Está en la página 1de 6

Tertian-based Three Note Voicings for Comping and Soloing

by Dr. Jeffrey L. George


In studying some great material on three-note chord voicings for piano by jazz pianist and
educator, Rick Helzer, I came up with a method by which I could best apply his method to the
guitar. The voicings in question are derived from our traditional closed-voiced triads and are
easily created by moving one or two notes of a given triad. The information presented here
assumes that the player is already familiar with triads and their inversions. Major, minor and
dominant families are covered as well as, quartal chords and harmonically incomplete voicings.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to show the applications for each inversion in every
position enough information will be presented to allow the player to apply the concept to all
permutations. Well begin with a ii-V-I progression in Bb [C-7, F7, Bbmaj7].
Tertian voicings: major9, minor9, dominant9
The basic concept for constructing these chords is simple. For each triad regardless of quality
you first raise the root a whole step higher to the 9th. Then raise the 5th to either the 7th or b7th
depending on the chord quality. The following example shows the process for each of the chords
on the top three strings.

The choice of triad inversion makes a difference in the resulting voice leading for the ninth
chords Experimentation is the rule here. What may be good voicing leading for the basic triad
may not be as convincing for the three note 9th chord. An alternate possibility is shown below
for the V7 chord in a ii-V-I. This alternative allows for a smoother linear connection from chord
to chord i.e. voicing leading.

The basic three harmonic families are represented below including their inversions on each
group of three strings. Only one position of inversions is demonstrated. One should work through
all positions available for each of the triads. The voicings occurring on the lowest set of three
strings can be a bit muddy, but in higher positions will be more agreeable. Try comparing a ii-VI progression on each string set. The brackets link the triad to the 9th chord

A suggested approach for mastering the inversions of a single voicing type is to play around the
cycle of fourths such as in the example below using dominant 9th chords. The next example
below shows the basic major triads with the inversion chosen to produce nice voice leading for
the outcome. The second example shows the 9th chords.

A short example below excerpted from the opening A section of All The Things You Are.
Because the melody is always the third of the chord this sort of approach lends itself nicely for
this tune.

Quartal Harmony
The next examples show possible quartal harmony voicings (stacked fourths in their various
inversions). Here we are concerned with common vertical sonorities. There is a great deal more
that can be done with quartal harmony. We begin with major and minor chords. Dominant
quality chords will be covered in context.
Major
The major quartal harmony chords are shown in relation to the root position C major triad. The
formulas for creating each of the three note chords shown below are:
C6/9 - lower the root a minor third and lower the 3rd a whole step
Cmaj7#11 - lower both the root and the 5th one half step
Cmaj9/13 raise both the root and the 5th one whole step
Cmaj7 (13) lower the root one half step and raise the 5th one whole step

Minor
The minor quartal harmony chords are shown in comparison with a root position D minor triad.
The formulas for creating each of three note chords are:
Dmin7/11 - lower the root a minor 3rd and lower the third a whole step
Dmin6/9 - lower both the root and the fifth one half step
Dmin7(13) lower the root one whole step and raise the 5th one whole step

The Dmin6/9 chord can also function as its relative V7 chord as well as the dominant chords bV7
substitution. The example below shows the inversions of the three note chord with potential root notes.
All three chords are quartal structures.

Over a common ii-V-I progression it is possible to use the min7/11 quality for the minor chord
and simply descend modally (with each note of the fist chord descending through the scale) for
two more chords to realize this progression.

With this application the dominant chord is also be a quartal structure. Three examples are show
below in the key of C maj with each inversion played on the top three strings.

Another way at arriving a quartal harmony dominant 7th chord within the context of a ii-V
progression is to lower the b7 of the minor9 chord one half step thus becoming the 3rd of the
dominant 7th chord:

Harmonically Incomplete Voicings


By raising the root of the A minor triad shown below we arrive at a structure that can be also
used for the related dominant 7th chord (ii-V) (although it is incomplete as the chord is missing
the 3rd) as well as the dominant chords bV substitution.

Another minor voicing is shown below which can also substitute as an incomplete V7 chord. It is
constructed by lowering the 5th one whole step to the 4th (11th) and raising the root one whole
step to the 9th. Unfortunately, in many cases the structure only lends itself for use when open
strings are used to fulfill the voicing. An example with an A minor triad is show below.

In Closing
This manner of developing new harmonic structures has the advance of putting the guitarist more
in the place of a pianist by the introduction of sparse but rich voicings into ones harmonic
repertoire. Also this type of approach gives the guitarist a renewed perspective on the process of
creating these chords from the most fundamental of elements: the triad. I hope this gives you
plenty of food for future harmonic thought. Much success to you!
For those that are interested, the following is a more expansive list of chords by their quality and
the processes whereby one can arrive at various extended or altered (for dominant) three note
voicings. The list is not comprehensive as this is a big subject.
Major triad
Maj add9: raise the root a whole step to the 9th
Maj 6/9: raise the root a whole step to the 9th; raise the 5th a whole step to the 6th
Maj 9: raise the root a whole step to the 9th; raise the 5th a major third to the 7th
Maj7 add#11: lower both the root and the 5th one half step
Maj7(13): lower the root one half step to the 7th; raise the 5th a whole step to the 6th
Maj 7b5 (#4 or #11): lower the root one half step to the 7th; lower the 5th to the b5th
Maj13#11: raise the entire major triad one whole step
Minor triad
Min add 9: raise the root a whole step to the 9th
Min 6/9: raise the root a whole step to the 9th and raise the 5th a whole step to the 6th
Min 9: raise the root a whole step to the 9th and raise the 5th a minor third to the b7th
Min Maj 9: raise the root a whole step to the 9th and the 5th a major third to the 7th
Min 7 add 11: lower both the root and the 5th a whole step
Min 7 add6 (13): lower the root to the b7th and raise the 5th a whole step to the 6th
Min 13 : lower the root to the b7; lower the b3rd to the 9th; raise the 5th to the 6th
Min 13 add11: raise the entire minor triad one whole step
Dominant (from major triad)
Dom 9: raise the root a whole step to the 9th and the 5th a minor third to the b7th
Dom 9sus4: the entire major triad is lowered one whole step
Dom 7b9: raise the 5th a minor third to the b7th; raise the root one half step to the b9th
Dom7/6: lower the root a whole step to the b7th; raise the 5th a whole step to the 6th
Dom7b5: lower the root to the b7; lower the 5th a half step to the b5
Dom7#5: lower the root to the b7; raise the 5th a half step to the #5
Dom9#11: (raise the entire major triad a whole step and raise the 5th a half step (augmented)