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What Are Dyads?

Greetings dear reader!

I hope this new scribble finds you well today. I feel like when most of us bring up the subject of chords in music theory land, we tend to default to triads and maybe even quadrads (7 chords) but rarely do we touch on what dyads are.

Maybe it's just me and I'm projecting on to all of you. Sorry!

Anyway, today I wanted to discuss in decent detail what dyads are exactly in case you've ever heard of the term but never really understood what it meant.

Simply put, dyads are chords made up of two different notes. That's it.

You might be thinking "Oh so power chords are dyads right?" and you'd absolutely be correct but dyads are not limited to JUST power chords.

I want to break down some of the different types of dyad shapes, how they've been used in popular songs, and how you can use them in your own writing.

Here we go.

POWER CHORDS (Root, Fifth Dyads)

Ah yes. The tried and the true. Power chords have been a staple of rock and metal music for decades and for good reasons. Made up of just the root note and a perfect fifth, these dyads are neither major nor minor. Thus making them extremely versatile. It can allow any player to simply follow their ear to find what sounds best to them without necessarily worrying about being in key or not. As a beginner, I would beat the crap out of my old classical guitar gleefully pounding away on power chords for hours and hours. It allows for complete freedom of expression for anyone starting out and is a must for anyone just starting out and looking for a quick win on their instrument.

So many bands throughout history have used power chords so I'm just going to list a few song references to check out if you haven't been formally introduced already.

"Them Bones" by Alice in Chains

"A New Level" by Pantera

"Children of the Grave" by Black Sabbath

In reality, you could file the use of root-fifth dyads to "Every rock and metal band ever." but if you're new to this, I think this is a nice variety to start with.

Alright, so let's move beyond our traditional root-fifth dyads. Incorporating these shapes into your playing with immediately open up the doors to more sophisticated sounds without cluttering up the fretboard.

Major Third Dyads

Major third dyads on their own can have a very pleasant, sweet sound but can make for some surprisingly evil riffs when played in a chromatic fashion.

The main riff in "Bloodline" from Slayer is a great example of this.

Another great example of the use of major third dyads can be found in "Holy Wars" from the mighty Megadeth. Is a very cool back and forth between two versions of the same riff using both root-fifth and major third dyad shapes at around the 1:15 mark.

Finding the major third anywhere on the fretboard is super simple. If your index finger is on the root note (let's say the 5th fret on the low "E" string) all you need to do is go down one string towards the floor and then slide your finger back one fret to find the major third. (In this case, it would be found at the 4th fret of the "A" string.)

In other words, down one string, back one fret. Make sense?

Moving on moving on.

Minor Third Dyads

Alright, so we've covered major thirds. Now we can explore the tasty drama that is minor third dyads. Notice how both this and the major third dyad are similar in shape with the exception of the minor third being an extra half step behind the root note.

In other words, start from the root, go down one string, then back two frets. When used exclusively in a riff, the minor third can create a devastating atonal flavor to what would otherwise be standard power chords. A great example of this would be during the chorus of "This Love" by Pantera.

When combining major and minor third dyads together, music can take on a more dramatic and even classical nature as depicted in songs like "Orion" and the distorted intro riff in "Battery" by Metallica.

Flat 5 Dyads

The last one I'm going to go over today is without a doubt, the most sinister and dissonant of all the dyad shapes. The malevolent flat fifth dyad. Just in time for Halloween, I guess...

Much like standard power chords, the flat five dyad is prominent in tons of metal music. The defining riff in the song "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath from the record Black Sabbath certainly comes to mind but there are so many others as well. From Megadeth and Metallica to Opeth and Slayer. Its tasty dissonance can be heard throughout not only most metal bands' catalogs but also throughout history.

The Devil's Note

The flat five dyad (also known as the tritone interval) was believed to have conjured the devil if performed and thus forbidden to be used by composers. In the late 18th century, it was given the moniker "Diabolus in Musica" literally translating to "The devil in music" due to its restless and dissonant nature.

Achieving this shape is probably the easiest to remember if you already know your power chords. Simply take a standard root-fifth power chord shape and slide the fifth back one fret. Leaving you with the root and a diminished fifth.

Putting It All Together

Here's a quick riff idea that combines all of the above. I welcome to you try this out to use as a template to explore your own ways of incorporating these dyad shapes into your own playing and writing.

Go Deeper

If you'd like to go a bit further and see how these examples are played, feel free to check out the accompanying video!

Thanks for reading!

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