A few months ago, I decided I needed to memorize my triads. I was sick of blanking on the name of a chord when given its individual notes. When I think of the notes A, C, and F, I need to instantly connect that with an F major triad: F-A-C = 1-3-5.

My solution was to memorize a cycle of thirds with no accidentals. The thirds can be major or minor, just stick with natural notes. Starting on C, it looks like this: C-E-G-B-D-F-A-C.

I took a long road trip right after formulating this plan, so I had plenty of time to repeat patterns in my head. Running through the entire cycle gets boring fast. The key to memorizing this kind of thing is to keep changing the approach. With each new method, I had to think about it for a bit before memorizing it. Repeating a pattern that doesn't require any thought because I know it so well doesn't do much good. I gain the most ground when I keep my mind involved.

Here are a few things I did:

  • "CEG major, DFA minor, EGB minor, FAC major" etc.
  • "CEG, EGB, GBD, BDF" etc.
  • loop the whole cycle with emphasis on every second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth note

After the road trip, all these patterns were rolling off my tongue like butter. That's gross. But now I know all my triad and seventh chord spellings, and it was a small step to throw in accidentals for any type of chord.