The Power of the Triad: Daniel Gilbert Shares the Magic of Tertial Harmony

Article excerpt

IT'S A GOOD TWO HOURS INTO MUSICIANS Institute's graduation ceremony at LA's famed Wiltern Theatre, and the time has come to announce whom GIT students have voted as their 2008 Teacher of the Year. When the name Daniel Gilbert is read, the crowd explodes with applause. As Gilbert makes his way to the podium, the assembly is still cheering tirelessly, so all the beloved guitar coach can do is look out over his devotees, visibly moved. Well into his 30th year as a GIT instructor, Gilbert has always taught his way--with great strictness, structure, discipline, and respect, but also with humor; and, when necessary, the right level of irreverence toward convention. So when it comes time for him to make his acceptance speech, even though the room is loaded with parents, grandparents, and other people in front of whom we're taught to mind our p's and q's, Gilbert does this his way as well.

"Sh*t," he proclaims clearly into the mic. The graduates only seem to scream louder.

Then, Gilbert does something amazing. Like a conductor, he raises both hands in the air and slowly brings his fingertips together. Miraculously, for the first time all day, the packed theater becomes perfectly quiet. If a Fender Medium hit the floor, it would be thunderous.

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"You hear that, guitar players?" says Gilbert. "That's silence. You've just spent a lot of time working on a lot of notes. Now, it's time to work on the silences--the spaces between the notes."

Gilbert has always been an inspiring teacher, even, it seems, before he became one officially. When he was a GIT student himself in 1978, around the same time that Keith Wyatt, Beth Marlis, Jesse Gress, Jennifer Batten, and others were attending, the great Larry Carlton was visiting the Hollywood guitar school, giving a clinic, and he wanted a student to join him on "All Blues." Knowing Gilbert would be too humble to volunteer himself, some of Gilbert's classmates all but forcibly shoved him on stage to trade licks with Carlton. When the song was over, the master session player and future Grammy winner looked at Gilbert and said, "Great playing. How long have you been teaching here?" GIT hired Gilbert as a staffer as soon as he graduated.

"One thing that helped me a lot was that from the day I got my first guitar, I had excellent training," says Gilbert. From his youth in New York on up through his studies at GIT, Gilbert has been mentored by everyone from Danny Infantino and Howard Morgan to Pat Martino and Howard Alden. "I was given arpeggios, picking studies, etc., and, most important, structure. I soon realized I was lucky, because I found out many students and even many teachers hadn't been given those things. I think one reason students like me is that every week I give them goals, and I really hold 'era to those goals. 'Here's what you have to do, here's the tempo at which I want you to do it. And you have to come back and do it for me next week.'"

One interesting aspect of Daniel Benjamin Gilbert's teaching style (and perhaps this ties in to the fact that his initials spell a second-inversion G major chord) is his regular focus on triads. The guitarist is always finding inspiring ways of using these three-note grips to learn the fretboard.

"I could foam at the mouth talking about triads," says Gilbert. As you'll discover in this lesson, he uses triads as springboards to improve rhythm playing, melodic playing, and everything in between. Gilbert recommends getting started with triads by learning chord scales such as Ex. 1. This exercise ascends the F major scale diatonically (i.e., using only notes from the F major scale), starting with a first-position, first-inversion F triad with the root on the first string.

To produce each new diatonic triad, simply raise each voice one scale tone as shown, and you'll get Gin, Am, Bb, etc. When you get to the highest triad--F again, but an octave up--practice the chord scale descending. …