Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Improvisation
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
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Do you need fresh inspiration for your jazz piano improv? If you often feel stuck just running scales when you are soloing, this lesson is for you! In today’s Quick Tip, you’ll learn how to use triad pairs to create jazz piano solos that sound hip and exciting. We’ll cover:

  • What are Triad Pairs?
  • Practicing Triad Pairs
  • Connecting Triad Pairs

Triad pairs are frequently used by jazz piano masters such as McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea to create improv lines with a modern flavor.

Let’s dive in!

Intro to Triad Pairs for Jazz Piano

What are Triad Pairs?

Triad pairs describes a jazz improvisation technique that creates angular and modern-sounding improv lines using just two triads. Some players refer to triad pairs as “hidden chords” within the parent scale.

Example of Triad Pairs for Jazz Piano

For today’s lesson we’ll examine a triad pairs drawn from the C Lydian Scale.

C Lydian Scale Mode Piano

(If the Lydian scale is unfamiliar to you, check out How to Practice Scales for Jazz Piano. However, for now, you can simply think of the Lydian scale as a major scale featuring a raised 4th tone.)

Next, we’ll prepare to use the triad pairs technique by selecting two triads contained within this scale as the basis for our jazz piano improvisation.

Triad Pairs Jazz Piano Improvisation Hidden Chords

As a general rule, the triad pairs technique works best when you select triads that do not share common tones. For this reason, many players gravitate toward triads that are a step apart in the parent scale, as in the example above.

Three Steps to Improvise Jazz Piano with Triad Pairs

Step 1: Block Inversions

The first step to improvising jazz piano with triad pairs is familiarizing your hand with the inversion shapes for the pair you’ve selected. We’ll accomplish this by blocking each inversion. The example below shows each inversion of our C Major and D Major triad pair.

Step 1 - Block Inversions of Triad Pairs for Jazz Piano

As you practice blocking each pair, look for opportunities to use different fingerings for each triad. For example, moving from 1-2-4  for C Major to 1-3-5 for D Major will prove more beneficial than using 1-3-5 for both triads.

Step 2: Pattern Practice

After you have a good grip on your triad pairs, the next step to improving jazz piano with triad pairs is to practice patterns. Keep in mind, there are two directional considerations when working with triad pairs:

  1. The overall direction that your triad pairs are moving
  2. The ordering of your notes within each triad

As you can image, the possibilities are quite broad. Note that when playing 8th note lines, you will have to reuse at least one note of each triad to create a group of four 8th notes. Let’s look at a few examples.

Up Pattern

Our first example uses  the pattern MBMT (middle-bottom-middle-top) for each triad. This is an “up pattern” on both the micro and macro level because the internal shape of each triad is basically ascending and also each triad pair is ascending up the keyboard. The left hand is playing a Charleston comp on a root position C6 chord. If you are an intermediate or advanced jazz pianist, you could substitute a C6/9 rootless voicing.

Step 2 - Up Pattern with Triad Pairs

Great job! Consider for a moment how would this pattern would sound and feel if you reordered the notes in different shape such as TBMT?

Remember, since triad pairs are used for improvisation, it is important that you practice these patterns with solid time. This lesson comes with three backing tracks at various tempos to help you develop fluency using triad pairs. The lesson sheet and backing tracks are downloadable from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also quickly transpose this lesson to any key using our Smart Sheet Music.

Next, let’s look at a contrasting example.

Down Pattern

Our second pattern practice example is a really hip sounding down pattern that uses a MTBM shape for each triad.

Step 2 - Down Pattern with Triad Pairs

This pattern is more challenging and requires careful fingering selection. You will discover it is most effective to use the 4th finger on the last 8th note of each triad.

In the next section, we’ll look at how to connect patterns to create improv lines.

Step 3: Connect Patterns

Now that you can create various patterns using triad pairs, the final step is to improvise freely with triad pairs. There are two important considerations for this step:

  1. Adding space
  2. Using multiple patterns

In the example below, the half notes in measures 2 and 4 allow the line to breath. Also, since the line itself uses multiple patterns, it sounds less like a technical drill.

Step 3 - Connect Patterns

As you can see, using triad pairs is a great way to generate innovative lines from a scale that goes beyond simply playing up and down the scale. For even more improv techniques using the Lydian scale, check out our full-length courses on How to Improvise a Solo with the Lydian Scale (Level 2, Level 3)

If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then you will also enjoy the following courses:

Thanks for learning with us today. We’ll see you next time!


Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May

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