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A practical guide for jazz piano

by Alan Brown

Table of Contents
Introduction ............................................................................................................... 3 Voicings in Fourths .................................................................................................. 3 Two Handed Voicings .............................................................................................. 8 Quartals and So What Voicings .......................................................................... 10 Pentatonics ............................................................................................................. 12 Quartals and Pentatonics ...................................................................................... 17
Summary .......................................................................................................................... 21

Quartal Voicings and Pentatonic Exercises......................................................... 22 Right Hand Quartal Patterns.................................................................................. 26 Side-slipping ........................................................................................................... 27 Targeting ................................................................................................................. 28
Exercises.......................................................................................................................... 29

Analysis ................................................................................................................... 34 Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 36 Bibliography ............................................................................................................ 37

2009 Blue Train Ltd. Milford, Auckland 0620, New Zealand. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

Quartals & Pentatonics a practical guide for Jazz piano Introduction

The use of quartal or stacked-fourth voicings and pentatonic improvisation is nothing new in the world of jazz, as its use as a defining stylistic approach by pianists McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea is well-known. The classic Bill Evans So What voicing is also built upon the quartal concept, and quartals were used well before that especially by the impressionist composers Ravel and Debussy. This book is intended to provide the student with an understanding of the harmonic use of quartals, by providing various voicing options and usages. The use of pentatonics as soloing devices will be examined both on their own, as well as in conjunction with left-hand quartals. A number of practical exercises will be given to assist in developing this technique and approach to improvisation. It must be stressed that this style of playing should be only a part of the pianists vocabulary tertian harmony, modes, chromaticism, upper structures etc are just as essential tools for the jazz musician. Notwithstanding, there IS a lot of fun to be had with quartals and pentatonics, and it is hoped that this book will provide a foundation for a lifetime of experimentation. Voicings In Fourths Fig 1 shows the standard quartal voicings for one hand. These should be played with both hands across the range of the keyboard until theyre internalised completely. Figs 2 and 3 demonstrate practice techniques to assist both with dexterity and the internalising process. Fig 1

Fig 2

4 These should be practiced with separate hands, through all keys (as shown in Fig 1). Keep the fingering as indicated for each key, even though there may be some unusual movements. This exercise also helps to strengthen the fourth finger. Fig 3

Initially, the voicings well construct will be purely stacked perfect fourths, just to reinforce these shapes, and to gain an understanding of the harmony that can be represented. Why Fourths? Quartal chords can be applied to a variety of harmonies, not just minor, with a high degree of ambiguity, which can be seen in the following examples. This is part of the charm as various harmonies can be implied in the course of a tune or solo, without clearly stating any particular one. The opening-up of the harmony is a contemporary approach, and provides a good contrast to an otherwise tertian (stacked thirds) construction. The voicings below are single-hand voicings which could be used either with left or right hand. Minor 7th chords can be built from the root, 9th,11th (and even 5th and 6th) although the first three are the most common. An easy way of remembering the choices is by starting on the 6th and moving up by fourths, which gives you: 6, 9, 5, R, 11. i.e each quartal is a fourth away from the other. Fig 4

There are a lot more choices for dominant chords, depending on the tensions one wishes to highlight. For unaltered chords, they can be built from the 3rd, 6th and 9th (again fourths apart). A strong sus4 voicing is just the root position quartal (or it can be built from the 5th), while altered dominants can be built from b7, #9, and #5 (also fourths apart).

Fig 5

Major 6th or 7th chords can also be represented by quartals built from the 3rd, 6th and 9th as these voicings do not include the 7th, although a quartal built from the 7th is a strong maj 7th voicing. An interesting Lydian chord can also be constructed from the #4. In other words, quartal chords a fourth apart in this sequence: #4, 7, 3, 6, 9. Fig 6

To make things a little clearer, the table below may be of use. This summarises the main voicings for the various chord types. As the quartals are listed a fourth apart, one only needs to remember the first quartal root in each section, to be able to work out the others. e.g. Minor chords build from 6th. Chord Minor 7 Quartal built from: 6th 9th 5th Root 11th 3rd 6th 9th 7th 9th 5th 5th Root 4th 7th 3rd 6th 9th Root 11th 7th Scale tones highlighted 6, 9, 5 9, 5, R 5, R, 11 R, 11,7 11,7,3 3, 13, 9 13, 9, 5 9, 5, R 7, 9,13 9, 5,9 5,9, 11 5, R, 4 R, 4,7 4, 7, 3 7, 3, 6 3, 6, 9 6, 9, 5 9, 5, R R, 11,7 11,7,3 7,3,13

Dominant 7

Altered Dominant

Dominant 7 sus4 Major 7

Minor 7 b5

Note that voicings built from the b3 or b6 could be used for a min7b5 chord, but as the b9 is highlighted, they are best avoided due to the b9 being somewhat of an avoid note.

6 These voicings can then be combined into progressions such as the II-V-I, as shown below. A number of permutations are possible, but here is just a selection of them. Experiment with these in all keys, and come up with your own favourites. Fig 7

Quartals can also be inverted, especially useful when used as left-hand voicings, in order to keep them within the range of roughly one octave. The first set (Fig 8) gives a really nice voicing for the min7 chord, with the 9th on top, as well as the maj7 chord, with the #4 on top. Play these through, find ones you like, and cycle them through all keys. Fig 8

McCoy Tyner Kongsberg Jazz Festival 1973 1973 Gisle Hannemyr

Here are the changes for the standard There Is No Greater Love, voiced with quartals. Of course, these arent the only possible quartal combinations, but this should give you a better understanding of the usage in a practical context.

