• Essential Quartal Triads You Must Know As A Gospel Or Jazz Musician

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    Quartal triads are an essential part of the chordal vocabulary of serious jazz and gospel musicians.

    From the 1960s till date, musicians have voiced several classes of chords in fourth intervals, which is absolutely different from the traditional way of voicing them using third intervals (aka – “tertian harmony”.) A regular example of such voicings is the voicing of the Dmin11 chord:

    …in Miles Davis’ album Kind of Blue, commonly known as the so what chord.

    Gospel musicians aren’t left behind! It’s common to see an advanced gospel keyboardist voice the C6[add9] chord:

    …in fourths:

    In this lesson, I’ll be showing you essential quartal triads that you must not be without. But before we go into all of that, let’s do a review on triads.

    A Short Note On Triads

    A triad is basically a collection of three related notes played/heard together. Keywords like three, related, and together are too important to the definition of a triad for us to overlook. Let’s deal with them before we proceed.

    “…Three…”

    In the word triad, the prefix tri suggests three. Although a triad can have as much as four notes when one the tones is duplicated, it takes three notes to form a triad.

    “…Related…”

    It’s also important to note that the three notes that make up a triad (aka – “chord tones”) must be related in two ways:

    • By a given scale (scale relationship)
    • By a stipulated interval (intervallic relationship)

    Think about the C major triad as a collection of three notes (C, E, and G):

    …related by the C major scale:

    …and third intervals.

    Scale relationship – C, E, and G are [the first, third, and fifth] tones of the C major scale.

    Intervallic relationship – C, E, and G are apart from each other in thirds. C-E (a third), E-G (a third.)

    Every collection of three notes must have scale and intervallic relationship before they can be considered as a triad.

    “…Together”

    Harmony is the outcome of playing notes together. An old English word for together is accord, which is one of the root words for the term chord.

    Due to the fact that the notes of a triad are played/heard together, a triad can be considered as a chord. A triad can also be defined as a chord of three notes.

    Let’s end our review on triads and proceed to our focus in today’s lesson, which is to explore an important class of triads known as quartal triads.

    “What Is A Quartal Triad?”

    Let’s start by breaking down the term ‘quartal triad’ into two words – quartal and triad.

    Quartal: A class of harmony where there is preference for fourth intervals.

    Triad: A collection of three or more related notes played/heard together.

    Just like every other triad, a quartal triad is a collection of three notes notes, however, there’s preference for fourth intervals between the notes of the triad.

    A quartal triad can be formed by stacking the notes of any given scale (let’s use the C natural major scale in this case):

    …in fourth intervals. A fourth from C:

    …is F:

    …and a fourth from C-F:

    …is B:

    Altogether, C-F-B:

    …is a quartal triad, which consists of three notes, and built in fourth intervals.

    Three Known Qualities Of Fourth Intervals

    Having established that fourths are used in the formation of quartal triads, it is important for us to learn all the qualities of fourth intervals.

    “Let’s Take Our Examples In The Key Of C”

    In the C major scale:

    …the relationship between the first and fourth tones (C and F):

    …forms a perfect fourth interval. Raising F:

    …by a half step (to F#):

    …forms C-F#:

    …an augmented fourth interval, while lowering F:

    …by a half step (to Fb):

    …forms C-Fb:

    …a diminished fourth interval.

    These three known qualities of fourth intervals – perfect, augmented, and diminished fourth intervals are used in the formation of quartal triads.

    The quartal triad we formed earlier (C-F-B):

    …has two distinct fourth intervals…

    C-F:

    …a perfect fourth interval.

    F-B:

    …an augmented fourth interval.

    Attention: C-F-B (the quartal triad) consists of two fourth interval qualities – the perfect and the augmented fourth intervals (aka – “tritone“), and these are the commonly used intervals in the formation of quartal triads. Also note that diminished fourth intervals are also used.

