In today’s instalment of the 30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar Comping series we’ll be digging into another one of my favourite topics, how to play 4th voicing chords on guitar.

4th voicings or quartal chords as they are sometimes referred to are used by a range of guitarists such as Ed Bickert, Lenny Breau and Kurt Rosenwinkel showing that 4th voicings are popular chord choices in both traditional and contemporary settings.

While the majority of the chords we’ve looked at in this series so far have been stacked in thirds, quartal chords are stacked in fourths.

 

 

Building 4th Voicings

 

To build a fourth voicing with a C root note, add the note up a fourth above C (F), then add another note a 4th above F, (B) and finally add another note a fourth above that (E).

The example below illustrates the C major scale harmonized and constructed this way using quartal voicings starting with C as the top note of voicing. Notice how notes from the C major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) are the top notes of each voicing, and that some of the voicings use the same chord shape moved up or down the same strings making it easy to switch between inversions.

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Once you have these voicings under your fingers check them out on the next string set.

Although I’ve notated out 4 note voicings, these quartal shapes also sound great and a little less clunky with just three notes

These quartal guitar chords are all in root position inversions, but just like the triads these chords can be inverted.

To create first inversion quartal shapes take the lowest note of the root position chord and take it an octave higher.

 

Check out the example below for our harmonized C major scale in first position quartal harmony shapes.

 

Just like with the root position quartal chord, the 1st inversion can also be interested to form a set of 2nd inversion quartal voicings. To change the 1st inversion quartal shapes to 2nd inversion, move the first note of each 1st inversion chord up an octave as shown in the diagram below.

 

 

Here’s how our harmonized C major scale looks in second inversion quartal shapes.

 

 

Practicing 4th Voicings

 

  • Practice each of the quartal harmony scales ascending and descending.
  • Work on applying one set of quartal voicings at once before applying the next
  • Play each scale in all 12 keys and mix them up with other chords that you use

 

Quartal voicings are often used in modal music, so practice applying them over tunes like ‘Impressions’ and ‘So What’. Although the examples from this lesson have been over C major, they also work great used in all of the modes of the major scale.

Fourth voicings fit very nicely under the fingers and sound quite modern, so it’s worth getting them under your fingers.

 

Be sure check out this further post with a McCoy Tyner style etude on how you can apply and mix these shapes.

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Do you prefer quartal shapes to the more standard drop 2 chords? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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