Fig 9

Note the use of inversions in bars 11,12,19, 20, 26-28. The V chords are generally altered just to highlight the various voicings. Similarly some maj7 chords are Lydian, again to demonstrate the quartal shape for those chords.

It is important to note that you wouldnt exclusively use quartals as left-hand voicings when soloing or comping. The combination of quartals with standard rootless voicings, shell voicings or cluster chords gives the most interest and colour. However, if you play this piece through, you should notice the high degree of ambiguity that quartals lend to the harmony and harmonic direction, even when a bass line is included. That is one of the strengths of these voicings lending both an uncertainty and openness to the tune. Once pentatonics are utilised in soloing techniques, further ambiguity and movement can be implied without sacrificing harmonic integrity, although one of the beauties of the quartal/pentatonic approach is being able to create your own harmonic direction.

8 Play through a number of standards with just quartal left-hand voicings, and you will start to find voicing shapes that work well, or that just become favourites, such as minor chords built from the 9th, dominant and major chords built from the 13th, altered dominants built from the b7 etc. So far we have only covered quartals constructed from perfect 4ths. If we allow ourselves to augment a 4th within the voicing, we can cover a lot more options, especially with dominant chords (G7 / Db7alt chord in Fig 10). The sound will be much more consonant as the voicing now includes the tritone of the 3rd and 7th. Another way of understanding this voicing is that it is just a standard left-hand rootless voicing minus one note (an easy way of finding it!). Dont underestimate the simplicity of this voicing as it is extremely useful especially to quickly and easily create an open (fourth-like) sound in the left hand. Hammond players make good use of this as open voicings generally work much better on the organ. Fig 10

The second line of Fig 10 shows the changes for the 1st eight bars of There Is No Greater Love once again, but featuring some of these dominant voicings. If you play this through, youll notice how much stronger the harmony is outlined. This is where personal preference comes in if you want a more ambiguous and less defined harmony, perfect quartals are ideal, whereas these augmented quartals will create a more obvious harmony. No one approach is better than the other, and frequently youll use both. Be open to the music and the direction you wish to take in your solos. Two-handed Voicings While quartals can be extended by fourths to create two-handed 5-note voicings, the number of usable ones becomes limited by the potential problem of including avoid notes such as the natural 4th on major and dominant chords. If we look at an extended quartal built from D (fig 11), it no longer becomes a suitable D minor chord due to the presence of the b6. Its minor usage is now limited to a minor voicing built from the 9th (Cm7); possibly from the 13th (Fm11) although this gives more of a dominant sus4 chord sound; and from the 5th (Gm7), which is a strong minor chord and one which we will use most often. Fig 11

The stacked voicing also gives us some nice major 9 chords, built from the 7th, 3rd, or #4th, but we are limited in dominant voicings with this method. The F9sus chord is ok, but both the E7alt and Bb13 sound weak. We can get away with a bit more ambiguity or obscurity with left-handed voicings due to what the right hand would be playing against it, but two-handed voicings should be stronger, especially in dominant structures. The best approach is to combine quartals with shell voicings i.e. 3rds and 7ths. This then will give more options for available quartals, and create a stronger tonality in chord progressions. Referring to the chart on page 5, we can build quartals from the 9th, 13th or 3rd. The last voicing is redundant, as we will be playing the 3rd with the left hand. This gives us the voicings shown in Fig 12 excellent unaltered dominant chords, especially useful in blues progressions, as well as dominant cycles (Fig 13). Fig 12

Some like to refer to these voicings as built from the top-down, so they can be thought of as being built top-down from the Root or 5th. Fig 13

The first bar is a useful, II-V-I progression with nice voice-leading. Practice this through every key until it becomes natural. The second bar shows how quartal/shell combinations can effectively be used in a cycle of fifths dominant sequence, such as the bridge to I Got Rhythm. Here are a couple of options for using altered dominants as quartal/shell combinations. Again, practice these in every key and find some other sequences that you like. Fig 14

10 Quartals and So What Voicings Closely related to quartal structures is the classic So What voicing as used by Bill Evans on the original Miles Davis track. This voicings has stacked fourths but with a major 3rd interval on top. One advantage of this voicing is that it is a strong minor chord in root position, as well as a major 7th built from the 3rd, and a major 7#4 from the 7th. (Other, less common possibilities are a min 11th from the 4th, and an altered dominant from the #9). Fig 15

Also interesting to note is that the 4th inversion of a So What chord becomes in effect a quartal - the same voicing as highlighted in Fig 11. Fig 16

If we combine So What voicings with our two-handed quartal structures, we get some nice harmonic movement and voice-leading, as in the first four bars of All The Things You Are: Fig 17

The best use of two-handed quartal voicings are in conjunction with other voicings, such as So What chords and Upper Structures. While it is beyond the scope of this book to delve into all the possible uses of Upper Structures, one is recommended to read Jazz Piano Voicings for the Intermediate to Advanced Pianist (Brown, 2006) which details these techniques. However, as an example, here are some II-V-I combinations that are very useful. Using a major triad in the right hand, a minor 3rd below the root, as a 7b9 voicing:

Fig 18


Using a major triad, a major 3rd below the root, as a dom7(#5 #9) voicing, as well as a major triad a tritone away as a dom7(b9 #11) voicing (2nd & 3rd examples): Fig 19

