The guitar is a stringed instrument with six strings that typically requires precise fingering or strumming in order to avoid dense, dissonant sounds.
Step one is taking an existing triad shape you are familiar with and moving it up the neck – this will open up an infinite array of musical composition possibilities!
1. C Major Triad
C major is often the initial chord new guitar players learn and is an ideal place to begin their fretboard education. Constructed using three notes–a major third and perfect fifth (C-E-G), its bright sounding structure gives C major an exciting, energetic tone.
To play chords, simply locate C on your fretboard and then create the pattern of notes surrounding it – this system of fretboard shapes is known as CAGED method and can be applied to any string.
Once you’ve identified the notes for a C major triad, you can move on to other major and eventually minor triads. To do this effectively, work out all natural notes on one string beginning from low E and moving up through each fretboard note while remembering their names – this allows you to map out your fretboard by identifying patterns of chords.
2. D Major Triad
As a chord player, one of your first steps should be mastering an open D major triad. It will serve as the cornerstone for building open guitar shapes around and also provide you with an initial useful grip when moving triads up the neck.
This triad is composed of the root, major third, and perfect fifth steps of the D major scale – or steps one, three and five respectively. Like other CAGED chord forms, its shapes may be adjusted on or off the fretboard to produce different triads; moving it two frets up from its initial position produces a D minor chord.
Triads built on the major scale can be inverted to create diminished, augmented and open chords. Note that these chords are all shown in root position with note names indicated rather than numbers for easier learning; you may refer back to our section on note intervals for more on note names in chords. By learning your chords using fretboard diagrams instead of memorizing an extensive list of symbols you will quickly master these chords!
3. E Major Triad
The E major triad is one of the most versatile and widely-used of all triad shapes, found in numerous guitar chords such as open G chords and capoed G triads.
This shape can also be moved up and down the neck to find different inversions of a chord – useful when building progressions without too many finger moves!
The E major triad can often be found at the core of many classic rock, pop and soul songs. John Lennon’s “Imagine”, with its emotive chords derived from this shape. Coldplay also used an E major triad for “A Sky Full of Stars”, creating an upbeat celestial atmosphere – so understanding this shape should definitely be one of your goals!
4. G Major Triad
With more than six notes involved, chords that require precision can require more than a simple strum, so practicing them and their inversions regularly on guitar should be prioritized over speed. Focusing on accuracy rather than speed will lead to better results as will practicing various muted techniques to suppress unwanted strings.
This triad is composed of the first, third and fifth notes in the scale – G, B and D – forming an open chord that exudes brightness and optimism.
Every major scale also contains a minor variation that appears on its sixth degree – for G major this would be E minor. While all of its notes remain the same, this variation adds an imperfect fifth interval which gives it a more melancholic sound. You’ll frequently encounter these chords on guitar as they’re very useful across genres of music.