What do Toto's Rosanna, Kool & The Gang's Celebration, and Van Halen's Jump have in common?

Other than being massive chart topping hits, all three songs have a strong hook line, i.e. an iconic melody that makes you recognize the song immediately.

Hook lines are catchy melodies consisting of a succession of single tones. These can be either single notes played one after the other, or chords formed with the triads of the scale or a mixture of both.

The most commonly used chords are triads, which are built by adding the third and fifth notes in the scale, starting at the root. For example, the triad for C major contains:
C (the root)
E (the third note above C; often called just "the third")
G (the fifth note above C; often called just "the fifth")

But, what is a triad?

A triad is a set of three notes, typically related to a scale, that are played simultaneously. They are more commonly known as chords. A common triad consists of the root note (1), a third note (3), and a fifth note (5).

What is the C major triad?

The C major triad is often one of the first chords that a beginner guitarist will learn due to its open shape. The C major scale consists of the notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. By using the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale, we can form the C major triad using C, E, and G.

C major triad

The second triad of the C major scale would be D minor, as we would count the first, third, and fifth note, starting from D:

D minor triad

How is the C major triad on guitar built?

Every major scale contains only one semitone between scale degrees III and IV and between VII and VIII. The other scale degrees are separated by two semitones, which makes up a whole tone. As a result, a third can either be a major third whose notes are separated by four semitones, or a minor third, whose notes are separated by three semitones.

How are major triads structured on guitar?

When we take a closer look at the thirds in the following images, you’ll see that each major scale contains three different kinds of triads. By looking at the triad at the first scale degree of C major, we see that the interval between C and E is a major third and the interval between E and G is a minor third:

C major triad guitar fretboard

Hence, this triad is called a major triad. Besides the triad built on the first scale degree (I), the triads built on the fourth (IV), and the fifth (V) scale degree of every major scale are major triads. They consist of a major third located four semitones above the root, and a perfect fifth, located seven semitones above their root.

C Major Triad (Scale Degree I)
F Major Triad (Scale Degree IV)
G Major Triad (Scale Degree V)

How to play the C major triad on guitar in the root position

You can use the following two shapes to play major triads on your guitar. In this case, the diagrams display two options to play a C major triad in root position. To play any other major triad, just shift these patterns horizontally on the fretboard.

C major triad based on the A major guitar chord shape
C major triad based on E major guitar chord shape

What are the different kinds of triads on guitar?

Triads are made up of a root, which will be the first note of the triad, a third which can be major or minor, and a fifth which can be perfect, diminished if flat, or augmented if sharp. Thus giving four types of triad:
1. Major triads are built using three notes: The root, major third, and perfect fifth.
2. Minor triads contain: The root, a minor third, and a perfect fifth.
3. Diminished triads are built using: The root, minor third, and diminished fifth.
4. Augmented triads are comprised of: The root, major third, and augmented fifth.

How are minor triads structured on guitar?

A triad that is built at the second scale degree of C major (i.e. D minor), is different. In this triad, there are 3 semitones between the first and third intervals of D and F. There are four semitones between the second and third triads of F and A, making this triad a minor triad.

Any triad built on the second, third, and sixth degree of a major scale are minor. In the case of the C major scale, they are:

D Minor Triad (Scale Degree II)
E Minor Triad (Scale Degree III)
A Minor Triad (Scale Degree VI)

You can use the following two shapes to play minor triads on your guitar. The diagrams show two options to play a D minor triad in root position. To play any other minor triad, just shift these patterns horizontally on the fretboard.

D minor triad based on A minor guitar chord shape
D minor triad based on E minor guitar chord shape

How are diminished triads structured on guitar?

If you counted correctly, we identified three major triads and three minor triads. But, every major scale contains seven different scale degrees. So, what about the remaining scale degree? Did we forget about it? No, we didn’t.

The seventh scale degree (VII) of the major scale is special. Taking a closer look, you’ll see that its fifth differs from all the other triads. There are three semitones between the root B, and third D, and another three semitones between the third D and fifth F. So, the fifth is only six semitones above the root note.

Instead of having a major third stacked on top of a minor third, or a minor third stacked on top of a major third, two minor thirds are stacked on top of each other. This triad is called a diminished triad. If you try to play this triad, you’ll discover that it sounds quite awkward compared to the others.

B Diminished Triad (Scale Degree VII)

You can use the following two shapes to play diminished triads on your guitar. The diagram shows how to play a Bdim chord. You can play any diminished chord by horizontally shifting the pattern.

B diminished triad based on A guitar chord shape
B diminished triad based on E guitar chord shape

A simple exercise using C major triads

Try to play the following chord progressions in C major and A minor using only the chord shapes shown in this article. Each line of the following image represents a separate exercise.

The first and third exercises are chord progressions of the scale degrees I IV V I, which is known as a classical cadence in C major and in A minor. The second and fourth exercise is a progression of the scale degrees I II V I, which is known as jazz cadence.

Music cadencies in C major

Note: If you are not aware of this, the A minor scale contains the same notes as the C major scale. As described in this previous post, the minor scale just starts on the sixth scale degree of the major scale, which in the case of C major is the a.

Have you noticed that the Bmb5 chord in the fourth exercise does not sound as awkward as before when you play it as an isolated chord? The reason is that the tension the chord produces by its diminished fifth is properly resolved by dropping the f (diminished fifth of Bmb5) by one semitone to an e (the root of Em) playing the successive chord.

How to advance your guitar skills

Don't worry if you struggle to put your fingers at the right positions at the beginning. Your fingers probably aren't used to them and your brain needs to build muscle memory before they start to feel familiar.

If you are a beginner, getting to grips with the basics is essential if your want to advance. With Fretello, we take you from the basics and beyond, step-by-step. Try us out for free and see how much you improve in a week!