notes names the interval).


In ambiguous triads there’s no major or minor third above the root. This can lead to interesting sounds.


Scale-tone triads

A good way to work with this idea is to use scale-tone triads. Here are my posts on that.


So take the major shape…


gmaj 3 note in chord box


…and find the third. For this triad, it’s on the G string. Remember, this is the note you need to change for another.

To do that, all you have to do is move the third either higher or lower. Try moving the note as far up or down the string as you can.

Do the same with the minor shape. The third is on the G string in this chord, too.


scale-tone min chord


As you work with this, you’ll notice that the new chord shapes are the same for both major and minor triads. This speaks to the ambiguous nature of these chords. When you get rid of the third of a chord, the chord could be either major or minor. Or neither.

If you want different chord shapes, you can move the other two notes in the triad around, too. This is a nice way of exploring new sounds.


Triads on all string sets

Here’s a link to major and minor triads on all string sets. Diminished, augmented, and suspended triads are on this chart, too, if you want to play around with those.


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Everyone seems seems to like pedal.

The pedal is that unchanging, drone-like note that gets sustained while other notes or chords change.


Scale-tone triads

This is where scale-tone triads work well. I’m going to use some in the key of A major that I haven’t presented before. I’m using the key of A because I want to use the open 5th string A as the pedal.

Here are the scale-tone triads in the key of A:

scale tone A


Play up and down the scale to get used to the shapes. Notice where it shifts string sets at the 6th chord. Once they feel comfortable, start adding the open A string to them. Try it both strumming or arpeggiating.


Making 7th chords

When you add the pedal (5th string A) to different triads in the A major scale, you get some 7th chords.

  • Adding A to the B minor triad gives you a B minor 7th chord (B, D, F#, A)
  • Adding it to the C# minor triad gives you an A major 7th chord (A, C#, E, G#).
  • The E major chord turns into an E major add 11 chord (E, G#, A, B)
  • The G# diminished chord turns into a G#, B, D, A chord. It makes more sense to spell this B, D, G#, A to produce a B minor 13 chord.


We don’t really hear these chords that way, but knowing this gives you an idea of why the whole thing sounds richer. In the end, though, we tend to hear them like triads sliding around under the pedal rather than 7th chords.


Adding to songs

This is a good technique to use when you want some contrast between verse and chorus, or when you want an interlude going from chorus to verse.

To use this technique in other keys, just tune the 5th or 6th strings to the note you want. For instance, if you want to use the C as a pedal, tune the 6th string down to C. If you want to use the G as a pedal tune the 5th string down to G.

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Eastern European scales and making chords

You can’t have chords without scales. Even if you just throw some randomly chosen notes together, those notes would be part of a scale.

You can’t really escape scales. People try. “Too technical,” and “Aren’t they just for soloing?” are a couple of things I hear when the topic arises.

“Too technical” translates to “I don’t want to practice.” And the answer to “Aren’t they just for soloing?” is “no.” They’re also for inventing chords.

I admit, it’s easier to look at a page full of chord diagrams, and make your fingers conform to what’s there. Developing a creative, curious mind takes a bit more effort.

It’s kind of worth it to do the work. It stretches your mind, and it stretches your ear.


Eastern Europe

This scale might sound strange. Or beautiful. Both are great. Once you get used to it, it becomes something that adds color, rather than a random, weird sound.

Let’s start by building a random, weird sound…

Here’s a scale from Eastern Europe


East euro 1


Making chords: Unfamiliar to familiar

Place your middle finger on the C on the A string, 3rd fret, and your index finger on the F# on the high E string, 2nd fret. Add the open B string. Or you can use the B at the 4th fret of the G string (that’ll make the next move a bit more challenging, though…)

Might sound a bit different than what you’re used to. Might not. In any case, let’s reduce the tension. Move the F# to the G on the 3rd fret of the E string (leave the C and the B where they are), and play the new chord.

Might still sound a bit strange. Try moving the C to the open string D (or the D on the A string, fret 5). Better?

The point here is to use the scale to randomly choose notes with which to build chords you would never have otherwise found. And then to resolve those chords by moving the notes in the chord to new notes.

This is a process of discovery and experimentation, of trial and error. The point is to take the stuff you’re used to (and maybe getting bored of?) and add interest.


Familiar to unfamiliar

Another way to approach this is to go from familiar to unfamiliar. Place your index finger on the G, 3rd fret, high E string; middle finger on Eb, 4th fret, B string; ring finger on C, 5th fret, G string. That’s a C minor chord.

Now just move the fingers to other notes in the scale and back. The G can go back to the F#; the Eb can go to the D; the C can go to the B. These can move together or one at a time. Work with this, and you’ll find ways to introduce this kind of sound into your regular playing and writing.

Check my posts on scale-tone chords for more shapes like this.



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