Quintal Chord Stacks for Piano
Get free weekly lessons, practice tips, and downloadable resources to your inbox!
Have you ever heard a chord that makes your heart break? Well, in today’s Quick Tip, Quintal Chord Stacks for Piano, John Proulx shares how to play the most heartbreaking chord voicing of all. By discovering how to combine stacks of perfect 5th intervals in specific ways, you’ll be able to apply the sound of quintal chords to your playing also. You’ll learn:
- Intro to Quintal Harmony
- Examples of Quintal Chords for Piano
- How to Use Quintal Chords
If you are into contemporary jazz, gospel and R&B, then you’ll love getting your hands on these quintal chord voicings.
In today’s featured video lesson, John Proulx demonstrates how to construct and apply a beautifully heartbreaking minor 11th chord in the context of familiar jazz and pop tunes. Since this voicing is formed predominantly from perfect 5th intervals, it is considered an example of quintal harmony.
While the idea of quintal harmony may sound intimidating or complicated to some, it’s built on a rather straightforward concept. For example, all music students are familiar with tertian harmony, even if they don’t know it in such terms. Tertian harmony simply means chords built from consecutive 3rd intervals. In fact, tertian harmony represents the prevailing harmonic framework for the common practice era of Western art music (approx. 1600–1900). Even though modernist composers of the early twentieth century began departing from tertian harmony, American jazz and pop music still strongly embraces this harmonic system. So if tertian harmony uses chords built in 3rds, then you’re probably beginning to suspect that quintal harmony uses chords built in 5ths. If so, you’re correct!
Quintal harmony is quite complimentary with tertian harmony. In fact, many familiar jazz chords that include chord extensions can be spread out into quintal chord voicings.
Quintal chords, also called “stretch voicings,” are chord voicings that are formed primarily from perfect 5th intervals. For example, if you play a perfect 5th on piano with middle C on bottom, you have the notes C and G. Then, if you add another perfect 5th above the G, you get the note D. This “stretch voicing” spans a major 9th from bottom to top and contains two perfect 5th intervals. Pianists who are well versed in contemporary jazz harmony often combine different quintal stretch voicings in each hand to construct different chord qualities, such as minor eleventh, major thirteenth and dominant 7(#11) chords.
While the most frequently used quintal chords contain stacks of perfect 5th intervals, other variations are also possible. For example, a stretch voicing that contains the notes C→G♭→D is also considered a quintal voicing, because the bottom interval (C→G♭) is a diminished 5th and the top interval (G♭→D) is an augmented 5th. If you play these notes in your right hand above the note A♭ in your left hand, you have a quintal voicing for A♭7(♯11).
In the next section, we’ll look more closely at how to form different chord qualities using quintal voicings.
In today’s Quick Tip, John gives specific attention a particular quintal voicing that comes up quite often—the Kenny Barron voicing. This is a minor 11th chord voicings popularized by jazz pianist Kenny Barron that contains a quintal stack in each hand. In fact, later in this lesson, you’ll learn how to apply this particular voicing to 5 familiar tunes. However, first we’ll show you how to properly construct this quintal chord. In addition, this section contains 7 other beautiful quintal voicings for other chord qualities. All of the chord types are listed below and will be presented in order from lesser to greater harmonic complexity, relatively speaking. In practical terms, this is also roughly equivalent to the frequency with which you will likely use these voicings—moving from more frequent to less frequent.
Each of the voicings in this section use the note F as the root or bass note (with one exception). That’s because quintal voicings usually sound best when the root is between the notes C² and B². Therefore, our examples are positioned right in the sweet spot! You’ll notice that each example is annotated with green text that indicates the type of 5th interval in each hand. Furthermore, the brown annotations serve to draw attention to the intervallic distance between each hand. If you have trouble reaching these stretch voicings, it is completely acceptable to roll the chords while depressing the sustain pedal.
The Kenny Barron voicing is a minor 11th chord in which both hands play quintal stacks that are separated by a half-step in the middle. In the left hand, you’ll play 1–5–9 (root–5th–9th). Then, in the right hand, you’ll play ♭3-♭7–11 (3rd–7th–11th). For instance, the example below shows a Kenny Barron voicing for Fm11 in which the left hand plays F–C–G while the right hand plays A♭–E♭–B♭. In order to apply this voicing, remember that the 11th is in the melody.
Fm11 Quintal Voicing
Be sure to check out our course on Jazz Intro & Outro Runs (Adv) in which Jonny uses a minor 11th quintal voicing to prepare an intro piano run.
Next, we have a major 13th quintal voicing. To build this voicing, you’ll play 1–5–9 in the left hand and 13–3–7 in the right hand. The interesting thing about this voicing is that it is constructed exclusively with perfect 5ths. In order to apply this voicing, remember that the 7th is in the melody.
