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Expand Your Musicality and Fretboard Knowledge Using Triads and Inversions

Expand Your Musicality and Fretboard Knowledge Using Triads and Inversions

As there are three different notes in a basic chord (triad), there are three basic forms for these chords. These forms are presented only on the top four strings. The reasoning for this is twofold: 01. Historically, the developing guitar was a four-string instrument until the Baroque era, when a fifth string was added, and then a sixth. Therefore, chords had to be formed on fewer strings. 02. Chords formed on the top four strings involve a systematic, musical approach to triadic harmony and the use of chord inversions.

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Form I Voicing: 1-3-5-1 (root, third, fifth, octave)—“root-position.”
Form II Voicing: 3-5-1-3 —“first inversion.”
Form III Voicing: 5-1-3-5—“second inversion.”

There is a clear pattern of intervals with this system of chord inversions. While the official term is “inversion,” using form numbers can help to identify where the root of the chord is. For example, the root in Form I is on the first string, it’s on the second for Form II, and the third for Form III. This applies to both Major and Minor Forms.

Applying these forms to the chord progression, A, E, F♯m, D, will give us three different fretboard locations, with each of these having a different sound because of the different chord voicings. The transition from one form to the next is designed so that common chord tones may be used where applicable, and shifting is kept to a minimum.


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Each of these examples systematically moves through the different chord inversions, and they create sounds very different from the basic, root-position shapes.

Learning these six total forms can be much easier than the learning CAGED system. With its musical approach, the focus is on specific chord voicing rather than just root-position chord shapes. Through using these, you can expand your fretboard knowledge in a musical way and gain a better understanding of how chords function. Sonically, if you’re playing the same progression with another guitarist, each of you can play the same chords, but in different positions, creating a wider spectrum of sound.

This method of learning chords is presented in my iBook, Beginning Guitar Method, which is available in the Apple iBookstore.

Matthias Young teaches online guitar lessons at and is the Head of Guitar at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia. His book and DVD, Metal Guitar Method, has sold thousands since its publication in 2012. His most recent release, Beginning Guitar Method, is available in the Apple iBookstore. You can follow Matthias on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+.


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