Triad Pairs On Bass?

Bassist's left hand

Q: Tell us about triad pairs in bass lines (and solos) and how to use them. Did you study them? Do you use the system?

A: Honestly, I never understood why one would use triad pairs (especially those who play symmetrically laid out instruments, like the bass). I’ll explain why…

In their most basic form, a triad pair is simply two Major triads, a whole step apart (CEG & DF#A, for example).

Triad pairs are basically a way to break any most chord type (tonality) into two major triads, a whole step apart.

So, over a C Major chord, you could play a CMaj triad and a DMaj triad (this gives you a Lydian sound because of the F# (also known as the #4 or #11 (7 notes in the scale, 7+4=11. Aka, the 4 an octave up). The Lydian mode is a major scale with a #4, for those who weren’t sure about that).

Certainly, over a Maj7#11 chord, you could play two major triads from the Root and 2nd degrees.

Over a Dominant chord, you can play Major triads from the 4th and 5th degrees of the scale.

Minor chord? From the relative Major, or the 3rd degree of the minor scale and a whole step up (C major = A minor).

So on an Aminor7 chord, you could play CMaj and DMaj triads (this gives you an A Dorian sound, for those keeping score).

Basically, as far as I can tell, thinking about things in triad pairs are a way to:

  • Break out of scaler lines and use more arpeggiated ideas.
  • Simplify how to play over various chord types by turning everything into 2 simple, repetitive shapes, one whole step apart.

Because of this, I can see how it would be helpful on a saxophone, for example, to master major arpeggios and their inversions, across all 12 keys (being that every scale or key has a completely different pattern, etc.)

It’s certainly a useful skill for any instrument…


We are really just eliminating one note from the scale and then practicing inversions on the fretboard using 6 notes. I ask, why not just use all 7?

When we practice triad pairs, we practice them in every inversion, up and down the fretboard (while eliminating the 7th degree of the scale. Always playing 135 – 246 -> 351 – 462 -> 513 – 624 of the scale (or CEG – DF#A -> EGC – F#AD -> GCE – ADF#, in C Major).

We are SO close to playing arpeggios through every mode of the major scale, I just don’t see the point of skipping the 7th degree, especially on an instrument that’s laid out symmetrically, like the bass.

Practicing arpeggios and inversions through chord changes or up and down various modes is just as effective a way to get out of the linear idea rut and add the sound of arpeggios, moving up and down the fretboard, to our vocabulary. Now with the added benefit of being able to completely reference the harmony by using the 7th (which can be a great sound).

But, as there are a thousand books and videos online that talk about how to make use of them, and plenty of players that I admire have studied them at some point, I wholly admit that this is just my take on them. I’m a huge proponent of the idea that whatever works and resonates with you is a great way to go about exploring things musically.

I fully believe that we should all explore every concept, idea, way of learning, way of seeing things that we come across and then pursue those things that resonate with us and shelve the things that don’t (they might later on in life, so don’t write them off completely).

If you want to learn more about triad pairs and how to make use of them, a simple search online will deliver a treasure trove of videos, articles, and written examples to your screen. If you dig them, dig into them!

And if you dig them, also experiment with simply playing arpeggios and inversions up and down modes, and then through various chord changes out of the Real Book. Learn how to play extended arpeggios and read about chord scale construction (1 3 5 7 9 11 13)

Here’s a column that I wrote a while back that also links to more related columns that I’ve written about related topics. This search here at No Treble brings up a few resources that might help you more fully explore them as well.

I very quickly explained what triad pairs really are, as it wasn’t the intention of this article to dig deep on them, but I felt that I should give at least a rudimentary explanation of what they are.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. Luc Vandael

    Thank you , Damian!

  2. Barry Assadi

    Damian, Respectfully, your definition of triad pairs is an oversimplification. There could be many combinations of different shaped triads even over the same chord (not just major or minor triads). I am still trying to work through it myself but as you say it is just another way of looking at the same notes especially in the extended range to hopefully put together more interesting combinations of notes let’s say for walking than just using the chord tones as written.

    • Luc

      Idd, there are multiple combinations possible, wich can venture deeper into and out of the harmony. (They are almost uncountable) Looking at it as a 6 note scale is what should be avoided due to the melodie quality of the arpeggios. But, ofcourse, dont construct a solo or melody, or bass lines on solely triad pairs and surely not just 1. That can sound boring. I m going to keep looking at them but I wont make it a main way thinking/playing. I got interested in them while i was working on upper structure arpeggios. It might be a Nice addition to vocabulary, we’ll see where it goes. ? but thx to Damian for his view on the matter.