Fmaj13 Quintal Voicing
As an alternative, you can leave off the top noted of this voicing and you’re left with an F6/9. In this case, the 3rd of the chord is in the melody, and the note G in the bass clef can be played with either hand.
Our next quintal voicing is for major 9(#11) chords, which produce a Lydian sound. To construct this voicing, you’ll play 1–5–9 in the left hand and 3–7–#11 in the right hand. Notice that the hands are a whole step apart for this voicing. In order to apply this voicing, remember that the ♯11 is in the melody.
Fmaj9(#11) Quintal Voicing
Our next quintal voicing is quite similar to the previous voicing, except that we’ve lowered the 7th to produce a Lydian Dominant sound, or dominant 9(#11). To construct this voicing, you’ll play 1–5–9 in the left hand and 3–♭7–#11 in the right hand. Once again, the hands are a whole step apart for this voicing. In order to apply this voicing, remember that the ♯11 is in the melody.
F9(#11) Quintal Voicing
Our next quintal chord voicing is for dominant 9(sus4) chords. To build this voicing, play 1–5–9 in the left hand and ♭7–4–1 in the right hand. Here, the hands are spaced a minor 6th interval apart. In order to apply this voicing, remember that the root is in the melody.
F9(sus4) Quintal Voicing
Next, we’ll play a quintal voicing for Sus4(add2) chords. This voicing contains 1–5–9 in the left hand and 4–1–5 in the right hand. Harmonically speaking, the difference between this chord and the previous example is that this chord does not contain the ♭7. Here, the hands are a minor 3rd apart. In order to apply this voicing, remember that the 5th is in the melody.
Fsus4(add2) Quintal Voicing
To build our next quintal chord, we’ll only change one note from the previous voicing. Just raise the middle note in the left hand from C to D♭ and now we have a minor 6/9 chord in second inversion. While F is the bass note for this voicing, the root of this chord is actually B♭. In the left hand, you have 5–♭3–6 and in the right hand you have 1–5–9. Incidentally, another possible chord symbol for this voicing is Gm11(♭5)/F.
B♭m69/F Quintal Voicing
This second inversion voicing is most likely to function as a means of extending a static tonic chord in F major or F minor. For example, try playing the progression F(add2)→B♭69/F→F(add2). For the F(add2) chord, use the voicing LH: F–C–G–A | RH: C–G–C. Next, try the progression Fm69→B♭69/F→Fm69. For the Fm6/9, use LH: F–C–A♭ | RH: D–G–C. In both progressions, the note C remains in the melody. Even though this is the technically the 9th of B♭m6/9, it’s probably more practical to think of the melody note as the 5th of the key center, or a fifth above the bass note. Therefore, in order to apply this voicing, remember that the melody note is the 5th of the key center, or a 5th above the bass note.
Our final quintal voicing is a giant, 7-note dominant 13(sus4) voicing. This voicing contains 1–5–9–13 in the left hand, which requires use of the sustain pedal. Then, in the right hand, you have ♭7–4–1. However, if you closely examine this B♭13(sus4) voicing, you’ll notice that this chord is actually equivalent to our Fm11 Kenny Barron voicing with the addition of a B♭ in the bass. Therefore, a simpler way to think of this chord is as Fm11/B♭. To apply this voicing, look for a dominant sus chord that features the root in the melody.
B♭13(sus4) Quintal Voicing
Now that we’ve analyzed these 8 awesome quintal voicings, we can organize them in a more memorable way for practice purposes. Instead of sorting them by their relative harmonic complexity, it’s much easier to sort them progressively by the distance between the hands. Therefore, we’ll start with our Fm11 voicing in which the hands are a half-step apart. Next, we’ll play Fm11/B♭ since the hands are also a half-step apart for this voicing. Then, we’ll proceed to our Fmaj9(♯11) voicing in which the hands are a whole step apart, and so on.
If you’re a PWJ member, then be sure to download the PDF lesson sheet that is included with this lesson, which features this index in all 12 keys! The lesson sheet appears at the bottom of the page after logging in with your membership.
As you can see, playing the chords in this order makes these somewhat unconventional voicings become rather logical after all. In the next, section we’ll look at how to uses quintal voicings in familiar songs.
In today’s featured Quick Tip video, John Proulx demonstrates how to use minor 11th quintal chords on 5 familiar tunes. In fact, the key to using any of the quintal voicings from the previous section is the same. First, you’ll need to memorize which chord tone is in the melody for each chord quality. Then, simply recognize these occurrences in the repertoire that you encounter. For example, the minor 11th Kenny Barron voicing features the 11th on top. Therefore, we can use this voicing in songs where we find a minor chord with the 11th in the melody.
