Context: I'm a guitarist teaching myself music theory and am experimenting with quartal harmonization to achieve the open sound that I desire. I also like the intervalic pattern of the double harmonic major scale, so I figured I could combine the two and achieve an outside type of sound, but I'm not exactly sure how to go about implementing this. Any suggestions?

The E double harmonic major scale contains these notes: E F G# A B C D#

Quartal harmonization of this scale renders these note sequence:

  1. E A D# G# (Emaj11)
  2. F B E A (Fmaj7b5)
  3. G# C F B (G#6addm3)
  4. A D# G# C (Cm6#5)
  5. B E A D# (B11)
  6. C F B E (Cmaj11)
  7. D# G# C F (G#6)

(The parenthetical names are the results attained by entering these sequences into an online chord-identification engine.)

So, can I go about writing music with this as if it were a C major scale harmonized in thirds, playing ii V I, or ii VI IV I, or what have you?

How might I use these quartal voicings as substitutions for derivative scale-chords harmonized in thirds?

  • 2
    Interesting concept. The issue is that harmonic identity of some of these chords is not so well defined (so one could discuss about chord symbols you chose, or depending on context interpret them differently). In particular, I would call chord 2. Fmaj7#4 (not only because B is #4 of F, but primarily because how it sounds) Mar 4, 2021 at 18:36
  • Perhaps oddly, I tend to prefer quartal chords constructed entirely of perfect 4ths (not augmented/diminished) between closest notes, regardless of which scale I base these chords' roots on.
    – Dekkadeci
    Mar 5, 2021 at 13:20
  • @Dekkadeci Is that to say that you would have, had you harmonized this scale, forced into the harmonization of this scale extra-scalar notes by flattening any occurring augmented fourth intervals, such that, for instance, my 1-chord would be E A D G#?
    – grugintel
    Mar 5, 2021 at 18:46
  • 1
    I mean: to me F-A-B-E screams "lydian". It's actually relatively common voicing on guitar (xx3200). I think in the past such chords were interpreted as b5, but at some point people figured out it's rather #11. Of course that's subjective and may depend on context. Mar 5, 2021 at 18:57
  • 1
    @grugintel - Yes, I would have. Or, rather, I'd have used E-A-D-G. Perhaps this is my influence from video game music creeping in, which often similarly uses perfect 4ths instead of augmented 4ths regardless of how well they fit the scale.
    – Dekkadeci
    Mar 6, 2021 at 16:16

2 Answers 2


@jdjazz has given a better answer than I could, but I thought I'd add a few thoughts I had with this great question.

I was first occupied with getting away from the chord naming's from the auto program and instead focused on expressing each degree of the scale as a quartal 1, 4, 7, 3 (13, 9, 5) chord, with alterations. Which would end up giving all the modes of the scale in the extended quartal chord form. I deleted the text file I had for that but let me know if you'd like to see it as it would be easy to do again!

As the scale has both elements of high symmetry and also large gaps that impede symmetry it ends up with a curious combination of quartal chords and I loved the sound (on guitar, for me, but bass is my main instrument so I'm not so quick at seeing equivalent chords I may be oultlining on guitar).

For useage, I was thinking along the same lines as jdjazz. I was recently approached by a student who wanted to have an easy way of knowing what chord every common triad over every common bass note created, and we surmised it was too large a pool to really find a coherant method with which to work, but I encouraged him to just play a bass note (easy if you choose to make that an open string on guitar, initially), and then play a given triad off of different roots on top, until something stood out as interesting sounding. Then we worked out what the intervals for said chord were, worked out where they may be used as a substitute in diatonic harmony and used it to increase voicing vocabulary in a quite inventive and free way. This struck me as similar to how you may use double harmonic major chords, play, pause, evaluate and incorporate. In this case you are just looking at how that chord may relate to something in a more standard diatonic progression and use it as new sound you may be able to use. This may be more useful to a guitar player, where sometimes new voicings are harder to 'see', because of the fretboard limiting note choice, whilst also providing duplicates of certain notes that allow voicings of certain chords to appear in sometimes unfamiliar positions.

