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Expand Your Musicality and Fretboard Knowledge Using Triads and Inversions

Expand Your Musicality and Fretboard Knowledge Using Triads and Inversions

When first learning to play guitar, transitioning between chords and playing a few progressions can allow you to play hundreds of songs.

While this can keep you entertained for quite a while, you might find there is a large amount of the fretboard that is lacking your attention.

One of the many tools that can be used to learn the higher positions is the CAGED system. Though the application can be very useful, aspects of it can be simplified and studied in a more musical approach. Doing this might help you have a better understanding of chord voicing and harmony.

The CAGED system uses five guitar chord shapes—C, A, G, E and D—to create barre chords for playing in higher positions. The problem with this system is that its functionality has nothing to do with music itself. It is simply a physical device that works based on the tuning of the strings. It cannot be applied to music in general and is specific only to the guitar.

These five chords are all root-position chords, meaning the letter name of the chord is the lowest-sounding note. But music does not always consist of root-position chords, so why should it on the guitar? In this column, I’ll demonstrate another approach for expanding your fretboard knowledge using triads and their inversions.

First of all, what is a chord? If you’re asked to play a G chord, what really does that mean? Sure, it can be a shape from a chord diagram, but why that shape? And if it’s different from one diagram to the next, is one of those wrong?

As guitarists, we often think about chords as shapes, and we have “go-to” shapes for certain chords. But that’s not thinking musically. So that we can develop a stronger sense of musicianship, we need to understand how chords are constructed. To demonstrate, I’ll use a simple I-V-vi-IV progression in the key of A, so the chords will be A, E, F♯m and D.

First, we need to know what notes are in the key of A.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 5.45.03 PM.png

The basic chord is called a triad and consists of a root, a third and a fifth. The chords in this progression will have these notes:

A: A, C♯, E
E: E, G♯, B
F♯m: F♯, A, C♯
D: D, F♯, A

Your “go-to” shapes for these chords might look something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 5.47.01 PM.png

When first learning to play a chord progression, we’re typically using our basic “guitar” chords. I use quotations because many guitarists think of a chord as a certain shape. That may suffice for a beginner, but to make those root-position chords even more musical, we need to take advantage of the rest of the fretboard. We can do so by learning different chord inversions.

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