    Before we go into the next segment, take a look at perfect, augmented, and diminished fourth intervals in all twelve keys…

    “Perfect Fourth Intervals…”

    C perfect fourth:

    Db perfect fourth:

    D perfect fourth:

    Eb perfect fourth:

    E perfect fourth:

    F perfect fourth:

    F# perfect fourth:

    G perfect fourth:

    Ab perfect fourth:

    A perfect fourth:

    Bb perfect fourth:

    B perfect fourth:

    “Augmented Fourth Intervals…”

    C augmented fourth:

    Db augmented fourth:

    D augmented fourth:

    Eb augmented fourth:

    E augmented fourth:

    F augmented fourth:

    Gb augmented fourth:

    G augmented fourth:

    Ab augmented fourth:

    A augmented fourth:

    Bb augmented fourth:

    B augmented fourth:

    “Diminished Fourth Intervals…”

    C diminished fourth:

    C# diminished fourth:

    D diminished fourth:

    D# diminished fourth:

    E diminished fourth:

    E# (F) diminished fourth:

    F# diminished fourth:

    G diminished fourth:

    G# diminished fourth:

    A diminished fourth:

    A# diminished fourth:

    B diminished fourth:

    Three Quartal Triads Common To Jazz And Gospel Musicians

    At last, you’re about to learn three quartal triads:

    • The 7sus4 Chord
    • The 7sus#4 Chord
    • The Maj7sus#4 Chord

    …that you can add to your chordal vocabulary. These quartal triads can be formed using the perfect and augmented fourth intervals.

    “Check Them Out”

    The 7sus4 Chord

    When there are two consecutive perfect fourth intervals between chord tones in a quartal triad, a 7sus4 chord is formed.

    Starting from C…

    A perfect fourth above C is F (the 4):

    …and a perfect fourth above F is Bb (the 7):

    Altogether, that’s C-F-Bb:

    …the C7sus4 chord.

    Using two consecutive perfect fourth intervals, you can form the 7sus4 chords in all twelve keys…

    C7sus4:

    C#7sus4:

    D7sus4:

    Eb7sus4:

    E7sus4:

    F7sus4:

    F#7sus4:

    G7sus4:

    Ab7sus4:

    A7sus4:

    Bb7sus4:

    B7sus4:

    The 7sus#4 Chord

    When an augmented fourth interval and a diminished fourth interval are between successive chord tones in a quartal triad, a 7sus#4 chord is formed.

    Starting from C…

    An augmented fourth above C is F# (the #4):

    …and a diminished fourth above F# is Bb (the 7):

    Altogether, that’s C-F#-Bb:

    …the C7sus#4 chord.

    Here are 7sus#4 chords in all twelve keys…

    C7sus#4:

    Dbsus#4:

    D7sus#4:

    Eb7sus#4:

    E7sus#4:

    F7sus#4:

    Gbsus#4:

    G7sus#4:

    Ab7sus#4:

    A7sus#4:

    Bb7sus#4:

    B7sus#4:

    The Maj7sus#4 Chord

    When an augmented fourth interval and an perfect fourth interval are between successive chord tones in a quartal triad, a maj7sus#4 chord is formed.

    Starting from C…

    An augmented fourth above C is F# (the #4):

    …and a perfect fourth above F# is B (the maj7):

    Altogether, that’s C-F#-B:

    …the Cmaj7sus#4 chord.

    Here are maj7sus#4 chords in all twelve keys…

    C7sus#4:

    Dbsus#4:

    D7sus#4:

    Eb7sus#4:

    E7sus#4:

    F7sus#4:

    Gbsus#4:

    G7sus#4:

    Ab7sus#4:

    A7sus#4:

    Bb7sus#4:

    B7sus#4:

    Final Words

    Unlike triads that are built with third intervals (aka – “tertian chords“), quartal triads sound open and offer jazz and gospel pianists more harmonic sophistication and that’s why we’re discussing it in this lesson.

    We’ll be furthering our discussion in another post where I’ll be showing you how these quartal triads can be used to form major, minor, dominant, and altered dominant chords.

    See you then!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Michael

    wow. Jermaine is always giving us good stuffs. I really love the quartal triads. it’s great.

    Reply

    2 Peter LaFosse

    Well put together, great lesson

    Reply

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