I wouldn't worry too much about taking common ii V I progressions etc. and applying them to double harmonic major, those progressions are important in diatonic use-age because of the diatonic major scale's construction, reconstruct them with a very different scale and they are unlikely to make as much sense as they do in major. But it's worth trying them to see what you get.

If composing, rather than finding ways to apply over existing diatonic harmony, you could also make use of some of the great sounds the scale gives, treating it as a parent key similar to how we do major or minor, but in that case the relationships within are very very different to diatonic and will lead you in new ways. So I would say work with finding the interesting relationships in the scale itself, such as the base quartal chord of the 1st and 6th degrees being the same, and using that as a jumping off point for composition in some section of a piece, with the option of then blurring it back into some kind of diatonic progression via how those chords could be interpreted against a major scale if desired..


This is a very cool and innovative approach. Jazz pianist Phil DeGreg once described how he experiments with different possible voicings until he comes across upon something that catches his ear. Then he moves it through all 12 keys (an important step) and begins exploring how it might function.

Exploring potential functions is a process of trial and error. Something important to remember is that these could be rootless voicings. There are a few ways to go about it:

  • Go through each note in the voicing and move it up or down a half step/whole step. This can cause known voicings/chords to emerge. Maybe your new chord is a modification/alteration of a known chord.
  • Move the chord through all 12 keys. This is helpful, because the game here is pattern recognition. You might recognize a rootless altered dominant voicing when it's in E (e.g., C7b13#9) but not in Bb.
  • Play the voicing, and add a random note in the bass. Repeat, cycling through different potential bass notes as the root. If you find something you like, figure out what the chord is, what extensions are included, etc.

For the chords you outlined above, here are some possible uses. A few are actually pretty common voicings. Many options emerge when we open the door to rootless voicings.

  • E A D# G# - could be used over EMaj11, B7, C#min, F#min13, AMaj7(#11)
  • F B E A - could be used over FMaj7b5, G13, B half diminished, C#7alt
  • G# C F B - E7alt and potentially G#7 (as a G#7alt sound)
  • A D# G# C - this is a really common voicing for both F7#9 and B7(13 b9)
  • B E A D# - spot on with B11 (Brad Mehldau is great at voicing dominant 7th chords with the 11th without making it a sus chord). This is a dominant 7th version of the first chord. It could also be used with EΔ11 (especially if you add the G# the second time you strike the chord) or EΔ7sus4, F#min13 (especially if you add the F# in the bottom--then it's a classic quartal voicing for a minor chord)
  • C F B E - this is the same voicing as the 1st, but down a major third
  • D# G# C F - this is a beautiful voicing for C#Maj, also works over G#Maj6, Fmin, Bb7sus, sounds great over F#Maj7(#11). If you add an A below the D#, then it's becomes a pretty sick voicing for B7alt or F7alt.
  • Thank you for your response. I must admit that I can't quite grasp all of what you explain, but I do understand certain concepts. Could you please elaborate on how it is that you went about determining over which chords those chords I derived from the scale can be used? If not elaboration then identification of the concepts involved, so I could research them, would suffice.
    – grugintel
    Mar 5, 2021 at 18:59
  • 1
    I played the first chord (E A D# G#) and added an extra E in the bass. Then I tried it again with an A in the bass, then F#, C#, B, etc. The ordering was roughly based on my prior knowledge and intuitions/suspicions about which roots may work. Ultimately, though, you can just try all 12 keys. When testing a given root, I used a mixture of these techniques: (1) Pattern recognition (is this a chord I already know? Many were, thanks to background knowledge/prior experience), (2) Do I like how this sounds? (3) If I wrote down a chord symbol, would it make sense? Does it have practical application?
    – jdjazz
    Mar 5, 2021 at 20:01
  • Great answer, I was putting one together but was thinking while doing so it would really be better from a harmony instrument player who uses this sort of thing practically rather than theoretically! Great insights into real world useage.
    – OwenM
    Mar 5, 2021 at 22:19

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