Map scale

How to Map Triads – Premier Guitar

Mapping major and minor triads up and down the guitar neck can open up new possibilities in your playing. chords and to inspire creative improvisations and compositions. But where do you start?


If you’re a beginner or intermediate player who sees neck areas as uncharted gray areas, learning how to map triads can really help. It’s important to practice them slowly and consistently in order to build positive muscle memory in the fretting hand while making sure you’re spelling the triads correctly. In terms of practical approach, it is best to break down the triads into four separate string groups. In other words, you are only going to practice and play three adjacent strings at a time. For our purposes, think of string groups as 1–2–3, 2–3–4, 3–4–5, and 4–5–6.

First, let’s look at a D major triad. The individual notes that spell a D major triad are D–F#–A (or scale degrees 1–3–5 of the D major scale). In Example 1 I mapped the three inversions of a D major triad on the top three strings. An inversion is simply a rearranged harmonization of the same three notes contained in a triad. You’ll notice that the very first shape is probably one you already know and play often: the tried-and-true cowboy chord with no open strings. This D chord form has an A in the lowest voice. Since the 5 (A) is the lowest note in the chord, we call it a second form of inversion.

As we move up the neck, these notes move to new positions, creating new shapes and placing a different note in the lowest voice. Notice the second shape. It is also a D major triad, but the root is now in the lowest voice. It is a root position triad. Then, the third form gives us the 3 of the lowest voice, that is to say a first triad of inversion.

In Example 2you will see D major triads for the remaining string groups: 2-3-4, 3-4-5, and 4-5-6.

To point out the obvious, when it comes to practical applications of triads when playing songs and chord progressions, you’ll need a little more knowledge than just major triads. However, you can cover a parcel of ground simply knowing the major and minor triads.

What is the difference between a major and minor triad? Simply move a note – the major third – down a single fret. In our examples, we will move the F# to the natural F. In Example 3 you can see how this changes the shapes of the first three strings.

How to practice the triads

Although there are many ways to practice these exercises, I have seen students have the most success with a combination of two methods:

play and say. Play the chord, say the name of its inversion out loud, then arpeggiate the chord, saying the note names as you play them (“Triad in D major, second inversion, A, D, F# “).

Apply to song or chord progression: Take a common chord progression and use triads over a group of strings instead of playing open chords.

Once you have a good grasp of major and minor triads, you can start mixing and matching inversions, weaving them together to play common chord progressions. In Example 4, we see a simple chord progression in D: D–Bm–Em–A. Let’s start by looking at this progression on the top string set. (I wrote them in half-notes to make the shapes appear better. It’s up to you to invent strumming or picking patterns.)

Naturally, we want to move this progression around the fretboard. Example 5 is the same progression on strings 4–3–2. Here’s a tip: for these shapes, I simply moved the note on the 1st string one octave toward the 4th string.

Experiment and Explore

Try playing Ex. 4 and Ex. 5 backwards to hear the downward progression. Then try jumping around different inversions and octaves while following the chord order in the progression. This works well for electric guitarists looking to create unpredictable, complementary guitar parts while someone else plays open chords. Experiment with using various effects. Delays and reverbs can be especially fun when playing triads out loud. Arpeggiate triads, play them as punchy cutting chords, add and remove notes with any free finger to create counter melodies, whatever sounds good to your ears.