Practice these around the cycle of fourths until they become comfortable. Finally, in the same way that normal minor 7th chords a tone apart, can be stacked to create a (full!) dorian chord, quartals can be similarly stacked to create an interesting min11 voicing. Fig 20

Returning to our quartal exercise on page 4 (Fig 3), a fun variation is shown in Fig 21, by using quartals a tone apart. Play the exercise simultaneously with two hands. Fig 21

12 Pentatonics Pentatonic scales and quartal chords go hand-in-hand after all, a pentatonic scale is just an extended stack of fourths (Fig 22). If five fourths are stacked up from C (or down from Ab), we have an Fmin or Abmaj pentatonic scale. Fig 22

Pentatonics are extremely useful in terms of creating space in solo construction, formulating patterns, as well as implying a particular harmonic direction. However, as will be seen, in conjunction with quartals, they can actually assist in creating harmonic ambiguity! They have such a strong sound, that they are often the improvisers first choice in outside playing, or superimposing another harmony on top of an existing one. Initially, one should become familiar with the scales in every key. Below is a useful pattern for practicing both in terms of familiarisation, as well as technique. These are major pentatonics in most cases this book will refer to them from a major construction, but occasionally the minor form is more relevant to the context. Fig 23

When practicing patterns, scales and chords through all keys, vary the routine to keep things interesting: Cycle of Fourths; up by min 3rds starting from C, F, G; up by maj 3rds starting from C, D, F, G; through both whole tone scales etc. Here are a few typical pentatonic exercises to experiment with. For a more thorough study of patterns associated with pentatonics, two recommended resources are: Inside Improvisation Series Vol 2 Pentatonics (Bergonzi, 1993), and Pentatonic Scales for Jazz Improvisation (Ricker, 1976). Fig 24

Practice this next exercise not just chromatically as pictured, but through other cycles such as min 3rds e.g. up C, down Eb, up F#, down A


Another favourite pattern is this one

Once you have the pentatonics under your fingers, the next step is to apply them to standard harmonic contexts. Taking our common chords, we can determine which pentatonics are suitable for each chord type. The table below lists the most useful ones. Chord Major Pentatonics Notes
The most common ones are built from the b3 or b7. Building from the 4 gives a slightly ambiguous dorian sound, also useful for a min6 or min-maj7 chord, while from the bVI is only applicable to Aeolian harmony Avoiding the fourth, we can only use a tonic pentatonic, although an altered pentatonic (1,2,3,5,b6) built from the 2 highlights a Lydian dominant harmony, as does a dominant pentatonic: 1,2,3,5,b7 built from 2 Again, avoiding the 4th, only pentatonics built from 1 and 5 are useable, while from 2 gives a nice Lydian sound. If we wish to avoid the b9, build a pentatonic (major or dominant) from the b6. This type of pentatonic is 1,b2,3,5,6 and works well over dominant diminished harmony, (and can also be built from the b3, b5 or 6 as everything repeats at the interval of a min 3rd in diminished harmony). Same b2 pentatonic as for dom7b9, but in this case, build it from the 2 (4,b6,7).



dominant 7, dom7#11 7sus4 maj7, maj7#4 min7b5 dom7 #5#9

I, [altered from II], dominant from I, II IV, bVII I, II, V bVI, dominant from bVI, [altered from bVII] bV, [altered from #V]


bII pentatonic from I


bII pentatonic from II

14 A word about the altered pentatonic this works extremely well with modes of the melodic minor. Basically, an altered pentatonic built from the 5th of the parent melodic minor will work over all the modes of that scale e.g. an altered pentatonic from G will work over Cm(maj7) or Cmin6, D7susb9, Ebmaj#5, F7#11, G7b13, Am7b5, B7alt. There is an easier way of playing this for pianists which is starting the scale from the 5th of the pentatonic i.e. 5, b6, 1, 2, 3: Fig 25

These patterns tend to fall under the fingers nicely when constructed from the 5th of the altered pentatonic as above. To memorise the patterns, it is probably easier to remember that they start on the 2nd of the parent melodic minor i.e. parent melodic minor of Dm7b5 is F, so G is the starting note; parent scale of G7alt is Ab melodic minor, so Bb is the starting note. Practice Fig 25 through all keys until comfortable. This next exercise demonstrates the altered pentatonic over a dominant 7#11 chord. Play this over the standard left-hand 13th voicings. Fig 26

The best way to learn the general pentatonic/chord relationship is to practice them over II-V-I progressions, as well as within tune contexts. Dont worry too much about practicing patterns the goal is to get the scales under the fingers and to become familiar with the sound. A good exercise is featured in the first line of fig 27 notice the pentatonics ascending by semitones over the sequence. Practice this in all keys and explore the sound of each pentatonic/chord relationship. Fig 27

The second line is just a minor II-V-I but is also a good pentatonic sequence to practice through the keys.


