Along with basic intervals and seventh chords, triads are the fundamental building blocks of jazz harmony and melody. If you want to maximize your ability to hear, visualize, and play jazz harmony, you have to master your triads.
Although jazz harmony is primarily built from seventh chords and extended chords, the foundations of all chords are triads. And triads definitely have their place and valuable uses in jazz vocabulary.
Having a firm grasp of triads will absolutely help you to improve your improvising and composing skills. If you can instantly hear, play, and visualize the various ways you harmonize a single pitch with a triad, it will greatly enhance your possibilities as an improviser and composer.
So in this post, I want to focus on a few of the most effective and helpful strategies I’ve come across for practicing triads.
Before you get started on these exercises, you might to briefly review my post about practicing technique so that you know how I approach working on the exercises below.
And for a quick review of types of triads and their inversions, check out this post.
I’ve discovered three different but equally beneficial ways to practice triads:
1. Play the same type of triad and moving it through different key centers
You’ll want to practice major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads up and down in half-steps, whole steps, minor thirds, major thirds, and through the cycle of fifths.
You can even try slightly less common patterns such as the “Giant Steps” cycle – or invent your own pattern. Be sure to try every inversion as you practice – and mix and match inversions!
I won’t notate every possible combination for the sake of time and space, but I’ll give you an example to get you started below.
2. Mix and match different types of triads in one key or different keys
You can achieve this by playing diatonic triads from a given key or mode, or by playing triads in a common chord progression, such as in a I-VI-II-V pattern.
You can also just make up your own pattern, for example, alternating major and minor triads in ascending half-steps.
3. Pick a single pitch and playing all the possible triads that include that note
This is one of the most challenging and interesting ways to practice triads. Perhaps the greatest benefit from this approach is you can immediately hear the contrasts between how different a single note can sound when it’s framed in the context of different triads.
This makes this approach very useful for sharpening your ears so you can make more informed choices as a composer and improviser.
Here are some sample exercises to get you started and inspire your imagination:
Enjoy playing through these examples and try coming up with some of your own. You’ll find that with some study you will feel more confident moving about your instrument and gain insights as an improviser as well.