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Should You Learn Music Theory?  – Part 2

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Greetings, freteleven family! We're back with another insightful blog post to help you elevate your guitar prowess and broaden your musical horizons. In this instalment, we'll delve into the world of spelling triads, providing you with an easy and quick method to learn the notes in any triad, in any key.

By this point, you should know where I stand concerning the question in the title of this post. If you haven't spent the time, I hope I can persuade you to dig in and expand your understanding of music and make that new found understanding available when are creating. In our previous post, Should You Learn Music Theory? we explored the importance of internalizing music theory to enhance your guitar-playing experience. Building on that foundation, today we'll learn how to know the notes in any triad.

The Importance of being familiar with a Triads "Spelling"

Spelling a triad means knowing what notes comprise the triad. As discussed in our last post, there is a difference between understanding how to figure out a musical component and knowing it. For example, when I play or hear an A Maj triad in a song, part of the identity of that chord is that it is made up of the notes A, C# and E. The A is the root, the C# is the third, and the E is the 5th. I cannot think of an A Major chord without simultaneously thinking about the individual parts. Because I don't have to 'figure it out', that information is available to me when I'm making music. Another way to put it is the understanding of the A Major chord is available to my right brain. (See - Finding Your Groove: Tips for Achieving Right-Left Brain Balance on the Guitar )

This post aims to simplify learning the notes in each triad and give you a tangible process to make them a part of your musical experience.

Seven Core Triads

Everything in this process is based on memorizing the core triads. From them, it is possible to get to any other triad spelling. Take a screenshot, keep it on your phone, and review it multiple times daily. It doesn't take long to learn.

Grouping Triads Visually

To streamline the learning process even further, take note of the three distinct patterns that triads exhibit. Group 1 consists of triads with the same accidental, Group 2 has the middle note with a different accidental than the outer two, and Group 3 features a different first note than the last two.

For visual learners, this approach is incredibly advantageous. For example, knowing that any Major triad beginning with an F note (F, F#, or Fb) shares the same accidental allows for quick recall. By memorizing the F Major triad as F-A-C, you can instantly recognize that FbMaj is Fb-Ab-Cb and F#Maj is F#-A#-C#. Thus, by committing the core triads and the three groups to memory, you can effortlessly access the spellings of 21 triads in no time.

Changing the Quality

So far, we've focused on the major triad, which is comprised of Root-Third-Fifth. Once you're comfortable with the spellings of the 21 major triads and can recall them quickly and effortlessly, it's time to explore other triad qualities, such as minor, diminished, and augmented.

Keep in mind that the group patterns mentioned earlier apply only to major triads. By modifying the major triad, you can instantly identify any of the 84 triads without hesitation. Practice transforming a major chord into a different quality. For instance, G major consists of a Root-Third-Fifth, which is G-B-D. To change it to G minor, simply lower the third, resulting in G-Bb-D. If you want to create a G augmented triad, take the major triad and raise the fifth, giving you G-B-D#. Finally Gdim is a lowered third and lowered fifth G-Bb-Db. Using this technique, you can easily identify any random triad with little effort.

Train Relentlessly Until the Need for Practice Disappears

The final, yet most crucial step in this process is one that many people don't complete. The goal is to instantly associate the triad spelling with the chord symbol, such as knowing that Bbmin corresponds to Bb-Db-F. This simply requires a bit of practice. There are various ways to practice this, and we'll provide one technique here using a triad grid exercise.

Each grid in this exercise has three questions. Before you begin, determine the type of triad the grid represents (Major, minor, diminished, or augmented). In the grid, a note is present in the first square of the first row (root), the second square of the second row, and the third square of the last row, creating a diagonal. In the example below, the note chosen is C, and the triad type for the grid is Major - Root-Third-Fifth. This means that the first column contains the root of the chord, the second column contains the third, and the last column contains the fifth. The example grid asks three questions: 1. Which major triad has C as the root, and what are the third and fifth? 2. Which major triad has C as the third, and what are the root and fifth? 3. Which major triad has C as the fifth, and what are the root and third?

The answers would be: 1. CMaj - C-E-G, 2. AbMaj - Ab-C-Eb, and 3. FMaj - F-A-C. By practicing with exercises like this, you'll quickly enhance your ability to associate triad spellings with their corresponding chord symbols.

Print out this worksheet and practice it until you don't have to anymore.

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