Quartal Harmony in Solos

As I promised in earlier lessons, here is my take on putting the chords I talked about in the 3 part quartal harmony lesson and the one on diatonic chords of the pentatonic scale to use in improvisation.

In this lesson I want to demonstrate how I use it in solos by going through some technical exercises and some lines I wrote using quartal harmony.

I am going to demonstrate a few exercises and then give you a few examples and of lines and how I constructed them. In this lesson I am only going to be concerned with the 3 note variation of these chords, since that is the one that is the easiest to put to use.

All my lines and exercises are going to be related to a II Valt I in Bb so we need to check out the Bb major scale and the F7 altered / F# melodic minor scale before we start working on making lines.


First let’s just talk a bit about what you might practice to prepare for making lines with stacks of 4ths arpeggios in them. Here are the chords for the Bb major scale on two sets of strings. I’d suggest you practice them both as chords and as arpeggios to get technically prepared for using them in improvisations.

Quartal Harmony in Solos ex 1

As you might already see we can’t really name the chords in the way we are used to with diatonic chords and triads. You chose them by looking at the notes they contain and how that relates to the chord you are playing them over. This can be a bit heavy if you are not used to think like that, but is actually a very useful skill for “the thinking improviser”. It will also help you to analyze transcriptions and identify what s being played.

In my examples I chose the arpeggios for the Cm7 chord on the criteria that I don’t want it to contain an A, because I want to save that note for the F7. That is a choice, and not even a route that I always take myself, but for now it makes the lines easier to hear.

Since we don’t often make solo lines by only moving up and down a string, but more often make use of positions, it can be very handy to also try to play some scale positions in diatonic stacks of 4ths like the one I have written out here below:

Quartal Harmony in Solos ex 2

Playing stacked 4ths requires a lot of string changing for the right hand which is a bit difficult and for the left hand you need to bar with different fingers to be able to play the them which can also be a bit demanding. Frank Gambale has a few good left hand exercises for this in one of his books. As for the right hand I generally alternate pick the arpeggios as you can see in the video, mostly because I like the sound of that sort of picking better than sweeps or economy when I play these arpeggios.

Here are the chords for the F altered/F# melodic minor scale.

Quartal Harmony in Solos ex 3

I’d suggest you also try to arpegiate these chords and play F# melodic minor in diatonic stacks of 4ths in the way that I did it with the Bb major scale.

II V I lines with stacked 4ths

Here’s the first example of a line on the II Valt I in Bb major:

Quartal Harmony in Solos ex 4

If I break down the construction of the line it is an EbMaj7 shell voicings followed by an stack of 4ths beginning on G. Then on the F7alt I am playing the Coltrane 4 note pattern, and following that up with a stack of 4ths on the A in F#melodic minor. I resolve the high Ab to the major 7 of Bb.

Quartal Harmony in Solos ex 5

The 2nd example is first chaining to stack of 4th arpeggios on the Cm7, one from F and one from D. Then I play a sort of cliché F#m melody which is followed by an F#mMaj7 arpeggio that resolves to F the 5th of Bb major.

Quartal Harmony in Solos ex 6

The 3rd example is beginning with an Ebmajor 7th arpeggio that is then followed by a stack of 4ths from c. On the F7 altered I have made a melody using two stacks a whole step apart: one from Eb and on from Db. This pair is a useful tool when making lines and when playing chords in my experience.

Quartal Harmony in Solos ex 7

I start with a Cm9 arpeggio which I then follow with a stack of fourths played descending from C to D. This arpeggio I then can shift up a half step to fit it on the F7 chrod and then I lead that into an Ebm7 shell voicing which with a few notes from the scale is resolved to the 9 of the Bb.

You can download the examples in pdf format here:

Quartal Harmony in Solos

I hope that you liked the lesson. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Facebook, Instagram, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.