Jazz Chord Essentials: 4 part Quartal Harmony

In this lesson I want to demonstrate how you play 4 note quartal voicings and use them in some II V I cadences. They are a great way to get away with using some unusual extensions or sounds over normal chords and also a powerful tool when playing in modal situations.

In my lesson on 3 part quartal harmony I go over how to create 3 note voicings of stacked 4ths. The 4 note version of this type of chord voicing is by design richer sounding since you could view it as two pairs of 7th intervals a 4th apart. This makes the voicings a bit more difficult to use as straight forward chords in functional harmony, but it also makes it a way to vary and spice up the sounds you can use on such progressions by adding unusual extensions to the chords.

Diatonic 4 part quartal voicings

The first thing we need to look at is how to find the quartal voicings in major scale. I chose to only use the top 2 set of strings because the lowest one quickly starts sounding muddy. For the F major scale we get these chord voicings:

Jazz Chord Essentials - 4 part Quartal Harmony ex 1

When you play through them you can probably hear that there are a good amount of extensions contained in most of them and that some have a lot of friction between the contained notes. This is of course also to some degree what we are going for. You should notice that there are a few voicings that you might know as drop2 voicings in the sets.

If we take the same voicings through a Dd melodic minor scale (or C altered ) then we get these voicings:

Jazz Chord Essentials - 4 part Quartal Harmony ex 2

It’s interesting to see that in melodic minor we get a few voicings that we know from other places: the 2nd voicing is a standard “Hendrix Chord# C7#9 and a Drop2 Gb7(b5) voicing.

Since the voicings have a lot of extensions and also a few odd combinations of extensions it might be useful to check out what you can use in the II V I cadences.

In example 3 I have first listed the voicings that I’d use for Gm7, some are Gm6 and some are Gm7(13) so not strictly what you’d apply to a functional progression like a II V I, but maybe try it out and listen for yourself if you think it will work. Herbie Hancock seems to be really good at applying them.  In the example the voicings, when used as a Gm voicing: Gm6/9, Gm11(13), Gsus4, Gm9(13) and Gm7(11).

For the Fmaj7 voicings, since we are using F major and not F lydian and we also do not like the sound of  a Bb in the Fmaj7 voicings we are left with only 3 voicings: F6/9(no3rd), Fmaj7(9,13) and F6/9.

You should notice that one voicing can be used both as a Gm7 and a Fmaj7 voicing, so it is important to be aware about the context when using voicings like this.

Jazz Chord Essentials - 4 part Quartal Harmony ex 3

For the C7alt chord we can use all of the voicings in the melodic minor scale. Melodic minor doesn’t have avoid notes in the same way a major scale has, and the big amount of altered notes(so notes that were not in the previous chord) makes it easy to let the chord sound effective in the context.

Using the voicings

In the first example I am trying to keep the sounds fairly standard and simple by using the Gm(11) voicing and a complete voicing for the C7alt. By complete I mean a voicing containing both 3rd and 7th. On the Gm7 it is first a Gm7(11) and then a diatonic passing chord that is often used in quartal harmony: Am7(11) which is the exact same structure a whole step higher. The first voicing on the C7 altered could be seen as a Gb7(b5) or a C7(b5). The second is more of a voicing just taken out of the scale since the first one has established the sound of the chord, and I am using the fact that it resolves very nicely to the F6/9 voicing by keeping the melody and moving the lower part of the chord up a half step.

Jazz Chord Essentials - 4 part Quartal Harmony ex 4

The 2nd example is using the m7(13) sounds which is to me one of the most important aspects of this sort of chords, since it is to some degree the type of chord that takes away the functional aspect of the Gm7 chord. The movement is first a Gm9(13) and then moving up through the scale to a Gm7(11) and a Am7(11). This is moved up a half step to what you might consider a Bbm7(11) voicing on the C7alt. Relative to the C it’s 7, #9. b13 and b9 so it is adding a lot of alterations but is missing a 3rd.  It is followed by the next voicing in the altered scale which is a C7(#9) voicing. This resolves down to an F6/9 voicing.

Jazz Chord Essentials - 4 part Quartal Harmony ex 5

The last example is focusing on using the 4 voices in groups to add the idea of several melodies moving while only playing one voicing. Something I will return to in later lessons as it seems a like an overlooked part of learning to comp.

On the Gm7 I am again using the Gm7(11) and Am7(11) voicings as I did in the first example, what is new is that I am splitting the first voicing in an outer and an inner set, so I first play the 10th interval and later the inner 4th. I do the same with the two voicings on the C7alt chord, first what you might see as a C7(b13#9) drop2 voicing and then an Ebm7(11) voicing (try to figure out what those notes are relative to a C7). The Ebm7(11) voicing then is resolved up a half step to an Fmaj7(9,13) voicing.

Jazz Chord Essentials - 4 part Quartal Harmony ex 6

I hope that you can use the exercises and examples I made here to get started with using these 4 part quartal voicings. As always you will probably learn more from making you own lines than just copying mine, and I expect that getting used to the sound and getting it in to your system will be a bit of work, but in my opinion it is very worthwhile to have these voicings as part of your repertoire.

Download a pdf of the examples for later study here:

Jazz Chord Essentials – 4 part Quartal Harmony

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