Using Triads in Your Solos

After playing a tune for a while, it can seem like you are playing the same ideas or licks over the changes every time. For example, you see a D minor chord and think “okay D minor, I can play a D dorian scale or a D harmonic minor scale or arpeggiate from the third…” and after a while, it can see like there is nothing new to play or that you are going down the same path on this chord every time.

One thing you can do in this situation is to find a completely new way to approach those familiar changes, forcing yourself to try a new technique so you avoid playing those same old licks. One option is to approach those common chords, on which you would normally play scales, with triads or groups of triads to create a new harmonic sonority.

There are endless ways of combining triads harmonically, rhythmically and melodically to create new ideas for improvisation. Check out this live clip of Chris Potter playing with Dave Holland to get an idea of the possibilities of using triads (and fourths) in a solo.

Okay…thank you Chris, now that we all want to quit our instruments. But seriously, that video was an example of what can happen when you explore new approaches to chords and really master the technique behind them. Here are some ideas on how to start incorporating some triads into your playing…

Diatonic Triads

The first way to utilize these triads is to use ones that you are already familiar playing; triads that occur naturally in the modes of the major scale. Start with a simple group of two diatonic major triads and alternate between the two in every inversion. Say you are trying to solo over a D-7 chord, instead of approaching this chord as you usually would, try improvising with just an F major triad and a G major triad as shown in the example below:

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