Major Triad Arpeggio Across 5 Strings
The Major Triad is as good a place as any to start your journey to understanding triads, so by the end of this exercise you will perhaps understand Major triads like never before, and walk away with some ideas on how to use them in your own playing.
I thought long and hard about how to show you the nature of triads. At first I thought maybe I would show you on 3 strings, but in the end I decided the best way is to simply show you how triads end up appearing on the fretboard as we go vertically aross the frets, as well as horizontally.
So in the fretboard diagram, you are seeing a C Major Triad in various places. In the top, you are seeing the C Major triad and its inversions on the E, B, and G strings. In the middle diagram you are seeing C Major triads across the B, G, and D strings. Lastly, in the bottom row you are seeing C Major triads across the G, D, and A strings. If you are not familiar with inversions, see my exercise on Major Triads Across Two Strings, where I talk about triad inversions.
In each row, I am showing you one octave worth of triads. What I mean is that with the first row, for instance, you are seeing C Major (root position), then C Major (1st inversion), then C major (2nd inversion). You could then keep going if you wanted starting at the next octave, so basically that C Major (root position) shape would just repeat with C at the 17th fret on the G string.
A lot of the shapes you are seeing are probably familiar to you. You probably use them often in your rhythm guitar playing. Well, you can also use those same shapes as arpeggios, and in this exercise you will see how we can combine these shapes vertically to form 5 string arpeggios.
Most guitarists are familiar with triads, they just don't know that they are familiar. You know that G Major Chord that you love to play starting from 3rd fret, across all 6 strings? Well, that is a G Major Triad that just so happens to have its triad notes - G, B, D - arranged a certain way, with some of the notes doubled at octaves. This is why I believe studying arpeggios and chords go hand and in hand, since they really are the same thing. The only difference is with arpeggios we play the notes individually, and we often look for arpeggio shapes that lend themselves to being played individually, be it with string skipping, tapping, sweep picking, or even with alternate picking!
So with that said, in the tablature for the exercise you will see that at first you are just playing triads like 3 note triad chords. This serves a couple purposes - it reinforces triads as chords (helpful for rhythm playing!), and it gets you familiar with the sorts of shapes that can be played arpeggio style.
In the tablature you will see that there are two exercises here. Ex A is mostly meant to show you the horizontal and vertical aspect of these triads, how they appear from lower to higher frets, as well as how they appear when moving across strings. The exercise has you playing them as triad chords, because I want to reinforce triad chords and arpeggios so that you will appreciate how one can use triads in rhyhm as well as lead playing. In Ex B you will take the same shapes you played as chords in Ex A, and play them as arpeggios. Some of these arpeggio shapes will be easier than others, and when you come to the end of the exercise, you will be playing a C Major Triad arpeggio starting at 15th fret A string. You may already be familiar with that particular shape for a Major Triad arpeggio, but the point is to see how knowledge of all Major Triad inversions allows you to play other versions of Major Triad arpeggios, perhpas including ones that you hadn't thought of before.
If you haven't done these sorts of exercises before, at first Ex A may seem really tough to play these shapes even as quarter notes. But just stick with it. These sorts of exercises do wonders for building your coordination and the side effect is that your fingers will have a newfound confidence to move very nimbly from shape to shape, and you might even find that doing so inspires lead guitar phrases based on triads. Really, there is no end to the creative ways one can play triads! So once you get comfortable with the exercise as written, make it your own! Mix things up. Choose a different root note and play a similar exercise, say, using G Major Triad, or F Major.
In Ex B now we are getting into true arpeggio territory, by playing the notes individually. I indicate alternate picking. I know most guitarists will want to play using sweep picking. But just trust me - give it a try with alternate picking. Doing so will develop your alternate picking ability in unexpected ways and you will later have the confidence and abilty to alternate pick lines that you previously wouldn't have dreamt up! And while alternate picking arpeggios is more difficult than sweep picking arpeggios (and even playing these arpeggios using alternate picking at moderate tempos is more challenging than sweep picking them at faster tempos,) by starting out with alternate picking you will find sweep picking to be a breeze!
Criteria for Mastery: You can play the exercise cleanly at around 120 BPM and you understand how to use any Major Triad to play a similar exercise
I talk about the basic theory of Major Triads in my exercise on Major Triads Across Two Strings. I suggest you take a look at that if you need to brush up on some theory. The great thing about theory is that it can be applied in various ways on the guitar. Regardless if we are looking at triads across two strings, or triads to be played with tapping, the theory is the same.
In the case of this Major Triad exercise, we are using the basic theory on how a Major Triad is formed, and seeing how such triads end up appearing throughout the fretboard. In the case of a C Major Triad, it is formed as a Major Third plus a Minor Third. That means C to E (a major 3rd), then E to G (a Minor 3rd). So we say a C Major Triad has notes C, E, G. We can also refer to a Major Triad by its intervals. In the case of a Major Interval, we can say it is made up of a Root, 3rd, and 5th. Or simply, we just refer to its intervals as 1 - 3 - 5.
With these intervals in mind, take a look at the below diagram, which is the same as the fretboard diagram above, but here I have just relabeled the notes just in terms of intervals. This way you see how any given Major Triad arpeggio looks, in terms of its root, 3rd, and 5th.
We just as well could have chosen G Major, whose root, 3rd, and 5th are G, B D. The triads would appear in different places on the fretboard, but you would find them the same way. So a G Major in root position would look same as C Major Triad in root position, just you would move it so that the root note is a G. Likewise for the 1st inversion shapes, you would just note where the root note is in the 1st inversion and move the shape. So for G Major in 1st inversion across strings E, B, G, you would take that C Major 1st inversion shape shown in the fretboard diagram, and simply move it so that G is the highest note. You would end up with x-x-x-4-3-3. Starting from G string, that would result in notes B, D, G, which is G Major 1st inversion. Make sense?
You can also take a similar approach with other intervals of a Major Triad, instead of always thinking about root notes. This is really where deepening your understanding of arpeggios and intervals starts opening your mind to new ways of understanding and appreciating the fretboard. For instance, once you memorize the above Major Triad arpeggio shapes - and once you memorize the notes of various major triads - you will be able to go to any note of the triad and know how to play a given triad that has that note. For instance, consider D Major. Its root, 3rd, and 5th are D, F#, A. You could start from the F# (this is the 3rd of a D Major Triad) at, say, the 11th fret G string, and knowing how a Major Triad 1st inversion appears on strings G, B, D, you then add the A at 10th fret B string (this is the D Major Triad's 5th), and then add D at 10th fret E string. This would result in notes x-x-x-11-10-10. So you see, for any given Major Triad, you can arrive at these shapes in various ways, and the benefit of having a deep understanding of the intervals that make up a Major Triad is that you can form Major Triads anywhere, anytime! You can appreciate what that knowledge does for your improv skills, especially if you know the chords that you are soloing over.
This may seem more complicated than it is. It will take a considerable amount of time to develop your mastery of these Major Triad arpeggios, but it is just a matter of memorization. So just take a gradual approach. Pick a random root note, and spend an hour playing that Major Triad all over the neck. Do that a couple times a week. In sevreal months you will be shocked at how much more comfortable you are at navigating the fretboard, and better yet, your triad mastery will make learning 7th chords/arpeggios all the easier!