Guitar Triads: chord charts

These guitar chord charts will help you play triads on the fretboard. Guitar triads are some of the most important building blocks of music, in any genre. Click on the numbers below the image to display major triads, minor triads, diminished triads and augmented triads, in that order.

Triads are the simplest chords there are. They are composed of three distinct tones, and so, are called three-part chords. (Click here for four-part chords).

  • major triads guitar chords chart
  • minor triads guitar chords chart
  • diminished triad guitar chords chart
  • augmented triads guitar chords chart

The interval structure of triads

What sets these guitar triads apart from each other is their interval structure. Let's start with the basics: all triads start with a root, up from which the rest of the triad is built. The next note is the third, and the last is the fifth:

  • Major triad: 1 -> 3 = major third; 3 -> 5 = minor third: 1 -> 5 = perfect fifth

              (major third + minor third = perfect fifth)

  • Minor triad: 1 -> 3 = minor third; 3 -> 5 = major third: 1 -> 5 = perfect fifth

              (minor third + major third = perfect fifth)

  • Diminished triad: 1 -> 3 = minor third; 3 -> 5 = minor third: 1 -> 5 = diminished fifth

              (minor third + minor third = diminished fifth)

  • Augmented triad: 1 -> 3 = major third; 3 -> 5 = major third: 1 -> 5 = augmented fifth

              (major third + major third = augmented fifth)
  • Triad inversions

    When you play a guitar triad starting on the root, we say that it's in root position (aka '1st position'). You will find the root position of each of the triad types in the first row. Pay attention to the numbers at the left of the first row: '1', the root, is at the bottom, followed by 3 and 5.

    You can, however, invert your triads, for variety, convenience, or voice-leading. This means that you play the exact same tones, but with either the third or the fifth as the lowest note. This changes the overall interval structure: the chord type and but and the function of each of the chord tones remain unchanged. The second row of each of the four chord charts above shows the first inversion (aka '2nd position') of each of the triad types; notice that '3' is the lowest note here. Similarly, the third row shows their second inversion (aka '3d position'); '5' is at the bottom this time

    String groups

    You can play closed-position triads in any of four different string groups: strings 6, 5 and 4; strings 5, 4 and 3; strings 4, 3 and 2; or strings 3, 2 and 1. Since the guitar's tuning system is asymmetrical, you need to adjust your fingering as needed for each of the string groups. This I call semitone compensation.

    The four columns of the chord diagrams above show you exactly how to play each triad and triad inversion in the different string groups.

    Open and closed positions

    All the fretboard fingerings of triads in the guitar chord chart shown above are in closed position. This means that all three tones are within a single octave, without any 'gaps' in between. There are countless ways of playing open position triads of all four types on the guitar fretboard, so start with the basics; understand the interval structure of triads, in root position as well as in both inversions: all three positions. Understanding the structure of triads is the best way to lay a strong foundation from which to later explore all the possibilities.

    The number of positions grows even more when you start duplicating chord tones. It is very common for the root, for example, to be doubled an octave above, as in CAGED chords and other commonly used fingerings. Again; understand and practice guitar triads in their simplest form first, then you will make real sense of the myriad fingering options available on the fretboard.

    Triads and the major and minor modes

    Of the four types of guitar triads shown above, the first three —major triads, minor triads and diminished triads— occur naturally on the major scale. The augmented triad comes from the minor mode: it is found in both the harmonic minor scale and the melodic minor scale.

    What's next?

    four-part chords

    Once you've come to grips with guitar triads, the next chords to explore, on the fretboard, are four-part chords (aka 'seventh chords') Four-part chords are built by stacking on an additional third on top of a triad —adding up to a the interval of a seventh between the root and the highest note— so it is key for you to understand guitar triads before you move on to seventh chords...

    The seventh above the triad adds a whole new dimension to its sound. These chords are very common in blues, jazz, funk, and many other styles and genres; make sure you're able to play at least some of the common fingering to spice up your playing!

    Go back from Guitar Triads: chord charts to Guitar Chords

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