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Published on April 30th, 2012 | by Sam


Expand Your 7th Jazz Guitar Vocabulary with 4th Voicings

Today I have a guest poster-if you’ve been around any jazz guitar sites you know Matt Warnock.  I’m really excited that he is providing this great article here.  Please leave a comment, or click on the Facebook link and say something there.  Get ready to move your chord vocab to the next level!

Expand Your 7th Jazz Guitar Vocabulary with 4th Voicings


By: Matthew Warnock

Learning how to play jazz guitar means checking out a number of different items in the practice room, scales, chords, arpeggios, licks and patterns just to name a few. But, with so many options to choose from, how do you know what to spend your time on in the woodshed?

One of the most versatile and great sounding concepts that you can quickly and easily apply to your jazz guitar vocabulary are 4th chords. 4th Chords are built by taking one note and then stacking two or more notes on top that are both a 4th interval away from each other.

Guitarists such as Lenny Breau, Mike Stern and Kurt Rosenwinkel have all delved deeply into 4th voicings in their comping and improvising, showcasing the diverse nature of the chords that sound great in a number of different genres, from traditional all the way to modern jazz.

In this article we will explore three different 4th chords that you can apply to both m7 and 7 chords in your comping and soloing, as well as three different variations that you can apply to these chords in order to add several textural layers to their application.

So grab your axe, crank your amp and let’s dig in to these cool and fun to play chords!

Iim7 and V7 Derived 4th Chords

The first thing we’ll look at is three different 4th voicings and how they compare to both a iim7 and V7 chord on the guitar.

Because the iim7 and V7 chord are so closely related, and are often used back to back in a jazz chord progression, these three 4th voicings can be used to improvise and comp over both chords in a progression.

Notice in the example below that each of the three 4th chords contains intervals that will work over both the iim7 and V7 chord, in this case in the key of C major, Dm7 and G7. Here are those intervals written out in comparison to both chords in the key of C.

iim7 = b3, 13, 9 – 11, b7, b3 – 5, R, 11

V7 = b7, 3, 13 – R, 11, b7 – 9, 5, R

And here are those three voicings in both notation and tab.

So you can see that by changing the root you are changing the intervals in each chord as compared to that root, but that all three voicings will function over both the iim7 and V7 chords, giving you twice as much bang for your buck on the bandstand.

Once you have checked these chords on the fretboard, put on a backing track and practice comping and chord soloing with these voicings over Dm7 and G7. Then, when that is comfortable take the progression into other keys, other tempos, and when you’re ready, a full tune.

Arpeggiated Chords

While these three 4th voicings sound great when played plucked and/or strummed in a solid form, there are a number of ways that you can vary these chords in order to stick to just using these simple shapes, but bring in different textural layers to your playing.

The first variation that you can explore is to arpeggiate each of the three chords. You can do this in four different ways, which are written out below:

  • All Ascending
  • All Descending
  • Ascending Then Descending
  • Descending Then Ascending

Try working out these different variations from a technical standpoint, and then once you have them under your fingers, bring them into comping and improvising situations to hear how they sound in a practical, musical context.

Separated Chord Practice

The next variation that you can apply to these 4th chords is to separate them into a one-note vs. two-note pattern. This means that you play one note of the chord as a single-note, followed by the other two notes as a double-stop.

There are three different ways that you can apply this technique to these chords, which are written out in the musical example below.

1. Top note + Bottom 2 Notes

2. Middle Note + Outside Notes

3. Lowest Note + Top 2 Notes

Give each of these variations a try in the practice room and see how they sound to you. They are an easy and fun way to break up 4th voicings in your comping and soloing, adding three new textural layers to your playing.

Scales Within 4th Chords

The last variation we will look at is playing the different scales on each string when connecting these chord shapes across the neck.

The first bar of the example shows the scale notes on the 4th string, the second bar shows the scale notes on the 3rd string and the third bar shows the scale notes on the 2nd string.

Finally, in the last bar all three strings are shows together, spelling out all the notes in an F Lydian Mode, which has the same notes and comes from the same parent scale as D Dorian and G Mixolydian, the modes used to improvise over Dm7 and G7.

Breaking up these 4th chords into scales across the strings will allow you to jump between playing single-line and chordal ideas without having to think of any notes outside of the ones in each of these three voicings.

Doing so can really add a new dimension to your soloing as you are able to comp for yourself as well as keep your single-note and chord ideas connected to a common group of shapes on the guitar.

Check out these three different 4th voicings and the textural variations in a practice and performing situation. They fit nicely on the guitar, are easy to learn and sound great when applied to many different musical situations in both a comping and improvisational context.

Do you have a favorite way to practice or apply these 4th voicings? Please share it in the comments box below.

About the Author

Matt Warnock is the owner of , a free website that provides hundreds of lessons and resources designed to help guitarists of all experience levels meet their practice and performance goals. Matt currently lives in the UK where he is a Senior Lecturer at the Leeds College of Music and an examiner for the London College of Music (Registry of Guitar Tutors). 

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5 Responses to Expand Your 7th Jazz Guitar Vocabulary with 4th Voicings

  1. Pingback: New Lesson on 4th Voicings by Matt Warnock - The Jazz Guitar Forum

  2. Pingback: Ambient Jazz House Background Music | Little Island

  3. Wow…that’s lots of material to keep me busy for a while…expanding your vocabulary is key to improvisation in ANY genre….thank you!

    • Sam says:

      Sure thing-that is a great lesson from Matt Warnock! He’s a great teacher. The whole site is full of stuff on vocabulary-glad to hear you’re into the idea!

  4. Waba says:

    Hi there Sam, Nice lesson from Matt, I love it. Woodshed calls!

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