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Upper Structure Triads

Upper structure triads are very useful for bringing new elements in your comping and single note soloing. Triads are ideal for comping because they are easy to finger and most of the time don't contain the root of the chord (which is played by the bass player).

On this page you'll see which upper structure triads work best. These guitar chord substitutions open up new sounds and give you fresh ideas.

 

 

 

 

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If you want to know even more about upper structure, I suggest you take a look in this excellent book (it's the jazz theory bible): The Jazz Theory Book

 

Let's start with the upper structure triads for the Cmaj7 chord :



Here are the triads from the root on :

C E G 1-3-5 is not an upper structure triad because it contains only chord tones
E G B 3-5-7 is not an upper structure triad because it contains only chord tones
G B D 5-7-9 this is the first upper structure triad
B D F 7-9-11 this is not a usable upper structure triad for Cmaj7 because it contains the avoid note (11) for C major
D F A 9-11-13 this is not a usable upper structure triad for Cmaj7 because it contains the avoid note (11) for C major
F A C 11-13-1 this is not a usable upper structure triad for Cmaj7 because it contains the avoid note (11) for C major
A C E 13-1-3 this is the second upper structure triad

 

Some things to keep in mind:

  • the upper structure triad must contain at least one tension which is not an avoid note.
    Avoid notes only play a role in major chords.
  • An upper structure triad can be major, minor, diminished or augmented.
    For me major upper structure triads work best.
  • You can use upper structure triads for soloing as well as for comping.
    Triads are technically non complex chord forms, but in combination with a bass player they can really open up your sound.

 

Here's a list of upper structure triads that sound good to my taste. I'll do the first one with you so you can see how the list works:

  • The first upper structure triad in the list is for a major chord type.
  • V means we build the upper structure triad on the 5 (compared to the root) of the chord.
  • So in case of a C major chord the upper structure chord is G: G B D (5 7 9)

 

Here's what the abbreviations mean:

  • V- means a minor triad on the 5th note.
  • V+ means an augmented triad on the 5th note.
  • bVII means major triad on the b7.
  • And so on...

 

Chord Type Chord Tensions Upper Structure Triad Note Function
Major 9 V 5      7     9
9,#11 II 9   #11   6
VII- 7      9   #11
Minor 6,9,11 II- 9      11    6
IV 11     6     1
V- 5      b7     9
bVII b7      9    11
minor/major 9 bIII+ b3     5    7
V 5      7     9
Dominant 9,13 V- 5     b7     9
VI- 13     1     3
9,#11,13 II 9     #11     13
II+ 9     #11     b7
bVII+ b7     9    #11
b9,#9,b5,b13 bII- b9     3    b13
bIII- #9    b5    b7
bIII #9     5     b7
III+ 3     b13     1
bV b5     b7    b9
bVI b13     1    #9
b9,13 VI 13    b9     3
Sus 4 9,13 IIm 9      4    13
IV 4     13      1
bVII b7     9      4
Half Diminished b6,9,11 bVI b6     1     b3
bVII b7     9     11
Diminished b6,9,11 II 9     b5    bb7
IV 11    bb7     1
bVI b6     1     b3

 

 


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