Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Chords
  • Exercises
  • Improvisation
Music Style
  • Jazz Ballads
  • Jazz Swing
  • Smooth Jazz
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Would you like to add some modern jazz piano soloing techniques to your sound? In today’s lesson, you’ll learn to improvise hip, contemporary jazz piano lines like McCoy Tyner, Jacob Collier, and Jon Batiste. Specifically, you’ll discover the secret of using quartal shapes to unlock a professional, modern piano sound. In fact, this simple melodic tool will give you a whole new perspective on jazz improvisation that sounds great! You’ll learn:

  • 2 Quartal Shapes
  • 2 Modern Left Hand Voicings
  • 4 Quartal Connectors
  • 2 Quartal Exercises

You’ll be surprised how soloing with these simple piano shapes can instantly give you a modern jazz sound.

Let’s take a closer look.

Intro to Quartal Shapes for Modern Jazz Piano Soloing

The focal point of today’s modern jazz piano soloing lesson is quartal shapes. This technique describes an approach to harmony and melody using 4th intervals. Since the foundation of traditional harmony uses 3rds, the distinct sound of quartal shapes is immediately recognizable. The example below shows two quartal shapes. Notice that each shape is a stack of perfect 4ths. Some players describe this as a “fourthy” sound.

Quartal Shapes for Modern Jazz Piano Soloing McCoy Tyner Chick Corea
Examples of quartal shapes used for soloing or accompaniment to get a modern jazz piano sound.

One of the unique qualities of the quartal sound is that it is harmonically ambiguous. Consider, for example, the quartal stack for shape 1 above. This stack can be used in a variety of harmonic contexts (see table below). In many cases, the 3-note voicing works well as is. However, in other settings, the shape 1 voicing requires the support of a root or chord shell in the left hand. This is particularly true toward the bottom of the table when the notes of shape 1 serve as chord alterations.

Quartal Shape 1 Harmonic Ambiguity Table Jazz Piano Voicings

For the purposes of today’s lesson, we’ll be looking at quartal shapes primarily from a melodic perspective for soloing. However, our accompaniment will also feature a quartal sound.

Jazz Piano Soloing with Modern Quartal Shapes

We’ll be using quartal shapes 1 and 2 from the previous section to improvise over an F major chord. However, the prominent 4th (B♭) and♭7 (E♭) in these shapes implies an F7(sus4) sound.  The parent scale is F Mixolydian.

F Mixolydian Mode Jazz Piano Improv
F Mixolydian

The Mixolydian sound is comparable to a major scale with a lowered 7th tone. The ♭7 gives this scale a bluesy character. In fact, for a deep dive on this topic, check out our full-length courses on How to Improvise a Solo with the Mixolydian Scale (Level 2, Level 3).

Step 1: Quartal Blocking for Jazz Piano Soloing

The first step to improving with quartal shapes on piano is to block each shape with your right hand. For example, using the fingering 1-2-4, play each shape up and down the keyboard. Keeping the 5th finger free will allow us to connect these shapes later on when soloing.

Quartal Blocking modern jazz piano soloing
Blocking 4ths familiarizes the right hand with the quartal shapes needed for soloing with a modern jazz piano sound.

Step 2: Left Hand Modern Jazz Piano Accompaniment

Now let’s get our left hand ready to accompany our solo. First, try the F(sus2) voicing below in your left hand. This sus2 sound goes well with the sus4 sound of our right hand quartal shapes. In addition, the F(sus2) is easy to play if you are a beginner. Next, if you are an on the intermediate level, you can try an F6/9 quartal shape instead for a hip, modern sound. Note that we setup this F6/9 voicing by preceding it with on open 5th on the downbeat.

Left Hand Accompaniment
Left hand accompaniment for modern jazz piano soloing

Step 3: Quartal Connector Exercises for Jazz Piano Soloing

In this section, you’ll learn two awesome jazz piano exercises to familiarize yourself with line building using quartal shapes. Specifically, the key is to add connector notes as you transition from shape to shape. In our first exercise, the connector notes are a whole step above the subsequent quartal shape. For example, try playing this sample down line using your 5th finger on the connector notes.

Sample Down line with Quartal Connectors

Quartal Connector Down Exercise
Down line quartal connector exercise for modern jazz piano soloing.

Now that’s a cool sound! The next step is to play this exercise with a backing track. In fact, this lesson includes two backing tracks—one bossa style and one swing. The lesson sheet and backing tracks are downloadable from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson material to any key with our Smart Sheet Music.

Another option is to vary this down line by using alternate connector notes from below rather than above. The following example approaches shape 2 from below with the note A using the 3rd finger. Similarly, shape 1 can be approached from below with the note D using the 3rd finger also. This results in a line that is slightly brighter and sounds a bit more major than suspended.

Sample Down Line with Alternate Quartal Connectors

Alternate Down line with Quartal Connectors from below
Down line quartal exercise with alternate connectors.

Great job! Now how about an up line?

In an ascending context, we can connect our quartal shapes with a note that is a whole step above the subsequent shape using the 2nd finger. The connectors are labeled for you in the exercise below.

Sample Up line with Quartal Connectors

Quartal Connector Up Exercise
Up line quartal connector exercise for modern jazz piano soloing.

Step 4: Quartal Shapes for Jazz Piano Soloing

Now that you’ve got a grip on quartal shapes and you’ve played some sample modern jazz piano quartal lines, it’s time to try soloing freely. By combining various shapes and connectors, you’ll begin to formulate your own modern improv sound. In fact, there are several other quartal shapes within the F Mixolydian scale that you can try. The example below contains 3 additional shapes. Check it out.

Extra Quartal Shapes for Jazz Piano Soloing
For further study, try improvising with all 5 quartal shapes shown above from the F Mixolydian scale.

Congratulations! You completed today’s Quick Tip. For further study on additional modern jazz piano techniques, check out the following resources from our catalogue:

Thanks for stopping by. We hope to see you again soon!


Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May

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