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 neck?
Let's start with the D Dorian scale:
D E F G A B C
Let's build a chord on the first notes of the D Dorian scale, but instead of stacking thirds we'll be stacking fourths:
D G C F
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 like harmonic 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.
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
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 an 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.
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 Diorio among 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. It’s not for everyone’s tastes, but it can be a great way to add a sense of modern jazz tension and release to your chord work.
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.