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LJS 58: How to Use Triads to Improve Your Jazz Improvisation

Welcome to episode 58 of the LJS Podcast where today we are talking about how you can use triads to improve your jazz improvisation. Today’s lesson comes straight out of our brand new eBook “Zero to Improv”. Exercises are given out for this lesson. Listen in!

Listen to episode 58

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In this episode

What’s a triad?

A triad is what I call the foundation of any chord. A more text book definition would be: a set of three notes that can be stacked in thirds.

Basic formula: Root-3rd-5th (3rd and 5th altered depending on quality)

4 qualities of triads you should know:

Major: R-3rd-5th

Minor: R-b3-5

Augmented: R-3-#5

Diminished: R-b3-b5

Root position, 1st inversion, 2nd inversion major triads:

If the root is in the bass (C or F) it is in Root Position.

If the 3rd is in the bass (E or A) it is in 1st Inversion.

If the 5th is in the bass (G or C) it is in 2nd Inversion.

C major triad to F major triad exercise:

Take a look at which inversions are being used:

C major triad to G major triad exercise:

I-#idim-ii-V chord progression triad exercise:

Listen to episode 57: Why I Stopped Hating My Playing and Why You Should Stop Hating Yours

Mentioned in the show

Zero to Improv eBook

Our flagship eBook, Zero to Improv, is a book that teaches you how to become a great jazz improviser from the ground up. No stone is left un-turned. This isn’t your ordinary music book. Zero to Improv calls you to action! Packed full of improv and jazz theory lessons, you’ll start from the beginning and build up all of the skills and knowledge you need. Audio examples are included for all music notation.

Versions are available for C, Bb, Eb and Bass Clef instruments. Designed for all skill levels.

Have anything to add to today’s show? Leave us a comment below.

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."


  1. Hi Brent

    Just a quick question about the Zero to Improv book: if you are a intermediate/ advanced player I wondered do you start at the beginning of the book or do you find your level and start some way through it? My apologies if that sounds a bit of a silly question, but I've a number of books that cover improv that I've dipped into over the years and just want to check.

    I play every week in a Jazz performance class and it covers a lot of improv and arrangement. Mostly I can solo over pieces and mainly hit the changes, but it is largely instinctive and by ear, which I know is fine, but I feel lack the control at times to take it where I want to . I have listened to the 'Play what you hear' podcast which has been very useful in this.

    Anyway. loving the podcasts they always open my eyes to something new.



    • Hi Craig,
      Nice to hear from you! The unique thing about Zero to Improv is that it is focused on putting concepts to practice. They are presented in the book as "Practice Challenges". So perhaps you may feel like you know all of your scales and modes, but there are Practice Challenges that have you working them in all 12 keys and different patterns to apply to them. Maybe you feel like you know your triads, but there are exercises that have you connecting different key centers and triad qualities together, and then Practice Challenges having you make your own chord combinations. So no matter what level you are at, there are things to be gained by working on even the more "basic" elements. It covers a lot of jazz theory and general improvisational exercises and calls to action. I hope some of that commentary helps!


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