Here are the changes for the standard Stella By Starlight with the major pentatonics written above each chord (altered pentatonics are used on dominant chords where indicated). Of course these arent necessarily the best or only pentatonics that can be used in each case, but hopefully it will spur you to explore other standards and internalise the common scales. Fig 28

The pentatonic scale choices shown so far have been inside choices i.e. pentatonics that fit into a diatonic context. However, the pentatonic scale is such a strong sound that the use of wrong pentatonics as a means of playing outside the harmony is a common technique. This will be explored in greater detail soon, when quartal/pentatonic combinations are presented, but an understanding of the concept is important at this stage. One term for this could be superimposition, because we are superimposing unrelated scales onto a specific harmony. Another approach is that of treating the pentatonic as a note formula so we can examine the various tensions highlighted by starting the formula from various scale degrees. To illustrate: lets take a Cmin7 chord the inside pentatonics are built from the b3, 4, b7, and possibly b6. If we build pentatonics from every other chromatic note, we will have a selection of outside scales, the degree of sounding outside depending on the number and quality of wrong notes. e.g. C pentatonic over Cmin7 gives us only 1 wrong note E, but it is quite outside because it is the major 3rd. Db pentatonic gives us 1 wrong note Db, but this sound is less outside and is more of a phrygian sound. D pentatonic has 3 wrong notes E, F# and B, so is very outside due to both the maj 3rd and maj 7th. E pentatonic has 4-5 wrong notes (depending on whether G# or Ab is wrong), so is the most outside choice. Gb pentatonic has 2 wrong notes, but is a strong locrian sound. G pentatonic has only 2 wrong notes, but is quite outside again due to the presence of a maj 3rd and 7th.

16 A pentatonic has 4 wrong notes, and is very outside. B pentatonic has 3 wrong notes, also quite outside. The concept of whether a note is right or wrong is purely a technical one your choice of scale or pentatonic is totally subjective, and is determined by what your ears can handle, and most importantly, what degree of tension (and ultimately, release) you wish to highlight. In other words, dont be afraid to experiment. The success of playing outside is more often than not, dependent on the strength and conviction of the idea which is where pentatonics are extremely useful. Lets do the exercise with a maj 7th chord. Already we know that 1, 2 and 5 pentatonics are inside. Db pentatonic over Cmaj7 gives us 5 wrong notes (if F is counted as wrong), so is the most outside Eb pentatonic gives 3 wrong notes but is quite out due to b3 and b7. E pentatonic gives 2 wrong notes but is nearly a Lydian Augmented sound, so is not too out. F pentatonic gives only 1 wrong note, but as it highlights the natural 4, is reasonably out. Gb pentatonic gives 4 wrong notes, so is very out, as is Ab pentatonic. A pentatonic gives 1 wrong note and is only moderately out. Bb pentatonic gives 2 wrong notes but is more out than E pentatonic due to the b7. B pentatonic is quite outside with 3 wrong notes. Again, experiment with these. Hold down a chord with the left-hand and play the various pentatonics against it to see how the various tensions work. Finally the exercise could be done with a dominant 7th chord, but is less of an issue as virtually all of the wrong notes are available tensions. i.e. any pentatonic can work to a greater or lesser degree. The one pentatonic that should be obvious as being the most outside is the one built from the natural 7th degree e.g. B pentatonic over C7. In any case, once again experiment by playing the various pentatonics against the chord. It is interesting to note that in every case m7, maj7, dominant 7, the pentatonic built from the natural 7th will give a very outside sound. This is part of the success of the technique known as side-slipping i.e. playing a harmony a semitone above or below the chord. While one therefore could solo with that concept in mind, it is possibly an overly simplistic approach towards outside playing if you consistently played solos a semitone below every chord, youd probably be kicked off the bandstand! Use your ears as the best guide, and learn how to resolve outside playing successfully. Using quartal chords in conjunction with pentatonics will enable you to achieve much stronger ideas and direction when playing outside, and the side-slipping technique will be explored in greater detail within this framework.

Quartals and Pentatonics The first thing is to determine what pentatonics can be used in conjunction with a quartal voicing. At this stage, we will limit ourselves to perfect 4th quartal construction. If we take a pentatonic scale, it can be seen that there are already a few quartal chords contained within it. Fig 29


Thus, a quartal built from any of these roots could be associated with this pentatonic scale i.e. b3 (C voicing with Eb pent), b7 (F voicing with Eb pent) or b6 (G voicing with Eb pent). The b7, b3 and b6 pentatonics are common scales associated with a min7 chord (see chart on page 13), and a root position quartal is often used as a minor voicing. As will be seen, these particular pentatonics are the most common association, even if a minor chord is not being represented by the quartal. If we consider the other pentatonic used over a minor chord (built from the 4), we now have four different pentatonics (a fourth apart) that can be used in conjunction with a quartal voicing: 4, b7, b3, b6. We need to internalise these combinations Fig 30 shows quartals around the cycle of fourths with the various pentatonic scales above each in the order b3, b7, b6, 4. Practice just one pentatonic with the quartal around the cycle e.g b3. When this is comfortable, move on to another (b7) and so on. You can practice patterns, but dont get too hung up on this get familiar with the notes and sound. Endeavour to get some finger memory happening. Once you have a degree of comfort with these, try combining some pentatonics over one quartal moving from one into another while playing the left-hand voicing. Fig 30

A key factor to being able to combine playing the various pentatonics over one quartal is to understand the relationship between them. If we look at the first chord in Fig 30, the quartal is built from C, and the pentatonics associated with this are F, Bb, Eb and Ab in other words, just around the cycle of fourths. Because of this, each pentatonic is only one note different than the previous! (See Fig 31). We can now practice the movement between pentatonics as per this exercise in Fig 31, and can even extend the pentatonics to include Db & Gb the additional pentatonics included in the chart on the next page. Practice creating a smooth flow between pentatonics, using Fig 31 as a starting point.

18 Fig 31

So now how do we apply this to harmony? A 3-note quartal could represent a number of chords but which ones? And how do the pentatonics relate in each case? The following chart should help. The first column is a list of possible chords that a quartal from C could represent. The next columns are major pentatonics built from the indicated scale degrees of C, which could work with the quartal in that harmonic role. (Note the relationships of both pentatonics and quartals in groups of fourths).

