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HomeBlogMastering The Fretboard: Major Triads

Mastering The Fretboard: Major Triads

As a guitar teacher, I have noticed a common trend among my students over the years: they all have a lot of holes in their playing. They can play some songs and get by, but ultimately their instrument is still a mystery to them. They don’t know where all of the notes are, how it works or how to navigate it properly. This could be because they were self-taught and learned how to play from the internet, or they had teachers in the past that failed to teach them the fundamentals.

I’ve also had a lot of students come to me wanting to learn how to play jazz (a style of music that requires a lot of musical knowledge). Often times I discover quite quickly that their harmonic knowledge is quite limited and we have to take some steps back. Instead of working on Major 7ths and extensions we need to go back and learn where they came from.

That’s why the next handful of lessons are going to be all about triads! Triads are often overlooked, yet they are so important. When it comes to mastering the fretboard this should be one of the first stops! Let’s dig into this:

What is a triad?

In case you’re not sure what a triad is, lets go ahead and define it.

A triad is: a grouping of three notes associated with each other by a particular key.

The formula for constructing a major triad is: Root-3rd-5th.

So using that formula, the notes to make a G major triad in root position would be: G-B-D.

Pretty simple right?

What’s an inversion?

In the case of a triad, an inversion is: a variation on the voicing by taking the first note of the triad and moving it up an octave.

Here’s what this looks like in notation using the key of G major:


Notice how the 1st inversion has the root (G) brought up an octave and subsequently the 2nd inversion has the 3rd (B) brought up an octave.

For our purposes, knowing the inversions of a major triad is important because it’s going to show us how to play it all over the fretboard.

My method for mastering major triads:

My method is fairly simple: play the root position triad and both the 1st and 2nd inversions on all possible sets of strings.

So what are the possible sets of strings? The first set is E (low)-A-D. The second set is A-D-G. The third set is D-G-B and the 4th set is G-B-E (high).

If that’s not making complete sense to you now, no worries, the diagrams will hopefully explain everything!

Let’s see what this looks like on the first set of strings:

Triads 1

As you can see we are only dealing with three notes: the root, the third, and the 5th (G-B-D). When doing this exercise I find it best to play at the end the octave higher of the first triad to tie things together.

Let’s look at the next set of strings:

Triads 2

Again, we are still dealing with the same notes, just different shapes.

Here is the next set of strings:

triads 3

And here is the last set of strings:

triads 4

You may have noticed that we were appropriately cycling: Root position- 1st inversion- 2nd inversion. Technically the next in the cycle should have been the Root position, however the lowest note on the high E string won’t allow you to play the 5th so we skipped ahead to the 1st inversion.

How to practice these:

  • Practice the shapes on each set of strings slowly and make sure you can play them forwards and backwards.
  • Once you feel comfortable with one set of strings move onto the next.
  • Repetition is key and be able to play all sets of strings consecutively forwards and backwards.
  • Ultimately, if you want to master these major triads you need to take them through all 12 keys. That is a huge undertaking, but if you take the time to do it you will really be opening up your knowledge of the fretboard!

In the next lesson we’ll move on and talk about minor triads. Watch the blog often!

-Brent Vaartstra

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Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."

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