Opening Up to Open Triads By Jean-Marc Belkadi/ January 2004.
Just about every Guitar player in the world knows how to play the simple, three-note C chord in Ex1.
But far fewer guitarists realize that because this triad’s root, 3, and 5 (C, E, and G, respectively) all reside within the same octave,
it’s a perfect example of close harmony. Why is this little fact even worth knowing? Because, if you understand close harmony,
then you’re one step closer to understanding open harmony, the use of which will allow you to create some uniquely tantalizing
chords, riffs, and textures.
If you’re not familiar with open harmony, introduce yourself to it by playing through the open voicings in EX. 2. Yes, they are all C
chords, but, wow, do they sound different from the C in the first example! This is because in each C triad, one of the three chord
tones has been displaced up or down an octave. In other words, the root, 3, and 5 collectively reside in two octaves, which is
exactly why these triads have such a vibrant, sparkly and, well, open sound .
The real fun with open triads begins when you plug them into chord progressions and arpeggiate them - a practice common to
pianists, classical guitar composers, and Jazz guitarists, but somewhat alien to the average rock or blues picker. Here’s an
example of how it works: If you are asked to play a standard II-V-I-VI in the key of C, instead of simply strumming an ordinary Dm-
G7-C-A7 progression, try revoicing the chords as open triads and arpeggiating them as show in EX. 3. Now, suddenly, you don’t
have a mundane, workhorse chord progression, you have an alluring guitar part; Remember that smooth voice-leading is often
preferable in any chord progression, and in many cases - particularly if you have a bassist playing the roots for you - you can get
an even more open sound by leaving out a seventh chord’s root in favor of its 7, which is exactly what happens with A7 and G7 in
this example. For more bursts of this hip, rootless harmony, try EX. 4, an arpeggiated progression in D minor. In this example, only
the Bm7b5 chord tags its root.
As you probably noticed with the many C chords we saw in EX. 2, one interesting and fun thing about using open harmony is that if
you’re playing a triad, you don’t always have to make the lowest note the root. That bass note can be the 3 or the 5 instead. This
freedom allows you to dictate the bass line of a given progression. Few things sound more natural than a bass part that moves in
stepwise, scalar motion, so why not try creating some open-voiced progressions with this feature? EX. 5 contains a descending
bass line; EX. 6 an ascending bass line.