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Quartal Jazz Guitar Chords

We learned in the jazz guitar chord tutorial that chords are built by stacking
3rds and most western music today uses nothing but this kind of chords.
There are also chords based on fourths instead of thirds. These chords in
fourths were made popular by McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane's piano player).
Quartal voicings have a jazzy sound and work very well in modal music. They are
used most often in modal music and usually in a minor or dominant key.

How are these quartal chords constructed and how do they look on the guitar
Let's start with the D Dorian scale:
Let's build a chord on the first notes of the D Dorian scale, but instead of
stacking thirds we'll be stacking fourths:
The result is a chord you could call a Dm11, but I don't want to give names to
these quartal voicings because they behave likeharmonic chameleons:

If we put a D in the bass of our first example, we get a Dm11.

With F in the bass we get an F(6/9).

A G in the bass gives us a Gsus4.

We could go on building chords on the other notes of the scale, but I think you
get the picture.

Chord Diagrams
Let's have a look at how quartal voicings look on the neck:
1) 4 string chords, lowest note on the A string
Listen & Play

Here are the chord diagrams for the 4 chord shapes you have to remember:

2) 4 string chords, lowest note on the D string

Listen & Play

Here are the guitar chord diagrams for the 4 chord shapes you have to
remember: I like to look at and
use quartal voicings more as
a harmonized scale then as
actual chords: they are very
usable as a solo
improvisation device. They also
work well
for accompaniment or
for creating vamps.

How to Use Quartal Chords

To help get you started with applying quartal chords to your jazz guitar comping
and chord-soloing ideas, here are three examples of how you would apply these
cool-sounding chords to a ii-V-I chord progression.

Comping Example 1
This first example uses diatonic chords over a ii-V-I chord progression in C major.
Notice how certain quartal chords will sound more inside the changes, while
others will sound a bit more outside the given chord. This is the reason that
so many players love to use these chords in their comping and soloing, the fact
that they can both sound inside and outside the changes even when using notes
from the underlying parent key of the progression.
Listen & Play

Comping Example 2
This second examples uses a technique that McCoy Tyner loved to use in his
playing, as well as the great jazz guitarist Joe Diorioamong others. The idea
behind this riff is that you play the quartal chord for Dm7, then you play the
same shape up a minor 3rd interval, creating tension in your line that is then
resolved down a half-step to the Em7 quartal chord over Cmaj7. Its not for
everyones tastes, but it can be a great way to add a sense of modern jazz
tension and release to your chord work.

Listen & Play

Comping Example 3
Here is an example of that same minor 3rd approach, only applied to a longer
phrase and to each chord within that phrase. Again, this will create a strong
sense of tension in your lines, so you need to practice not only moving up a
minor 3rd with these chords, but more importantly resolving them after
creating that tension.
Listen & Play

Guitar Essentials: 11 Other Ways to Play Common

Chords | TAB
Before you embark on the road to harmonic domination, lets review some basic theory.

A chord consisting of three notesroot, 3rd and 5this called a triad. The four basic triads are
major (1-3-5), minor (1-b3-5), diminished (1-b3-b5) and augmented (1-3-#5).

The order in which a chords tones are arranged, from the lowest note to the highest, is referred to
as a voicing. When a triad is voiced with the chord tones in sequential orderroot-3rd-5thits
referred to as a root-position voicing.

If the triad is inverted so that the 3rd is the lowest not (3rd-5th-root), it is said to be in 1st inversion.
Juggle the arrangement one more time by placing the 5th at the bottom (5th-root-3rd), and youve
got a 2nd inversion voicing.

FIGURE 1A displays major and minor triads in root position, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion, on
three string sets (5-3, 4-2 and 3-1).


FIGURE 1B does the same with diminished and augmented triads. Learn the chords on the highest
string sets (4-2 and 3-1) first, as these are the most common shapes.


