Chord Theory

Fourth Chords

February 8, 2009

Most chords you learn are constructed by stacking third intervals but as well as standard chords created by stacking thirds, you can also create chords by stacking fourth intervals. Fourth chords were first made popular in jazz by pianist McCoy Tyner, and in particular on the Miles Davis album So What.

Fourth chords are sometimes referred to as quartal voicings and are very common in modal jazz music. In this lesson, I will show you how to build chords using fourths and how you can use these interesting fourth chords in your own playing. Fourth chords are well suited to modal jazz music or in situations where you want to create a modern and open chord sound.

Building fourth chords

Lets take a look at how we create a quartal voicing by taking a look at the D Dorian scale. The notes of the D Dorian scale are:


A normal minor seven chord could be created by stacking third intervals like this:


To create a fourth chord we stack fourth intervals giving us the following chord voicing:


You can carry on stacking fourth notes up the Dorian scale to create more chords based on fourths. If you listen to the sound of this fourth voicing, you will hear that quartal voicings have a very modern and open sound to them.

The example below shows the introduction to the Miles Davis classic So What. Notice the use of the fourth chord in this example. This particular fourth voicing is often referred to as the So What chord.

Fourth chords tend to be fairly ambiguous harmonically and could function as a variety of chords in different situations. It is best not to worry about the chord names too much when dealing with quartal harmony and think more in terms of using them to add a particular colour to your music.

You should definitely experiment with some quartal fourth voicings in your music.

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