Exploring the Quartal harmony

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Quartal Harmony
A) Quartal Harmony Stacked from C
B) Quartal Harmony Stacked from G

What is a quartal harmony?

Quartal harmony involves building chords by stacking 4th intervals. This approach differs from the “tertian” harmony (building chords in 3rds) that is typical of traditional Western music. Quartal harmony tends to sound modern, often sidestepping the emotional connotations carried by major and minor chords.

In addition, the notes of a quartal harmony sometimes correlate with “sus chords.” For instance, the quartal harmony [C-F-B♭-E♭] can be inverted and rearranged to spell an F7sus4 chord (F-B♭-C-E♭). They can also be rearranged to form Cm7add4 (C-E♭-F-B♭).

Tips) In a majority of Western music, the 3rd of a chord is often highly emotive. It determines whether a chord is major or minor. However, in the absence of a 3rd, quartal chords deliver a rather neutral emotion. They often create more ambiguous or modern-sounding sequences. Claude Debussy, Charles Ives, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alexander Scriabin are just some of the composers from the 20th and 21st centuries who use quartal harmony. In jazz, Mccoy Tyner was most well known for his frequent use of quartal voicing.

Below, you’ll find a short retro game results theme music we wrote using quartal harmony. To access the full score, text analysis, and audio track for this example, please refer to the provided link.

Retro Arcade ‘In-game’ Results Music Example

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This is an excerpt lesson taken from Behind the Score. Full video lessons, PDF scores, and MP3 audio files on this topic can be found here:  Practical Application of Genre & Styles