Also, notice that some of the chord names have slashes. The letter on the left side indicates the
chords root and quality, while the letter on the right indicates the chords lowest note. For
examples, in FIGURE 1A, the D/F# symbol signifies that the chord is D major and the the 3rd, F#, is
the lowest note. Therefore, this is a 1st-inversion voicing.

Its important to have the previous shapes at your fingertips so that youre able to grab them in a
FIGURE 2 is an exercise that will help you see and play the inversions in a horizontal fashion. When
playing this figure, or for the matter any other sequence of chords, always look ahead. While playing
one inversion, fix your eyes on where the next chord falls on the neck and visualize its fingering. You
might even try forming the chord in the air before you place your fingers on the neck.


FIGURE 3 throws some rhythm into the fire with a funk vamp inspired by the work of former Red
Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante. For the 16th-note scratches that fall in between the chords, use
your fret hands 1st or 2nd finger to deaden the strings. If you have trouble making the two-chord
change in one bar, step it down a notch and play one chord per bar, yet maintain the 16th-note
strumming pattern to keep your sense of time.


As a change of direction, FIGURE 4 features vertically aligned B triads played in an eighth-notetriplet groove. In bar 1, notice how the b5th (F) of the first B chord flips down an octave on beat 2
to become the lowest note of B/F. This move is followed by similar action between B/F and B/D,
where the b3rd (D) jumps down an octave to form the 2nd inversion. This sort of figure will come in
handy when you want to create some catchy-sounding chord licks, either for use as fills or for
beefing up your solos.


FIGURE 5 also takes a vertical approach, this time with an arpeggiated augmented-triad sequence
that sounds right out of a sci-fi B-movie soundtrack. For this one, try using hybrid pickinga
combination of pick and fingers: articulate the lowest note of each beat with your pick, and pick the
second and third notes with your middle and ring fingers, respectively. For extra credit, as you play
through all of these examples, pay close attention to which inversion youre playing and spell the
notes of each voicing out loud.


Now lets work with some tetrads, or four-note chords (the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th) most commonly
called 7th chord. The five basic types are major 7th (1-3-5-7), dominant 7th (1-3-5-b7), minor 7th (1b3-5-b7), minor 7th flat 5 (1-b3-b5-b7) and diminished 7th (1-b3-b5-bb7).

The additional degree in the formula makes it difficult for the notes of these chords to be played in
numerical order on the guitar. Instead, the voicings are usually more spread out. For instance, a
basic Cmaj7 chord in 3rd position, on strings 5-2, would be voiced 1-5-7-3 (C-G-B-E). FIGURE 6
shows an army of 7th chords, all with a root note of G. Here, youll see the introduction of the third
inversion, in which the 7th is the lowest note.

Lets put those tetrads into motion. FIGURE 7, a jazzy vamp in F major, makes use of all four
inversions. For this figure, try the hybrid-picking technique introduced in FIGURE 5. Play all 6thstring notes with your pick, and the notes on string set 4-2 with your middle, ring and pinkie fingers.
Also, make sure that in each chord you use a fret-hand finger to simultaneously fret the 6th-string
note and mute the 5th-string (by lightly touching it).


The waltz-time groove of FIGURE 8 is reminiscent of pianist McCoy Tyners work in saxophonist John
Coltranes classic quartet. In this example, the inversions arent in strict order, so stay focused. If
necessary, slow the tempo down. The important thing here is to visualize the inversions, make the
changes and pull everything together smoothly. Also, keep in mind that while its beneficial to make
these chords part of your arsenal, its important to keep your exercises musical and fun.


FIGURE 9 is a chord-melody solo over a 12-bar blues that incorporate both triads and tetrads. The
symbols in parentheses represent the basic blues changes, while the symbols below represent the
actual chords used. Listen to how the voicings flow into one anotherthis is where all the inversion
work really pays off.

After youve mastered this arrangement and the figures above, be sure to remember that with
great power comes great responsibility. Youll need to visit these chord inversion often to keep
them fresh and under your fingers.