Quartal chords and major pentatonics. Example in C quartal voicing C, F, Bb Pentatonics Harmony Gm11 Cmi7 Fm7 Bbm7 Ebm7 C7sus F7sus Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 E7alt A7alt D7alt Bbmaj7 Eb6/9 Ab6/9 Dbmaj7 Gbmaj7#4 Dm7b5 Cm7b5 Totals Root (C) 4 (F) Flat 7 (Bb) Flat 3 (Eb) () Flat 6 (Ab) () Flat 2 (Db) Flat 5 (Gb)



() 11

3 6 11

() 11

() 6

() 4


Notes: The bracketed ticks are use with care as they generally highlight the b6 in a minor key, or the b9 in a m7b5 chord not wrong, but potentially awkward. We have now included 3 more pentatonics: the root, b2 and b5. These generally provide our more typical (b3, b6, b7) pentatonics in relation to the indicated chord. Interestingly, if the quartal chord is extended to 7 notes C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, these are the 7 pentatonic scale roots. None of the other pentatonic scales are included, as these have notes that clash with the quartal voicing. A quartal voicing could represent at least one chord or harmony from almost any note of the chromatic scale! The only exception is B unless you are particularly fond of a Bmaj7#4,b9 chord Notice that the most common pentatonics are those built from the b3, b6 and b7 our initial choices based upon the quartals that exist within pentatonic scale. What this means in practice, is that these combinations provide the greatest degree of ambiguity in the harmony, as each combination could represent 11 different chords. It is this that creates the uncertainty in harmonic direction when they are used in an improvisation. You should have noticed that these combinations have a strong sound even in isolation which is a key to their usefulness in playing outside especially. The b2 and b5 pentatonics, while less applicable to a range of chords, are nonetheless extremely useful, as it is precisely for this reason that they can be used to more specifically create or highlight a harmony. i.e. less ambiguous than b3, b6 or b7. Take the cycle in Fig 30 once more, and practice the b2 and b5 pentatonics. Notice how the sound is a little darker and more tense. You may be thinking at this stage: With all this ambiguity in harmony, and the fact that one voicing could represent so many different chords, what is the point of learning all this? Couldnt I just play any quartal and any pentatonic, and it will sound ok? The answer is: Youre absolutely correct. To a degree, almost any combination will sound good, and really its all about experimenting and using your ears. However, understanding the harmony, and why these things work, is vital to being able to use them successfully in improvising. As mentioned before, improvising is often about the strength and conviction of ideas if youre not aware of the harmony or the harmonic direction you are trying to create, its not really going to sound very musical.

20 Heres Stella By Starlight again, but this time voiced with quartals. Play the indicated pentatonics over these voicings, and notice the frequency of certain scale/chord combinations: Fig 32

Note that only major pentatonics have been used, and no quartal has been inverted. In terms of analysis, we can determine the frequency of pentatonic types relative to the quartal voicing root. e.g in bar one, the quartal is built from E, and the pentatonic is C, therefore it can be referred to as a b6 pentatonic. So in Fig 32, the b6 pentatonic occurs 15 times; the b7 six times; the b3 six times; the 4 four times; and the b2 occurs three times. This just highlights the commonality of these combinations, and the main reason the b6 is used so much is because of it being a primary choice on minor II-V progressions. You will notice in playing through the exercise, that now there exists a high degree of harmonic ambiguity, and much of the form doesnt sound like the changes to Stella By Starlight at all. This highlights the importance of balance in the use of harmony in other words, you wouldnt solo exclusively with quartals and pentatonics. Contrast and colour are important considerations in any improvisation. In any case, this exercise is useful for accustoming the ear to the sounds, as well as developing a certain amount of finger memory. Try playing through a number of standards using just quartals and pentatonics.



This chapter has been an attempt to represent the commonality of certain pentatonic and quartal relationships, irrespective of the harmony. As a number of chords can be represented by one quartal, there is an obvious question: What are really the most useful voicings and pentatonics for a particular harmony? Listed below are some personal favourites, but dont get too hung up on correctness as quartal harmony lends itself to experimentation and exploration. This is why the chapter has mainly focused on formularising pentatonic/quartal relationships in order for you to create your own harmonic direction without constraints of the existing harmony. This is really the freedom, and fun, of quartals Chord Min7 Dom 7th Altered dom 7th Major 7 Quartal R, 4, b7 9, 5, R 11, b7, b3 9, 5, R 3, 13, 9 13, 9, 5 #5, b9, #11 #9, #5, b9 b7, #9, #5 9, 5, R 3, 6, 9 6, 9, 5 Major Pentatonic from: b7, 4, b3 R, (altered pentatonic from 2) b5, (altered pentatonic from #5) R, 2, 5

Chick Corea Mantova Jazz Festival 1999 Chick Corea & Gary Burton Photo Manuel Cristaldi

22 Quartal voicings and pentatonic exercises Here are a few exercises to help develop the pentatonic/quartal combinations, as well as providing musical patterns that are useful in solos. As with previous exercises, these should be practiced through all keys. This first exercise just takes the simple pentatonic pattern from Fig 23 and adds the left-hand quartal. While only the b3 is shown (Eb over C quartal), also practice the other pentatonics b6, b7, 4 and even b2 and b5. Fig 33

A good alternative is to use the ride voicing technique in the left-hand. This is a McCoy Tyner approach, used to state minor or suspended harmony more explicitly. The left hand starts with a root and 5th then proceeds to a root quartal, followed by one built from the 9th. You can play the exercise straight as in the first two bars of Fig 34, or anticipate the 3rd chord as in the second two bars, when playing more of a swing feel. Notice that the pentatonic in this instance is the minor version its a personal choice whether you think in terms of major or minor when using pentatonics, but with a pattern like this, the minor version seems more grounded with the harmony. Fig 34

The next exercise takes the same ride left hand and the right hand now plays the 4note pattern as above, but in a triplet feel, sometimes referred to in musical terms as a hemiola. This exercise is very musical and useful. Use the indicated fingering for all keys.

