Triad Shapes Drill

There are three simple triad shapes – root position, first inversion and second inversion. These are different by virtue of the different gaps between the chord tones. A trained musician, playing in a particular key, will be able to find these three shapes, using that key’s scale tones, either built on or hanging down from any of the key’s scale tones, ‘just like that’.

The triad shapes drill is the kind of exercise you would use to make sure you can do this. The drill has a simple formula – you build the three possible triad shapes (root position, first inversion and second inversion) built on eight scale tones ascending, and descending in mirror image. There are two ‘types’ – two arrangements (orders) of these three chords – plus a ‘mixed’ type.

The challenge, ‘in C’ (i.e. on the white keys) at least, is simply to keep going and getting it right. You ‘load the template’ and off you go. (When it comes to the mixed type, you have to think hard – skip it at first if you like.) But when you come to play the drill in D (two sharps) and B flat (two flats), it becomes much more about (i) knowing your keys, and (ii) doing everything required to get the fingers onto the keys – principally letting your hand go towards the back of the keys.

 Don’t feel you have to play the whole exercise from start to finish. Mix it up a bit. Learn Type One ascending (Section 1) and play it in C, then in D (Section 7), then in B flat (Section 13), for example. Play with it! A ‘drill’ is by definition a mechanical exercise – but that doesn’t mean your brain will be switched off. To keep going and keep getting it right requires attention. Only awareness in activity extracts maximum benefit.

Don’t feel you have to play the whole exercise from start to finish. Mix it up a bit. Learn Type One ascending (Section 1) and play it in C, then in D (Section 7), then in B flat (Section 13), for example. Play with it! A ‘drill’ is by definition a mechanical exercise – but that doesn’t mean your brain will be switched off. To keep going and keep getting it right requires attention. Only awareness in activity extracts maximum benefit.

Aside from the ‘generic’ benefit of keeping going and getting it right, you should be training your ear at the same time. You should be able to hear what the next chord in the pattern is going to sound like, and particularly, to hear the ‘middle voice’ – the one that’s different between Types One and Two. In your general modern pop style keyboard work, the chord you will want in your right hand is probably one of these three. Playing through this drill over and over again will increase the accuracy of you ‘educated guesswork’ as to which one it is.

Try to use sensible fingering – don’t always be running out. Use RH2 for the middle note of a first inversion chord, and 1, 2, 4 for a root position chord when ascending. Use the voice movement diagram above the scrolling music – the little three-line diagrams give you an ‘aerial view’ of how the notes in the triads move. Let the ‘square, circle, triangle’ convention sink in – eventually, this convention fast-tracks your finding the chords you need.

This is, admittedly, 'just a drill', but even if you only ever play it through once (with awareness!) in, say, the keys up to four sharps/flats, you will be a better pianist – for ever! It’s worth obsessing over something once in a while!

If you prefer to watch the video in the YouTube environment, here's the link.

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