• FAQ: What Are Quartal Triads?

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    You arrived this page because you’re interested in learning about quartal triads.

    Fourth voicings are commonly used by advanced players especially in gospel and jazz styles and some of them include the C7sus4 chord:

    …and the so what voicing of the C minor eleventh chord:

    This introductory lesson on quartal triads will give you a basic information on quartal triads and how they are formed.

    Let’s get started by reviewing the concept of triads.

    The Concept Of Triads – Explained

    According to Jermaine Griggs “…a triad is a collection of three related notes (agreeable or not) which may be played or heard together.”

    There are two keywords in the definition of a triad that are of the greatest concern to us:


    Related notes

    Let’s throw more light on these keywords before we proceed.

    Keyword #1 – Three

    The number three is synonymous with the term triad and that’s why the prefix ‘tri’ in the term triad literally means three.

    A triad consists of three notes; not more or less.

    Words like triangle, trinity, tripod, etc., are all related to the number three.

    Keyword #2 – Related Notes

    Although a triad is a collection of notes, however, before any collection of three notes is considered as a triad, there must be a relationship between those notes.

    The notes of the C major triad:

    …are related by a scale and class of harmony.

    “Let Me Explain What Scale Relationship Means…”

    The notes of the C major triad:

    …which are C, E, and G:

    …are related by the C major scale:

    C, E, and G:

    …are the first, third, and fifth tones of the C natural major scale:

    “…Then Relationship By Class Of Harmony”

    The class of harmony of a chord is determined by the distance between successive chord tones. For example, the class of harmony the C major triad:

    …can be derived by determining by the interval between successive chord tones.

    C to E:

    …is a third interval.

    E to G:

    …is a third interval.

    Due to the fact that the C major triad is based on third intervals, its class of harmony is the tertian harmony.

    Quartal Triads – Explained

    Before we go into learning about quartal triads, let’s discuss briefly on classes of harmony.

    A Short Note On The Classes Of Harmony

    Class of harmony is determined by the interval between successive tones in any given chord.

    There are three main classes of harmony:

    Secundal harmony

    Tertian harmony

    Quartal harmony

    Secundal harmony is produced when the distance between successive tones is in second intervals, tertian harmony is produced when the distance between successive tones is in third intervals, while quartal harmony is produced when the distance between successive tones is in fourth intervals.

    The C major triad (we encountered earlier):

    …is a product of tertian harmony because the distance between its successive tones is in third intervals:

    C to E:

    …and E to G:

    “What Is A Quartal Triad?”

    A breakdown of the term quartal triad would give us a clearer understanding of what they actually are.

    The term triad refers to the number of notes, which is three.

    The term quartal refers to the class of harmony, which is in fourth intervals.

    A quartal triad consists of three notes, however, it’s important to note that the distance between successive chord tones is in fourth intervals.

    Using the C major scale:

    …a quartal triad can be formed on C:

    …by adding successive chord tones in fourth intervals.

    A fourth above C:

    …is F:

    …and a fourth above F:

    …is B:

    Altogether, we have C-F-B:

    …a quartal triad consisting of three notes, with fourth intervals between successive chord tones.

    Final Words

    Using fourth intervals, anyone can form quartal triads by stacking three notes in fourth intervals.

    In a subsequent lesson, we’ll explore various quartal triad types and how they can be applied in a variety of musical genres.

    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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Joe

    The C quartal triad is C F B flat, right? Thank you very much for these incredible blogs. I’ve learned so much about theory from your work. Hear and Play team is the absolute best, second to none.


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