Fig 35


Continuing with the minor pentatonic, the next exercise is just one of many pentatonic patterns that can be practiced together with quartals. Experiment with a few of your own. Fig 36

The pentatonic in the following exercise could be outlined in either a minor or major fashion, depending on preference. This highlights the various quartals one particular scale could work with. Fig 37

Fig 38 demonstrates variations on a simple, but fun pattern that could be used in many situations. The combination could be progressed chromatically, or could ascend/descend by tones or min 3rds etc. This idea is very useful as a means of taking the harmony out, or targeting chords. Examples of these will be shown on the next few pages, but for now, take the following ideas and make up your own variations.

24 Fig 38

The right-hand pattern could start on the 2nd (or 5th) from the quartal root:1

1This right-hand line is a good chord voicing as well, and works as a dominant chord over a 3rd and 7th in the left hand (Fig 39). Build it from the 6th or 9th for a 13th voicing, or from the #9 for an altered voicing. Sometimes called a 4+2 voicing as it consists of a 4th, major 2nd and another 4th. Fig 39


This next exercise is a particular favourite, and sounds great almost wherever its used even though the right hand is really outlining only minor 7th chords. Be careful of overuse though, as it is based around a whole tone sequence, and so has a very distinctive sound. Vary the right hand arpeggios between triads and 4-note chords, as well as ascending/descending patterns. Fig 40

Practice with the other whole tone scale as well. This is also an ideal pattern for developing into a polyrhythm across four bars. The following example is really just a 5-note sequence of quavers superimposed over common time: Fig 41

This could be used over the last four bars of a blues in F, for example. Notice how the following pattern now uses the right-hand minor 7th arpeggio a tone above the quartal root. Experiment with different combinations. Fig 42

26 Right hand quartal patterns The pattern in Fig 38 demonstrates how quartals, or patterns derived from 4ths can be used as a solo idea as well as a chordal outline. Reverse the concept of the chart on page 21 try practicing standard left-hand voicings for each of the chord types, and arpeggiate the quartal in the right hand, initially using the Fig 2 pattern. Heres the chart again without the pentatonics. Chord Min7 Dom 7th Altered dom 7th Major 7 Quartal R, 4, b7 9, 5, R 11, b7, b3 9, 5, R 3, 13, 9 13, 9, 5 #5, b9, #11 #9, #5, b9 b7, #9, #5 9, 5, R 3, 6, 9 6, 9, 5

For example, play a Cm7 chord with the left hand, and arpeggiate quartals in the right, based from the C, D and F (Root, 9th, 11th). Do the same with the other chord types listed and develop control and dexterity with the right hand. This arpeggiated quartal is useful for spanning the keyboard quickly and highlighting notes or harmony e.g. arpeggiating a quartal built from the b7 over a dominant altered chord, in order to highlight the #5 (top note of the quartal). A couple of II-V-I patterns: Fig 43

A nice minor 3rd pattern which can be used over an altered dominant: Fig 44

Further patterns in 4ths can be explored in the book Technique Development in Fourths for Jazz Improvisation (Ricker, 1983).



Side-slipping, or playing a semitone above or below the harmony, is a common jazz technique to create tension and colour, and is easy to achieve with quartals and pentatonics. There are three pianistic approaches to this: 1. Maintain the left hand harmony while side-slipping with the right 2. Maintain the right hand pattern or phrase while side-slipping with the left hand chord 3. Side-slip equally with both hands These techniques need not be purely limited to semitones, either, as greater tension can be obtained by taking the ideas further out. The first two techniques are illustrated in Fig 45. In the first example, start off by using a specific pentatonic pattern, such as the one given, and then explore the movement between the pentatonics yourself. You may even try pentatonic patterns such as the ones given in Figures 36-38. In the second example, randomise the quartals used and their rhythmic placement. Dont be afraid to go out further than a semitone as well. The exercises should be starting points only, and not practiced rigidly experimentation is the key to getting a handle on all this. Fig 45

A couple of phrases that use side-slipping are shown below. Fig 46

28 Targeting The application of Fig 42 is an example of targeting, that is, using a sequence or pattern to get from one chord section to another, irrespective of the original harmony. In this case, the original II-V-I sequence of the last four bars of a blues is substituted with a two-handed rhythmic, whole tone sequence. The blues are an ideal form for this, and quartals/pentatonics are well-suited to create a strong harmonic sequence. Targeting need not use obvious patterns, and often the unpredictability of a sequence is preferable. Figs 47 and 48 are example improvisations on a blues in F. Play these through and notice where the harmony departs from the standard blues. In Fig 47 a brief departure occurs in bar 4 before arriving at the Bb7 chord in bar 5. More extreme departure is evident from bars 8 through 12, which would normally be the standard turnaround section in a blues. The improvisation works because the progression resolves back to F7. As the form is so strong and identifiable, we can also get away with 5 bars of a different harmonic journey. We can create that journey with a recognisable sequence such as wholetone or chromatic movement, but care does need to be taken as that can easily become predictable or clich. The following pages will present some exercises to strengthen the ideas involved with targeting in this manner. Fig 47

Fig 48 is a similar improvisation, with slightly more outside movement before the Bb7 of bar 5, and a combination of random quartal movement in bars 8-10 juxtaposed with a chromatic descending quartal idea in bars 10-12. Note the contrapuntal melodic idea over this.

