Gypsy Jazz Guitar – The Magic of Triads

I remember myself struggling with jazz improvisation. It was so complicated! My teachers demanded that I played tensions, substitutes, super-imposed chords, while I was having a hard time just keeping the form… During my travels in Europe, I played with gypsy guitarists and learned from them. One of the most important things I learned was that making music can be simple.

There are a few chords, three shapes to remember, and that’s all!

Well, it’s not all, but all the rest is the interesting stuff – embellishments, trills, sound, feel, rhythm, MUSIC!

This method of improvisation became the core of my playing.

Playing music became simple: connecting all the arpeggios, tensions and substitutes I knew to one easy formula.

In this lesson, you will learn how to use triads to build a framework for your guitar solos.

Let’s begin by learning all the basic triad shapes and inversions…


The Magic of Triads


Gypsy Jazz Guitar - The Magic of Triads


Major Triads & Inversions [1:00 in the video]

Here are the major triads and inversions you need to learn:


Major triads


Minor Triads & Inversions [6:17 in the video]

These are the minor triads and inversions you need to learn:


Minor triads


Fast Enclosure Exercise [3:54 in the video]

This is an enclosure exercise for the second inversion of C (C/G).

You start with a diatonic note above the chord tone (blue circles), then play the chord tone, then a half step below the chord tone and then the chord tone again.

You do this for all notes of the triad.


Gypsy jazz guitar triads


Improvising over All of Me

Step 1 [6:55 in the video]

Play an accompaniment using only triad shapes (play a triad for each chord).

During chord changes, use chord voicings that are close to each other so that you’ll play all the chords in the same area on the fingerboard.

Here are the chord changes of the A part of All of Me:


All of Me Chords


And here is an example of triad voicings you can use over All of Me:


Triads over All of Me


Step 2 [7:55 in the video]

Improvise over the All of Me chord progression using these triad shapes.

At first, try to stay in the same area on your fingerboard as shown above.

Then start improvising all over the fret board using only these shapes.

Play simple – even one or two notes per chord. Just to make sure you keep the form.


Step 3 [9:32 in the video]

Add the half-tone approach.

For each note of the chord, use a half-step approach: play a chromatic note half a tone below to lead into the target chord note.

Improvise using this idea.

You can play the chromatic note either on the beat or off the beat.

Playing the chromatic approach off the beat gives more tension to the music.

Django Reinhardt uses this idea a lot.


Step 4 [9:55 in the video]

Add enclosures by playing a diatonic note over the chord note and a chromatic note below.

Listen to Django’s Minor Swing solo for an example.

In his first phrase, he uses the diatonic (of the scale) approach above the target note and a chromatic approach below the target note.

In Django’s solo, the target note is A, which is the root for Am and the 5th for Dm, which is the next chord.


Step 5

Connect all the other skills you have (scales, arpeggios, licks, …) to those simple shapes.

See the melody within those simple shapes so you can always get back to it in the middle of your improvisation.

This method can become the core of your visualization of the fingerboard.


If you want to learn how to use triads in gypsy jazz, click here for Yaakov Hoter’s video course The Magic of Triads…


The Magic of Triads

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41 thoughts on “Gypsy Jazz Guitar – The Magic of Triads”

  1. martel

    Super leçon, j’ai commencé a jouer le jour ou j’ai découvert les triades. Pourquoi les professeurs ne commence pas par cela ? Belle présentation de l’approche chromatique et diatonique (broderie en classique)
    Merci pour ce partage.
    Bien cordialement

  2. Dave G.

    Thanks Yaakov, I wish I had understood this lesson earlier in my jazz education. After CAGEing and Arpeggioing myself to death, I still didn’t sound very musical, and I couldn’t think quickly enough to play over even simple harmonies in time, but more recently I’ve been studying some of Charlie Christian’s solos. Like Django before him, his playing, too, is based on simple triads and chord shapes augmented by knowledge about the notes in the neighborhood. On paper, his licks look too simple to be interesting, but with good neighborhood note selection and better rhythm and some swing, they are so delicious. Thanks for sharing this important lesson.

  3. Charles

    There’s something I’m confused about. When you say to play a diatonic tone above the chord tone do you mean diatonic relative to song key or the underlying scale of the chord?

  4. Alex Merola

    This is another awesome gypsy lesson…such useable information and easy to understand, I have not used triads before but absolutely will use them now that I know how….thanks so much

  5. Aidan Gribbin

    As an aging newbie to jazz, I am, like the previous comment, in a constant state of overwhelmed-ness about the in depth nature of it all, so Yaakovs reassuring demonstration that it can be as simple as relying on a few easily remembered triads, is very encouraging. Thanks to both Yaakov and Dirk for all of these informative articles.

  6. John

    Great lesson. I’m struggling with Jazz because it’s overwhelming but this lesson and genre actually feels like it’s someting I can achieve.

    1. Aidan Gribbin

      I am very much in the same boat John.
      Endeavour to persevere!

  7. Philippe

    Il est vraiment doué Yaakov! Uelle aisance ! Il donne envie d’apprendre et je ne me lasse pas de l’entendre jouer. Pour moi qui ne parle pas couramment l’anglais, ce ne serait pas,
    me semble-t-il, qu’il parle autant. Son accent facilite portant la compréhension pour un français.
    Donc, leçons de guitare et de langue combinées.
    Merci et…Bravo !!!

  8. Brenton Reece

    Thanks for sharing your story and showing and showing the way to a complete simplified method of progressivly applying the triads in all its inversions and how to apply it to improvise thrugh chord changes.

    Great lesson

  9. Chris Beatrice

    Yaakov, thank you so much for the great lesson(s). As someone who understands these concepts but has a hard time putting them into practice in ‘real time’, this particular video was a big help. I have a question though, maybe I misunderstood something. You talked about adding tones a half step below, and a full step above the chord tones: but how does that work with, for example, the 7th chords in ‘All of Me’? (minor 7th and dominant 7th) You’d be playing a major 7th in the solo while the rhythm was playing minor 7ths. I know you don’t want to get into the theory too much, but I just wanted to make sure I understood what you were saying correctly.

  10. Trip

    Thank you for sharing this Great lesson. For years I have been studying all the scales and altered scales and trying to “apply” them over chord changes… Not really getting anywhere. This Triad concept makes it fun and much more simplified to begin improvising. A Musicians goal is to create music and improvise spontaneously, not to apply complex mathematical formulas like a scientist. Excellent lesson indeed. Thanks!

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