Due to publisher’s restrictions, the examples below are all considerably excerpted. In some cases, only a melodic sketch appears. However, the expanded-edition lesson sheet, which includes all of the examples that John demonstrates in the lesson video, is available from our partners at MusicNotes.com. Be sure to use the PWJ-exclusive MusicNotes coupon code when checking out.
Quintal Chords Example 1
Our first example is taken from “The Look of Love,” a popular bossa nova standard by Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Hal David. The recording shown here by Diana Krall is in the key of G minor, off her 2001 album The Look of Love. However, the notated example below is in the key of A minor. In measure 2, you have the melody note D over a tonic A minor chord. Even though you are unlikely to find an Am11 chord symbol here on a lead sheet, this is the perfect opportunity to play a quintal voicing. Check it out…
“The Look of Love” (2001)
Excerpt 1 – “The Look of Love”
Quintal Chords Example 2
Next, we have John Legend’s mega-hit single “All of Me” off his fourth studio album Love in the Future (2013). “All of Me” is a tender piano ballad in the key of A♭ major. The song was Legend’s first number-one single in the United States and spent ten weeks in the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100. The notated excerpt below comes from the chorus section of the tune. Here, in the 2nd measure, we have a minor Ⅵ chord with the 11th in the melody. Consequently, John Proulx uses this opportunity to play a heartbreaking Fm11 quintal voicing.
“All of Me” (2013)
Excerpt 2 – “All of Me”
Quintal Chords Example 3
Next, we’ll consider Erroll Garner’s 1954 classic jazz standard, “Misty.” In 1955, lyricist Johnny Burke added the now familiar lyrics, which were popularized by Johnny Mathis on his 1959 album Heavenly. Like the Mathis recording shown here, “Misty” is often performed in the key of E♭ major. The opening pickup notes are B♭ and G, which are typically played over a B♭13 chord. However, this dominant chord can be expanded to include the minor Ⅱ chord—Fm7. This places the B♭ melody note over Fm7. Since B♭ is the 11th of Fm7, we can play a Kenny Barron voicing here.
Excerpt 3 – “Misty”
For more arranging tips on “Misty,” be sure to check out our full-length Misty—Jazz Ballad 1 (Int) course.
Quintal Chords Example 4
Next, let’s consider the jazz standard “I Thought About You” by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer. The 1956 recording shown here by Frank Sinatra is in the key of D♭ major. However, our notated example is in E♭ major and shows a melodic sketch of measures 5 through 7. In this example, we get not one but five minor 11th quintal voicings! This is largely the result of a chromatic walkdown in which we have 4 consecutive minor chords with the 11th in the melody (Fm11→Em11→E♭m11→Dm11). Then, we get an additional minor 11th chord (Cm11) in the next measure.
“I Thought About You” (1956)
Excerpt 4 – “I Thought About You”
Quintal Chords Example 5
Lastly, let’s consider “Georgia On My Mind,” which was composed in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael, with lyrics by Stuart Gorrell. The tune is widely associated with Ray Charles, a native of Albany, Georgia, who made the tune his signature song. In fact, his 1960 recording of the tune rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned him two Grammy Awards. While Charles most often performed the tune in G major, our notated example below is in the key of F major. Here, our Em11 quintal voicing appears in the context of a minor 2-5-1 progression where you would typically expect to find Eø7.
“Georgia On My Mind” (1960)
Excerpt 5 – “Georgia”
Congratulations, you’ve complete today’s lesson on Quintal Chord Stacks for Piano. Now you’re ready to stretch your piano sound with the impressive quintal stretch voicings you’ve just learned.
If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then be sure to check out the following PWJ resources:
Jazz Ballad Learning Tracks
Contemporary & New Age Piano Learning Tracks
Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.
Would you like to comment on this lesson?
Visit this Quick Tip on YouTube
Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...
More Free Lessons
This contemporary jazz piano arrangement of the traditional holiday classic "The First Noel" sounds so beautiful that it's bound to strike a chord.
Learn a beautiful jazz piano arrangement of "O Come All Ye Faithful" ("Adeste Fideles") and jazz arranging tips for other holiday favorites!
In this complete guide on 7th chords, Jonny breaks down the 5 categories of 7th chords on piano that form the foundation for jazz harmony.
Looking for downloads?
Subscribe to a membership plan for full access to this Quick Tip's sheet music and backing tracks!
Get instant access to this Quick Tip and other member features with a PWJ membership!
Guided Learning Tracks
View guided learning tracks for all music styles and skill levels
Complete lessons and courses as you track your learning progress
Download Sheet Music and Backing Tracks
Engage with other PWJ members in our member-only community forums
Become a better piano player today. Join with the 14-Day Free Trial today!