Fig 48


Exercises 1. Developing targeting ideas on a blues. Some targeting movements are shown in Fig 49, with a chromatic quartal movement in bar 3, and one by minor 3rds in bars 9-12. Initially, just arpeggiate the 1st four notes of each pentatonic over these quartals, starting with the b3 pentatonic (as indicated). Then do the same with the b6 and b7. Practice patterns such as Fig 37 and 38, but also randomise the pentatonic notes. Develop a smooth flow through the chords. Fig 49

30 2. Do the same exercise but this time randomise the quartal movements. An example progression is shown in Fig 50. Dont try to be predictable in the movement, as this is just an exercise to improve confidence with the quartal/pentatonic combinations. Fig 50

3. A minor blues example. Vary the rate and rhythm of the quartal changes as well. Fig 51

4. II-V Contexts. A good way to initially develop the use of quartals and pentatonics within II-V harmonic structures, is to take some of the left-hand voicings from Fig 7, page 6, and apply them with the various pentatonic scales available. For example, lets just take the middle line of Fig 7 (as these are chromatic ideas and easy to remember), and apply them to the tune Ladybird. Heres the section from Fig 7:

And here are some of them applied to Ladybird along with other left hand voicings. Fig 52


Notice how the use of some of these quartals creates a new harmonic direction, with some interesting tensions. Only the b3, b7 and b6 pentatonics are listed, but immediately areas of tension are evident, such as major pentatonics on a min7! However, when played through, the combinations do work in much the same way as the targeting ideas do in the previous examples. Because the available choices of pentatonics can vary from the written harmony depending on the quartal used, this is one easy way to create an outside sound. Take the left-hand shapes you like from Fig 7, and memorise their formation. The ones shown above are easy to form as the chromatic ascending chords are built from the root or 5th of the minor II chord, while the descending chords are built from the 9th or 6th. Play through standards that have a lot of II-V movement such as Like Someone In Love, Out Of Nowhere, All The Things You Are and consciously use these left-hand quartals. Dont use them on every II-V, but look for interesting directions in the harmony. Improvise with the common pentatonics in the right hand and vary which ones are used. As these particular II-V voicings are chromatic, the tendency is to stick with the same chromatic movement in the right hand pentatonic, which could become predictable if overused. One of the key approaches to successfully implementing all these ideas, is to simply practice the quartal/pentatonic combinations - as per Fig 30, 31 etc. Practice the b3, b7 and b6 pentatonics initially, and then incorporate the b2 and b5 ones. Once you get really familiar with quartals and pentatonics, youll find that they become an essential part of your toolbox as a jazz pianist. 5. Extended Targeting. This just means creating longer sections of improvised form within a tune. Take a tune and strip it down to its basic tonal outline so for a blues, the structure could be defined as follows: || I7 | | | | IV7 | | I7 | | V7 | | I7 | ||

32 The 1st four bars are an obvious place to create new harmony, and this has often been achieved in jazz composition. A classic example is the extended diatonic sequence of the Charlie Parker tune Blues For Alice, as a way of targeting the Bb7: || Fma7 | Em7b5 A7 | Dm7 G7 | Cm7 F7 | Bb7. The form could be opened up even more, if the last four bars of a jazz blues are viewed as a turnaround which could be replaced by any turnaround sequence. This is demonstrated in Figs 47 and 48. Try it. Take a blues and gradually open up the form, until you are improvising nearly the entire changes with different quartals and pentatonics. Let your ears decide how much works, and constantly keep an idea of the original form in your head. This will help with dictating the quartal movement and direction. Jazz standards are also good for this, as they are often 32-bar AABA type forms, and so the entire A section could be seen as a way to target the B section. At this extreme level, both on an entire blues as well as a section, using purely quartals and pentatonics can sound contrived and lose the impact of this harmonic approach. Combining various chordal and scalar techniques works better. In any case, freeing up the harmony in this way can be liberating Rhythm Changes are an excellent starting point. Fig 53

Reduce the A section harmony to just Bb at bar 1, Eb at bar 5, and end on Bb. Treat the B section as starting on D and ending on F, and create your own journey in between. Vary the form between a set direction (wholetone, min 3rds, chromatic etc), and random. Reduce things further by just starting on Bb, target the D for the B section, back to Bb in the last A. Dont just limit yourself to quartals and pentatonics either, as mentioned. Let the mood and momentum determine the path! 6. Modal. This is the most common style in which quartals and pentatonics are used, probably because the harmonic approach was first evident in jazz at the time Modal jazz became popular.

