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Comping With Fourths Part 2

While you have your guitar out, join Bill Cozzo as he returns with the second installment of his lesson on quartal harmony. This piece includes a practical demonstration, showing how one can use these chord voicings on All Along The Watchtower. Last time we looked at constructing chords based on intervals of a fourth (as opposed to more traditional Western harmony based on thirds). Using the key of C major, we spelled the chords, and then located these chords on the fretboard. (See the reminder below.) We then listened to the sound they make, paying particular attention to the added complexity and harmonic space that they create.

Let's pick up the topic again, this time using these chords in songs. A good way to get a feel for this kind of substitution is to reinterpret a well-known tune. The Bob Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower" (also recorded famously by Jimi Hendrix) is an interesting framework against which to examine the possibilities of comping with fourths. The chords to the tune are simple. They're in A minor (the relative minor of C major - the key we studied last time).

In our reinterpretation, we won't be playing a simply strummed folk style, or an all-out, psychedelic rocker. We'll be going for a half-time, jazzy groove feel , so be sure to swing those eighth notes! As we set out to substitute for the original chords, let's pick out voicings from our harmonization of C major in fourths that avoid heavy use of the roots and fifths. A bassist would most likely be playing these notes. When looking for a replacement for Am, we would avoid a voicing with an A or E in it. Let's also try to select voicings that emphasize the thirds (minor or major) because these notes give a chord its quality. For Am, we would choose a substitute that has a C in it. Here are some choices:
Original Chord Name Am G F Substitute Chord Spelling D-G-C C-F-B B-E-A

Notice how the highest-pitched notes in the substitute chords are the thirds for the chords they are replacing (e.g. the C note played on the 13th fret of the 2nd string is the minor 3rd of the Am chord it is replacing). By having these notes on top, we will be able to accent them (perhaps with staccato upstrokes) and use them to create the tonal focus of the chord. And by choosing a voicing with the 7th on the original chord (in this case, G is the 7th in Am7), we further color the chord's quality with extended tonality. Here are the replacement chords used in the song's progression:

This is just one simple example of the ways that you could use the harmonized voicings to substitute for the original chords. While extending an improvised jam around this song, try your own variations. You needn't limit yourself to simple strumming either. Arpeggiating these harmonized forms can create a rolling and spacious melodic backdrop.

I hope this has given you a useful point of embarkation on your journey to explore the use of fourths for comping.