How to play spread triad chords on the guitar (chord charts and examples)

Spread triad chords are simple, beautiful chords that you can use to express harmony. These three note chords are useful movable shapes that you can play on the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings.

In this post, you can learn how to play these spread triad chords for Major, minor, diminished, and augmented chord qualities. We’ll also cover spread triad chord application examples with audio that you can try as well.

These chords have gaps between notes, making it ideal for a fingerpicking style of playing. However, you can also play these spread chords with a pick by arpeggiating the notes (playing one note at a time).

We’ll first go over the music theory on spread triad chords, look at the guitar chord shapes, and finally go over musical application examples. Let’s get started!

What are spread triad chords?

As the name suggests, spread triad chords are chords that have a wider space between the notes of a triad. This is done by dropping the second voice of a chord to the bass note, also known as drop 2 chords.

For example, let’s take a C Major triad chord which has the notes C, E, G which are the 1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees. If we drop the second note to the bass, we get E, G, and C (spread triad in 1st inversion, meaning the 3rd is the bass). Lowering the middle note of a triad chord creates a gap or “spread” between notes which gives a distinct open sound.

We can also drop the second note of chord inversions. For example:

C Major triad 1st inversion (E, G, C) becomes the spread triad G, E and C (spread triad 2nd inversion, meaning the 5th is in the bass).

C Major triad 2nd inversion (G, C, E) becomes the spread triad C, G, and E (spread triad in root position).

Check out the following chart to better understand this spread chord concept using different inversions.

Guitar triads chart - spread chords

As you’ll see in the guitar charts in the next section, spread chords can be applied to any chord quality.

If you want to review basic chord music theory, check out: what are triads and how to play them on guitar.

Major, minor, diminished, and augmented spread triad chords

Before going over the spread triad chords, let’s review some music theory about these chord structures for different chord qualities.

Chord qualitiesChord tonesScale notes for C as the root
Major triad1, 3, 5C, E, G
Minor triad1, b3, 5C, Eb, G
Diminished triad1, b3, b5C, Eb, Gb
Augmented triad1, 3, #5C, E, G#

The following charts show examples of spread triad chords including inversions, meaning to use different chord tones as the lowest note. Adjust these shapes if you’re applying them to chords with open strings.

Major spread triad chords

6th string

5th string

4th string

Minor spread triad chords

6th string

5th string

4th string

Diminished spread triad chords

6th string

5th string

4th string

Augmented spread triad chords

6th string

5th string

4th string

Keep in mind that there are other ways of playing some of these chord shapes we went over, but these would be a good place to start if you’re new to playing spread triad chords.

Examples of chord progressions using spread triad chords

Example 1

This first example shows how you can play all the spread triad chords for every chord related to the key of C, also known as diatonic chords.

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

Example 5

This example would be ideal for finger picking but if you use a pick, you could try a hybrid technique by using your middle, ring and/or pinky finger to play notes on other strings at the same time.

Wrapping up

There is so much you can do with the 3 note chords in terms of finger picking, improvisation and composition. This is because you get a slightly different approach by leaving some notes out of the chord which can be refreshing for the listener.

It can seem overwhelming to have to learn all the different shapes maybe start with one chord quality and experiment with those set of chords to get the most out of this concept before you move on.

Consider writing your own chord progression using these spread triad chords and explore ways to incorporate them to your playing. I hope you this concept will inspire you to create new musical ideas.

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All the best,


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