• The Secret Chords That Work Almost Anywhere… Quartal Chords

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).

C to F to Bb to Eb to Ab to Db to Gb to B to E to A to D to G

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!

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!

Try this:

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.

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Jermaine Griggs

Founder at HearandPlay.com
Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

Latest posts by Jermaine Griggs (see all)

1 ga

If C is your root or fundamental note, why not use notes that are in the C scale rather than using flatted notes. Isn’t the interval from, for example, F to B natural a 4th interval in the key of C?

2 Jermaine Griggs

GA, I don’t think I understand the question as it relates to the strategies above. Please clarify one more time. Thanks, JG

3 ga

I guess you aren’t relating these chords to any particular key. So there would be no key signature to observe.
Another way would be to stack 4ths diatonically. So in the key of C you would keep to the notes of the scale when stacking. eg C F B E rather than C F Bb Eb. Right?

4 Jermaine Griggs

Yes, that is correct GA. If you wanted to keep it in the key of C, you’d use perfect and augmented fourths to make it happen.

Thus

C F B E
D G C F
E A D G
F B E A
G C F B
A D G C
B E A D

But when I talk about hitting C down, I’m talking about forming all types of chords off C… chords that would be applicable in more than the key of C.

Like playing C on bass and Bb + Eb + Ab is a great example of a C7 #9#5 (of course, you add E to left hand).

5 Sue

Hi Jermaine

on quartal chords i noticed you put C /// E+A+C ,was it not supposed to be C/// E+A+D or maybe its some way to spice it out i was using the circle of fifths as you said.

thanks once again for the nice staff here .may God bless you richly

6 Jermaine Griggs

Good catch Sue! While the E+A+C works too, the correct quartal chord should have been E+A+D. Good job.

JG

7 Ming

This is the coolest newsletter in the world.

8 Xave

Are these the same as inverted sus4 chords?

9 Tebogo

HI JERAMMIE

KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK M LEARNING A LOT FRM U.THANX I NEED SUM1 WHO CAN DONATE A KEYBOARD OR PIANO I CNT AFFORD I BORROW HELP GUYS

10 Hector

Hi Jerammie

I would like to know if u have a video where it shows how to integrate the quartal chords in your music?

11 Jermaine Griggs

Yes, GospelKeys 202 at http://www.gospelkeys202.com.

All the best,
JG

12 Donna P

Germaine,
You broke this down in such an easy to understand manner, that I’m shamed to admit it has taken me many years to understand quartal chords until now. Thank you, thank you thank you.

13 Fluffy Ness

This was useless. So much typing for nothing.
Sum it up: As long as the notes are a Perfect fourth (5 semitones), augmented fourth (6 semitones) or diminished fourth (4 semitones) away, it’s a quartal chord.
Step 1: Take the note you’re trying to make a quartal chord from, and count 4 letter names up. Remember this letter name.
Step 2: Count the semitones from your root to that note (The one that’s 4 letter names above your root). Make sure it’s 4-6 semitones apart. If it is, great, keep going. If it’s not, place flats or sharps to lower/raise the note to make your root and that note a fourth apart.
Step 3: YAY KEEP GOING UNTIL YOU HAVE THE AMOUNT OF NOTES/FOURTHS YOU WANT!!! CONGRATS.
What I want to know is: On a grand staff, if there is 2 notes a fourth away in treble clef and two notes a fourth away in base clef, is it still a quartal chord? I know that if the notes can transpose up into the treble clef and still be fourths apart, it’s a quartal chord. But what if they aren’t?

14 margaret

Hello I am contacting you because I am having trouble useing my fingers how can you help me with this problem?

15 Jermaine Griggs

Hey margaret,

I recommend hanon finger exercises. Here’s a post I did about them:

http://www.hearandplay.com/main/get-rid-of-slow-uncoordinated-fingers-once-and-for-all

16 val

Your tips have been amazing.Thank you so much. My problem is how to integrate these chords into music.I have played sheet music for a long while,I am trying ear music but I am having a hard time. I appreciate very much all the help I have received from your programs. Thanks and God bless you.

17 Jerome Goudy Sr

Hi Jermaine,I must say I am coming along fine to say I never had a teacher your lessons are great and easy to understand. It has help me alot I just wish I was able to get your courseBut I am disable and trying to survive off this one check a month. After bills everything is gone. But By the Grace of God If I recieve a financial Blessing I will order whatever you have to offer at that time. May God continue to shower you and your family with his BLessing. My Blessing are with you my Brother. Keep up the good work.

18 matthew

Jermaine, I really enjoy this post it really helps but what i’m yet to understand about the quartals chord is how they are use when i’m playing gospel worship.

19 DANYKEYS

Hi JG,what must i do to have a good musical ear?I listen to songs but i hadly know how to play it.pls i will be very grateful if you find the cure to my illness.

20 Samuel

Big Thank you.
I have been hearing about quartal chords but it didn’t make sense to me. From your explanation, I am no longer in the dark. You killed it.

My instrument of interest is the guitar. Can I also apply these chords?

21 samoskie

Hi jermaine. I’m a nigerian. I ve gone through ur Gospelkeys202 and i really want to knw how to apply those augmented chords u showed.

22 Kelly DE latorre

Jermaine, I am consistently blown away by your generosity, and knowledge. I don’t think there has ever been a time that I have gone to your tool arsenal that you provide for in abundance, in which I feel unchanged. I always walk away with the feeling that I have gained very important knowledge in my musical journey. Can we put you in our colleges and schools Jermaine. You make learning exciting and fun, while at the same time affect so many lives in so many ways. Your mentoring is such a Gift tr so many. Thank you. I am always excited each morning when I look through all you have to offer through your site. Love you guys

23 Not telling

Can a quartal chord be major or minor?

24 Evis ndungu

i have never met such wonderful teaching s on piano thank you ( from Kenya)

25 sola

I don’t tink dere re quartal minor or majors.they are all perfect fourths or fifths.except
dim or aug 5ths or 4th!. Try τ̅☺ understand intervals well. Sola from Nigeria!God bless

26 albert

Excelent article.
The Secret Chords That Work Almost Anywhere… Quartal Chords
Thanks.

27 Emmanuel

Great i enjoyed the lesson, actually i didnt knw about quartal chords. This is brilliant.

28 Gabriel

Yes guy, it a matter of how you play your chord on Guitar with your ability to Hear and Play it. You can try this exercise. On key C : you can use this Quartet note (Circle of Fourth) before going to your F chord : G-C then F. But it doesn’t goes to all Progression.

29 Gabriel

@ samuel