THE JAZZ BOX
The Match Game:
Fun With Upper Structure Triads
However intellectual we get about chords
and voicings, it’s safe to admit to learning things visually. The “big three” of triad
shapes are fairly memorable on the guitar: D,
F, and B%. If we assign more than one job to
a chord shape, we’re left with less to teach
our fingers, ending up with nice, easy chord
forms to play when the chord that is called
for on the lead sheet is, say, B%maj7(#5).
Upper structure triads usually refer to the
three notes that form the high end of a 7th
chord with added tensions on it. This month,
we’re going to look at triads that are contained in 7th chords, with or without extensions or tension added.
There’s that D triangle. What we’re really playing
on the first three strings is a D major triad in the
second inversion, or A, D and F#. Let’s suppose
we’re playing with a bass player, who is responsible for playing the root of a chord. We can
now call that triangle B- 7 (B-D-F#-A) if we hear
it in the context of B in the bass. Similarly, F can
function as a D- 7 and B% can function as a G- 7.
Let’s move those two triad shapes up the neck
to get two more inversions of a D major triad.
There’s the shape that looks like B% in exam-
ple 1, but now it is a D major triad in the root
position, or D-F#-A at the 5th fret. Following
that is the shape that we called F in example
1, but now it is a D major triad in the first
inversion, or F#-A-D at the 10th fret. Either of
these D triads make a nice B- 7 as well.
Consider the notes in that B%maj7(#5): B%-D-F#-A. There’s our friendly D major triad again
on the top three notes, so any of our D
majors will give us the right chord sound if
our trusted bass player lays down a B%.
Looking for a cool way to grab an E9sus4
(E-A-B-D-F#)? Our D major triads work nicely
here, too. Our bass player will give us the
E root, and will often play the 5th at some
These D triads can make a nice Gmaj9, too,
but we need to be a little careful here. Gmaj9
is G-B-D-F#-A. We’ve got the upper structure
covered just fine, but the all-important third
of the chord is missing. Still, it will work if
we have already established the major tonality and we’re just complimenting it some by
moving around the neck.
The following examples show what happens
when we use the other three triad types
(minor, diminished and augmented) this way.
The fun of the match game comes from rec-
ognizing that the chord which you just used
as B- 7(%
5) works quite nicely as B%maj7, not
to mention a D minor triad. For practice, find
your way around lead sheets using only triad
shapes. Be creative and transpose to your
Jane Miller is a guitarist, composer, and arranger
with roots in both jazz and folk. In addition to leading her own jazz instrumental quartet, she is in a
working chamber jazz trio with saxophonist Cercie
Miller and bassist David Clark. The Jane Miller Group
has released three CDs on Jane’s label, Pink Bubble
Records. Jane joined the Guitar Department faculty at
Berklee College of Music in 1994. janemillergroup.com