If I ever find myself stuck in a rut with my lead playing, I always revert back to practising with intervallic or triadic based ideas to help me come up with new licks. One of my favourite discoveries over the last few years was the spread triad, which I have been slowly building into my own playing and improvisation. In this free online guitar lesson, I will show you how to incorporate triads and spread triads into your familiar minor pentatonic shape, in order to develop an interesting new sound into your lead lines.
I put this lesson together with the more intermediate to advanced players in mind, with a focus on lead guitar, although you can build some interesting chord voicings for rhythm work using this concept too.
Since this is a lesson with the focus on the pentatonic scale, let’s first remind ourselves of the minor pentatonic scale in position 1. I have decided to use the key of A as an example here, since it is a familiar key for most guitarists, but you’ll want to practise the ideas and concepts presented here in all 12 keys. Here is a tab of the A minor pentatonic scale:
Because I know a lot of my students prefer to see their scales as box diagrams, here is the A minor pentatonic scale as a mapped out shape on the fretboard:
What Is A Triad?
Before we can begin to learn about spread triads, we first need to learn what a triad is. A triad is a three note chord where the notes are stacked in intervals of a third. These can intervals can be either a major or a minor third. There are four main types of triad in music:
Looking at the pentatonic scale above, there are 5 different notes in the scale (A, C, D, E & G) With that in mind, there are two possible triads that can be formed from the scale above. Let’s start with A minor (A, C & E.) In order to play an A minor triad within position 1 of the pentatonic scale, it would be first helpful to visualise it as a fretboard diagram. Below are all the possible notes of A, C and E in position 1 of the A minor pentatonic scale, and they have been highlighted yellow to help you see them within the scale:
Let’s now look at all possible permutations of the information above and start playing some A minor triads within the pentatonic scale:
As we can see from the tab above, there are six different ways of playing an A minor triad within the A minor pentatonic position 1 shape. I would encourage you to practise all the shapes outlined above if you’ve never experimented with this type of guitar playing before. Try and incorporate these patterns into your blues or rock licks to add a less scalic, more interval based approach to your improvisations.
What Is A Spread Triad?
Now that we’ve learned how to build triads, we need to understand what a spread triad is. A spread triad is a normal triad, such as in the examples above, where the middle note is moved up or down an octave. Eric Johnson is a big fan of spread triads, and uses a number of them in his lead and rhythm playing. Let’s take the triads that we looked at earlier and convert them into spread triads:
Using the method described above, we now have four A minor spread triads available in position 1 of the pentatonic scale. Even though there were other options available, I chose to keep the spread triads strictly limited to the A minor pentatonic position 1, since most guitarists are familiar with this scale.
I mentioned earlier that there are two possible triads that can be played using the notes of the A minor pentatonic scale (A, C, D, E & G.) We have just looked at A minor (A,C & E) so now let’s look at our second main triad type, C major (C, E & G.) Here is a diagram of all the possible places to play the notes C, E & G within our A minor pentatonic position 1 scale. All C, E & G notes have been highlighted yellow to make it easier to visualise:
Let’s now look at all possible permutations of the information above and start playing some C major triads within the pentatonic scale:
These triads will work when playing over a chord progression that’s in the key of A minor, as we are still using the notes from the A minor pentatonic scale (we are using only three of them, instead of all five)
Let’s now use the same method that we used to convert our A minor triads into spread triads. We will take our middle note of each of our C major triads and move it either up or down one octave. This gives us the following three spread triads:
As I did with our A minor spread triads, I kept the C Major spread triads limited to the notes in position 1 of the A minor pentatonic scale. Practise all three shapes and try to visualise as part of that familiar scale shape.
How Can I Use These In My Playing?
The beauty of triads and spread triads is that they can be practised as both chord voicings, and as concepts that you can incorporate into your lead playing. Personally, I would start by voicing every spread triad as a chord, giving you a unique alternative to your normal A Minor or C Major chord voicings. Here are a few examples below:
The next way is to start weaving them into your own lead playing. I have found the most musical way of doing this, is to combine the spread triads within your own pre-existing pentatonic blues/rock licks, or whichever style you usually play in. Use as many bends, slides and any left hand articulation to make your ideas stand out. Try starting with one of these spread triad sequences before going into a more familiar pentatonic idea, or try stacking two or three on top of each other, before ending with a nice bend. To help you get started with this concept, here are a few of my ideas. If you’re familiar with the hybrid picking technique on guitar, then feel free to experiment with using that approach to assist you in executing these licks:
Remember, all the above licks and ideas should be practised in all 12 keys in order for you to get the most out of this lesson. If you liked this concept and feel you would like to expand on it, try working out the spread triads above in different pentatonic positions, or even work out some other chord types that you can use as the basis for new ideas.
I hope you found this free guitar lesson useful, and that you can use it to make your own playing more interesting. Let me know in the comments what you thought, and let me know of any suggestions for future online lessons. See you next time!