Quartal Harmony for Jazz Guitar

Modern Jazz Guitar Chords

Hey everyone! Marc here today with a lesson on quartal harmony for jazz guitar. If you have some knowledge of music theory, you probably already know that chords are typically built in thirds. The chords we’ll be discussing are built in fourths. These chords actually yield some really hip sounds and are very easy to grab. In this lesson, we’ll be discussing the fundamentals of these chords and how to use them.

Download your “Quartal Harmony for Jazz Guitar” PDF here.

How It Works

As mentioned, we build the basic triads using thirds. For example, to build a C major chord, we’ll go from C to E then from E to G.

C – major 3rd – E – minor 3rd – G

Instead of stacking in 3rds as is most common in western harmony, we’re going to do it in fourths. In the following section, we’ll provide the first voicing and how to derive chord scales from it.

Quartal Harmony: Chord Scales

In this section, we’re going to give you one voicing and show you how you can take it through the key to come up with all these different shapes.

Here is the first voicing. This one is very simple. We’re working in the key of C major and stacking fourths. In this case, that gives us D, G, and C.

Quartal Harmony: First Shape

Next, let’s take that through the scale. Let’s see how that looks. Also, make sure to keep in mind that sometimes we’re going to get augmented fourths. This is also known as a tritone.

Quartal Harmony: First Chord Scale

Pretty cool sound, right? One thing I love about these voicings is that no matter where you are within the chord scale, you are accessing chord tones and some sort of extension in one way or another. It’s pretty easy to see why these are so handy!

Inversions? Well, sorta…

Next, let’s try inverting this shape. We’ll move the D an octave up. This leaves us with G as the bottom note, and you get a nice second interval at the top of the voicing. Check it out!

Quartal Harmony: First Inversion

Beautiful sound, isn’t it? Now, as you did with the previous example, take this one through the key of C major.

Quartal Harmony: Second Inversion Chord Scale

Let’s go over one more “inversion.”

Quartal Harmony: Second Inversion

I’m a big fan of this one! Once again, we’ll take through the chord scale in C major.

Quartal Harmony: 2nd Inversion Chord Scale

Expanding On the Concept

In this section, we’re going to explore practical applications for the modes we learned in the previous video. We’ll discuss how to use them over a given harmonic framework.

So, let’s say we have a Cm7 chord which we will be treating as a Dorian sound. We’re going to use the top note as our “guide” so to speak and build a little chord scale based on C minor pentatonic with some fourths voicings.

Cm7

Quartal Harmony: Over Cm7

The only note we aren’t using one of these fourth shapes on is the G note, which is the 5th. For this one, we’ll simply use the upper structure of a Cm7 chord which is simply an Eb major triad.

Here are three options that you can try over C7.

C7

Quartal Harmony: Over C7

We are only sticking with three choices here. There are more options available and you can explore them at your own pace, but keep in mind that sometimes they won’t yield desirable results. You’ll have to use your ears and your best discretion. 🙂

Lastly, we’re going to apply this to a major 7th chord, and we’ll make use of the #11 extension here for some fun color. Basically, we’ll use every fourth shape in G major except for F. Doing these based on G major gives us a Lydian sound which gives us access to the #11. Let’s see what that looks like!

Cmaj7#11

Quartal Harmony: Over Cmaj7#11

To Close

In closing, the important thing here is that you explore these applications yourself and see what works best for you. I would suggest taking these shapes and applying them to tunes right away. Further, you don’t have to stick to only II-V-I progressions. You can use these shapes on IV to IVm, I VIm IIm V7, and just about any progression that you find in jazz. These are a great way to add some instant modern flair to your accompaniment.

Download your “Quartal Harmony for Jazz Guitar” PDF here.

Jump In

Now it’s your turn to try. Experiment with this in your own comping and chord melody playing.

If you’re having trouble with any of the terminology used here, we’ve got our covered with our Comping 101 course.

Comping 101

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Please comment below with your questions and comments. Feel free to share your ideas with us about playing faster. See you soon!


Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

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