Take a tune such as So What / Impressions, Milestones and create varied quartal movement within each section. Try using the Ride left-hand technique (Fig 34 page 22), using the root and 5th of each minor chord but vary the subsequent quartals as the example in Fig 54 demonstrates. Fig 54


Another approach is to keep the left-hand reasonably static, but vary the righthand pentatonics over the top. Experiment with inside and outside pentatonics as discussed on pages 15 & 16, as well as altered pentatonics. Dont just rest with Western pentatonics either. While exotic scales are beyond the scope of this resource, they are worth investigating, especially pentatonics such as the: Insen 1,b2,4,5,b7 - this scale is nearly identical to the altered pentatonic in the inversion 5,b6,1,2,3 (Fig 25, pg 14), and can also be used on any melodic minor mode. Start the scale from the II of the parent melodic minor. Heres the same exercise as in Fig 25, but using the Insen scale: Fig 55

Iwato (4th mode of Kumoi) 1,b2,4,b5,b7 useful for a Dorian sound when constructed from the 6th of the chord, or a Lydian sound when built from the #4. Hirajoshi (3rd mode of Kumoi) 1,2,b3,5,b6 a dark, Aeolian sound when built from the root; a Dorian sound when built from the 5th of the chord; and a Lydian outline when built from the major 3rd. Chinese 1,3,#4,5,7 good for a Lydian outline from the root, and an interesting Dorian sound built from the minor 3rd of the chord. As always, let the music and the moment be your guide. Remember too, the use of tension and release

34 Analysis Excerpt from Matrix by Chick Corea, from Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Corea, 1968). Transcription from Pentatonic Scales For Jazz Improvisation (Ricker, Pentatonic Scales for Jazz Improvisation, 1976).

35 Note the use of the root quartal for the F7sus (bars 2, 4), and the augmented quartal for the Bb7 (bar 5). Bars 6 & 7 demonstrate a IV pentatonic (D) over the A quartal. Descending targeting sequence to F7sus (bars 9,10). Bb triad and F pentatonic combined over F7sus quartal (bars 12,13) Standard quartals built from 3rd and 9th for E major chord (bars 15,16), with a simple V (B) pentatonic descending pattern. Bars 19 & 20 demonstrate side-slipping from an Ami7 quartal to Abmi7, with corresponding bVII pentatonic phrase (G to Gb), which resolves to F over the Gmi7 harmony.

Excerpt from Passion Dance by McCoy Tyner from The Real McCoy (Tyner, 1967). Transcription from Jazz Improvisation - McCoy Tyner (Unknown).

36 Note the use of the trademark ride approach (root & 5th followed by quartal) in bars 1-12. Notice also the bottom note of the F quartal is left out, possibly to lighten the sound. The right hand outlines Eb and F pentatonics over the F7sus harmony. Bars 13-16 demonstrate Tyners ability to take the harmony quite outside using quartals, although only the first 3 notes of each scale (or pentatonic) are used as a triplet pattern with the right hand. The quartal harmony ascends chromatically at first, and then moves by a combination of whole steps and semitones. The right hand moves through pentatonics: D, Db, Bb, B, A, Ab and then chromatically down to G in bar 16. A high degree of tension is achieved in bars 15 and 16 due to the pentatonic scales being predominately b2 in relation to the quartal (B over Bb quartal; A over G#; Ab over G). The harmony reverts abruptly back to the F7sus idea at bar 17 (not shown), suddenly releasing the tension built up in bars 13 through 16. A thorough study of McCoy Tyners playing technique is essential to really understand quartals and pentatonics.

Conclusion This book has been an attempt to provide a conceptual approach to utilising quartals and pentatonics, by isolating the common combinations, and applying exercises to internalise them. In addition, it is hoped that some of the patterns and exercises will find their way in some form into your playing. As always, dont attempt just to regurgitate the specific examples discover your own approaches and licks which work for you, and thus become part of your voice. Be open to your right hand lines dictating your left hand chords, instead of your left hand harmony leading your right. The combination practice techniques described will strengthen that approach to improvisation. Listen to the players that utilise this style (such as Corea, Tyner and even Larry Young from an organ perspective) and transcribe their solos. Listen for these techniques in other players, as most jazz pianists use at least some element of quartal and pentatonic ideas in their playing. Above all, as was mentioned at the beginning of this book, always use these concepts alongside more standard tertian harmony and modes. You should aim to move between harmonic approaches seamlessly and easily. Avoid the trap of always falling back on quartal ideas as a way to extend the harmony and playing out. Explore and understand the many different ways of moving through, and extending, harmony and enjoy the journey!


Books: Bergonzi, J. (1993). Inside Improvisation Vol. 2 - Pentatonics. Advance Music. Brown, A. (2006). Jazz Voicings For The Intermediate to Advanced Pianist. Auckland: Blue Train Ltd. Levine, M. (1989). The Jazz Piano Book. Sher Music Co. Mantooth, F. (1997). Voicings For Jazz Keyboard. Hal Leonard Corporation. Ricker, R. (1976). Pentatonic Scales for Jazz Improvisation. CPP/Belwin. Ricker, R. (1983). Technique Development in Fourths for Jazz Improvisation. Alfred Publishing. Unknown. Jazz Improvisation - McCoy Tyner. Rittor Music. Articles: Rinzler, P. (1999). The Quartal and Pentatonic Harmony of McCoy Tyner. Annual Review of Jazz Studies. LaVerne, A. (1997, May). Mastering Quartal Harmony and Voicings. Keyboard , pp. 61-78. Lyon, J. (2007). Jazz Books and Articles. Retrieved August 17, 2009 from Recordings: Corea, C. (Composer). (1968). Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. [CD]. Blue Note. Tyner, M. (Composer). (1967). The Real McCoy. [CD]. Blue Note. DVD: Mylette, W. (2008). Quartals and Pentatonics.