Quartal Harmony is something that has been around for centuries. One of the earliest uses of it was by composers such as Frederic Copin and Franz List in the 1800’s. It became more common place in modern music through jazz pianists such as Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Jazz guitarists such as Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and George Benson soon picked it up and started using it in their own playing.
Now quartal harmony is standard in the vocabulary of modern jazz and fusion guitarists such as Guthrie Govan, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Robben Ford, Scott Henderson, Jonathan Kreisberg and many others. This is due to the interesting shapes and colours that these chords chords create.
Here is a clip of Guthrie Govan using some quartal chords. These are not all quartal chords but they are interspersed with other voicing types.
The idea behind quartal harmony is, every note is a fourth away from each other within the scale. If we take the C major scale and make up a quartal chord from the root note, we start with the note C and find what a fourth away is, F, as F is in the C major scale we keep this note. Next, find what a fourth away from F is, Bb, we have a problem here as there is no Bb in the C major scale, however there is a B so we use that. Finally we find the fourth away from B which is an E. We now have the notes to make up our quartal chord type, C,F,B,E.
We repeat this process from each note in the harmonised C major scale, this will give us a C major scale harmonised with quartal chords.
In the diagrams below, the chords start at the lowest position on the neck in the key of C. This allows us to use the whole length of the neck rather than running out of space at the top.
The chord types that the voicing is based over is written above the chord. It is written as (e.g. Cmaj7), rather than what all the notes are in relationship to the root, otherwise we would be here all day!
Starting with the voicings on the the middle four strings.
Now we will look at voicings on the bottom four strings of the guitar, this may sound a bit muddy as all the notes are in the low register but give it a try!
Finally voicings on the top four strings.
After getting used to these shapes, we can re-voice some of the chords to make them a bit more interesting. We do this by moving the intervals further apart. What you do is, take the notes of one quartal harmony chord and move them about to another possible fingering. The notes of the chord would not be in order, however, this is one of the charms of the guitar, very rarely unless we play our C shape chords, are the notes in the order of what the chord is actually meant to be, e.g, a way a piano may play them.
To re-voice these quaral harmony chords is quite simple, however, the results are far more exciting. Let's take the voicing based over a G7 chord on the bottom four strings.
The notes in this chord are G, C, F and B.
What we are now going to do is move these notes up an octave and re-voice them in new places. They can be in any order, some of them are impossible to play unless you have very big hands or a high pain threshold. I have gone with the option of ones that are physically possible to play as well as sound great and look good! (Lets face it we want chords that look good!)
This is my favorite voicing for this chord shape.
Once you have found this shape, repeat the same process for all of the chords in the C major scale. Alternatively to you can move the shape in example 5 up the notes of the C major scale and you will find the rest of these voicings.
Here is the whole of the C major scale with re-voiced quartal harmony voicings.
You may ask when you can use these types of chords?
If you are playing over a modal backing, (i.e. a song that stays on one chord for an extended period of time), you need to work out what key the piece is in. Once you have worked this out you can move around using any of these chords as they all fit within the key. Be careful as some of them may have more dissonant and tension notes than others, so it may sound a bit odd, (but that is part of the attraction with quartal chords).
If you are playing on a backing that has many chord and key changes, you will have to play the chords that are based on the chord type. This will add all the extra colourful extensions of the quartal chords to the situation.
Once you are happy that you know all these chord shapes, put them in different keys as this will allow you to be able to use them in other keys than C major. You can also try playing them on different sets of strings, but they can be quite a stretch!
Give these chord voicings a go and see how you get on. If you are into interesting chord voicings why not try out my book, ‘Adventurous Open Chords for the Creative Guitarist’. It is avaliable from, www.pawmusic.co.uk, www.amazon.co.uk and www.abstractlogix.com.
Have fun and I will see you next time!