Most people haven’t heard of quartal chords.
That’s because they are chords built off fourth intervals, whereas the most familiar chords (like major, minor, dominant, diminished, augmented) are built of thirds — aka “tertian chords.”
How to Form Quartal Chords
First, you gotta know your intervals. Here’s a quick way to learn fourth intervals (and subsequently fifth intervals because fourths and fifths are like the opposite of each other. If you go down a fourth, you’ll get the same note an octave higher by going up a fifth… and vise versa).
This chart will help you learn fourths. Just follow it counter clockwise.
If there is anything in music to commit to memory as fast as you can, it’s this chain of notes organized in fourths. It just so happens this is the way most songs progress, too. Think about all the songs you already know how to play. Compare them to this circle and I’d bet entire chunks will be consistent. Music moves in fourths!
Download A Free Ear-Training Video
Learn how to find the key of any song, pick out chords, and learn songs by ear.
In other words, F is a fourth up from C.
Bb is a fourth up from F.
(Others take the “fifth” route — C is the fifth of F… F is the fifth of Bb… and so on. But for the purposes of learning Quartal chords, we’ll stick with fourths. There is such a thing as Quintal chords built off fifths but that’s another lesson).
Using the chart above, if you circle any 3 notes neighboring each other, you’ve got yourself a quartal chord.
Let’s try it:
C + F + Bb = Quartal chord
F + Bb + Eb = Quartal chord
Can you do the rest? I’ll provide answers below.
Answers: Quartal Chords In All 12 Keys:
C + F + Bb
F + Bb + Eb
Bb + Eb + Ab
Eb + Ab + Db
Ab + Db + Gb
Db + Gb + Cb (or C# + F# + B)
F# + B + E
B + E + A
E + A + D
A + D + G
D + G + C
G + C + F
Quartal chords In Action
As the title of this post implies, quartal chords are really easy to use. It’s because of the open sound created by the fourth interval. Quintal chords, created by 5th intervals, have a similar effect.
Quartal chords can be used as 1-chords, as 4-chords, as passing chords… almost anywhere. In fact, you’ve probably marveled at jazz players using them and because of their distinct sound, you couldn’t even tell what the player was doing!
1) Hit C on your left hand as bass.
2) Just start playing random quartal chords above while keeping C on your left hand.
You’ll find majority of them work. Keep the ones that sound good to you… throw out the ones that don’t.
For example, holding C on my left hand, these quartal chords sound good to me:
C on left /// C + F + Bb (this creates a suspended 7th chord… lower the F to E for resolution).
C on left /// D + G + C (nice major-sounding chord)
C on left /// Eb + Ab + Db (I’m sure you could find a place for this)
C on left /// E + A + D (similar to the other major-sounding one, this can be used on the “1”)
C on left /// F + Bb + Eb (push the envelope with this one)
C on left /// Ab + Db + Gb (dissonant but useful)
C on left /// A + D + G (one of my favorites to use on the “1”)
C on left /// Bb + Eb + Ab (one of my favorites to use as a passing chord on the “3” in Ab major. For extra spice, add an “E” to left hand: C+E)
C on left /// B + E + A (nice major-sounding chord).
And truth be told, even the ones I skipped work!
You could almost hold C down and go up chromatically, note for note playing each quartal chord in rhythm, and create a nice little groove. Try it.
If you want even more guidance, check out my GospelKeys 202 program where I first started talking about quartal chords in 2003, when this course first came out.
Well, that’s all I have for you. To be honest, I thought this lesson would be short but I got a little carried away.
Comment below and let me know how you use or will start using quartal chords in your playing.