Learning to improvise as a jazz guitarist means learning how to approach conventional chords in sometimes unconventional ways, such as the Maj7 triad pairs discussed in this lesson.
Most of the time when we see a Maj7 chord in a tune we fall back on the major scale, maybe the underlying arpeggio, or if we’re feeling adventurous the Lydian mode.
Today, you’ll learn two fun and relatively easy approaches to applying major and minor triad pairs to your Maj7 lines and phrases in order to bring a new level of color and sophistication to your lines, without learning any difficult modes or extended arpeggios.
So grab your guitar and turn up your amp as we dig in to major and minor triad pairs over Maj7 chords.
Read more about applying different triad pairs to chords in my “Triad Pairs for Jazz Guitar Series”
Got a question or comment about this lesson? Visit the Major 7th Triad Pairs thread on the MWG forum.
The first set of triad pairs that we will look at are major triads built from the 4th and 5th notes of the maj7 chord.
If you are in the key of C, as in the example below, it would mean playing F and G over the Cmaj7 chord.
Here is how that would look like on paper.
When you play F and G over Cmaj7, you end up with the intervals 4-6-R and 5-7-9, in essence a C major scale without the third.
As you will see when applying these triads to your soloing ideas, though they make up most of the notes in the major scale, organizing these notes in triads makes them sound fresh and distinct from the underlying scale.
This is one of the main reasons why we use triad pairs in our jazz guitar solos, so that you can outline the chords in the tune, while not simply running up and down the relative scale at the same time.
To get you started, here are those two triads, F and G, written out in their different inversions, moving between each triad as you climb up the neck.
Once you have this exercise down, take it to other keys and work out new fingerings for moving between two major triads a tone apart on the fretboard in order to get the most out of this approach in your playing.
As well as working on major triad pairs from a technical standpoint, you can also practice improvising with them over maj7 chords.
Here is an example of a ii-V-I line in C where I used F and G triads to build my line over the Cmaj7 chord in bars 3 and 4 of the phrase.
Click to hear the audio for this triad pair lick.
After you work this lick out in C, take it to the other 11 keys, and then practice improvising over ii-V-I’s in various keys, using major triads from the 4th and 5th of the maj7 chord to build your Imaj7 lines in each key.
Playing major triad-pairs over maj7 chords will allow you to outline the underlying chord, while staying away from running up and down the major scale in your phrases.
Something that is worth exploring in the practice room and then taking to jam sessions and gig situations when you feel ready.
If you want a refresher on major-triad fingerings, check out the “Major Triads for Jazz Guitar Page.”
As well as playing major triad-pairs over maj7 chords, you can also use minor triad-pairs to outline the maj7 chord in a slightly different light.
Here, you will be using the minor triads from the 2nd and 3rd notes of the chord. So, if you have a Cmaj7 chord, you would play Dm-Em triads.
Here is how that would like on paper next to a Cmaj chord.
You will notice that the Dm chord produces the intervals 2-4-6, while the Em produces the intervals 3-5-7.
In essence, this triad pair gives you the notes of the major scale minus the root.
This is why I like to use these two triads to build lines over maj7 chords, as guitarists can sometimes rely too much on the root of a chord to start or end lines, especially when first starting to solo.
Playing triad pairs from the 2nd and 3rd note of the key will allow you to outline the underlying maj7 chord, without having the option to play the root. Something that can help us bring more color to our lines and phrases.
In order to see how these triads lay on the fretboard when played back to back, here is a similar exercise to what you saw with the first, major triad-pair.
In this instance, I have written the first triad from a 5th-string root, as well as played each triad descending to give you a second option when running triad pairs like this in your practice routine.
As well as working on these triads from a technical perspective, you can use them to create lines in your soloing.
Here is a sample ii-V-I line in the key of C major where I used the Dm and Em triads to construct a line over the Cmaj7 in bars 3 and 4 of the phrase.
Click to hear the audio for this triad pair lick.
Using minor triads from the 2nd and 3rd notes of a maj7 chord is a fun and relatively easy way to bring new colors into your lines, as well as avoiding the root at the same time.
Explore this approach in the practice room and see where it takes your playing. It might be surprising how many cool ideas you can derive from just two minor triads over a maj7 chord.
If you need a refresher on how to play minor triads, check out my “Minor Triads for Jazz Guitar Page.”
Besides working out patterns and licks with triad pairs, as laid out for you in the above examples, here are a number of exercises that you can do in order to take these ideas further in the practice room as you explore each idea in your technical and improvisational practice routines.
As you can see by working through the examples and patterns in this lesson, playing triad pairs over Maj7 chords will give you 6 out of the 7 notes of the major scale.
But, it is the organizational aspect of focusing on triads in your lines that makes triad-pair ideas stand out, and make them worth exploring in the practice room.
What do you think about playing triad pairs over Maj7 chords? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
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