We’re in the process of exploring ways to make triads sound bigger than typical three-note voicings. The trick, as we’ve learned, is to turn close-voiced triads into open-voiced forms. This simple technique converts a triad that occupies a single octave (close-voiced) to one that spans more than an octave (open-voiced).
In the first installment of our series
(“Hybrid-Picking Pals,” January 2011 PG),
we expanded a root–3rd–5th triad by dropping
its middle note by an octave. Then we
saw what happens when we raised that middle
note an octave (“Going Up?,” February
2011 PG). In both lessons, we generated a
fistful of major and minor forms that sound
bigger—and arguably more intriguing—than
standard-issue triads. If you missed either of
these lessons or want to refresh yourself on
the two voicing techniques, they're linked above.
In this third and final part of our series,
we’ll integrate some of the different forms
we’ve discovered thus far and continue to
blanket the fretboard with fresh chordal colors.
But first, let’s look at one more voicing technique
in which we raise and lower notes in a
close triad to generate yet another set of major
and minor grips.
Fig. 1 begins with a root-position, close-voiced
D triad, D–F#–A (root–3rd–5th) on
strings 5, 4, and 3. If we raise the bottom note
up an octave and simultaneously drop the top
note down an octave, we get the second voicing
in this example, A–F#–D (5th–3rd–root).
Whoa! Now instead of a chord that covers
a mere fifth, we have one that stretches an
octave and a fourth, yet still only contains
three notes. Notice how this second voicing
falls on strings 6, 4, and 2. When playing a
chord voiced entirely on non-adjacent strings
like this, attack it using either a hybrid pick-and-fingers or pure fingerstyle technique.
Download Example 1 audio...
The next two chords in this example illustrate
how the process works identically with
minor triads. Here, we start with a root-position,
close-voiced Dm (D–F–A) on the same
string set and then propel the lowest and highest
notes respectively up and down an octave
to create an open Dm (A–F–D). We began
with a root-b3rd-5th voicing and converted it
to a 5th-b3rd-root structure. Make sense so far?
To finish this example, let’s apply the same
technique to root-position, close-voiced G
and Gm triads on strings 4, 3, and 2. By
doing so, we generate open G and Gm triads
on strings 5, 3, and 1. Again, these new
chords fall on non-adjacent strings and span
an octave and a fourth.
Fig. 2 shows the open chords we just generated—D, Dm, G, and Gm—stripped away
from the close triads that spawned them. The
last two grips, D and G, are simply refingered
versions of the major chords that preceded
them in this example. It’s handy to know several
ways to fret the identical voicing, because
sometimes one grip works better than another
to link to neighboring chords in a song.
Download Example 2 audio...
If you’re up for a five-fret stretch, you can
convert grid 5’s D to Dm by simply lowering
the 3rd (on string 4) to a b3rd. But, unless
you have exceptionally long fingers, grid 6’s
G doesn’t offer this flexibility because this
form already incorporates five frets, and
dropping the 3rd to a b3rd would yield a
whopping six-fret stretch.
Okay, now we’re ready to put our open triads
to work. Even the most mundane progressions—
ones you’ve played and heard a million
times—take on a fresh, new life when you
arrange them using open-voiced triads.
For instance, how about D–G–C–G?
Rather than grabbing conventional chord
forms, let’s play this progression using voicings
and concepts we’ve covered in this and the
previous two lessons. Fig. 3 puts a new twist
on the I–IV–bVII–IV workhorse, giving it a
soul-jazz flavor. Add some rotary speaker emulation
and you’ll be grooving and grinding like
a Hammond B-3 player.
Download Example 3 audio...
As you work through this four-bar phrase,
notice how we’re playing different voicings
for the C and G chords that occur in bars 2
and 4. You can spice up even the most basic
progressions by alternating inversions of open
triads as you navigate the changes.
The fun begins when we melodically embellish
open triads to create chords that go beyond
major and minor tonalities. Fig. 4 offers a
taste of this, with its add9, major 6, and major
7 sounds. As you work out these arpeggios,
notice how each chord is based on an open
triad that we then color with one extra tone.
Also, pay attention to the let ring markings—the goal is to have the chord tones sustain and
overlap to create rich harmonic textures.
Download Example 4 audio...
The madness—sorry—the adventure continues
in Fig. 5. Thanks to open triads, we’re
able to generate min11, sus2, and add2 chords
with minimal effort. Pretty cool, huh?
Download Example 5 audio...
Once you get a feel for open triads, you’ll
discover many ways to use them to create
sophisticated harmony. With its diminished,
minor 7, sus4, and major 7 colors, Fig. 6 offers
a glimpse of the possibilities. This example also
underscores open triads’ elasticity—especially
compared to big, clunky barre chords—and
how easily these grips let you move selected
notes while holding others. This type of harmony
lets you sound more like a string trio or
horn section and provides a welcome alternative
to simply strumming block chords.
Download Example 6 audio...
We’ll begin exploring the fascinating world
of quartal harmony in next month’s lesson. See
Andy Ellis is a veteran guitar journalist
and Senior Editor at PG. Based
in Nashville, Andy backs singer-songwriters
on the baritone guitar, and also
hosts The Guitar Show, a weekly on-air
and online broadcast. For the schedule,
links to the stations’ streams, archived audio
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