Complete Tetrachord Combinations: Major, Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, & Harmonic Major Scale Harmony

This post explores all of the possible tetrachords (four-note combinations) in Major, Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, & Harmonic Major Harmony.

(Download the accompanying PDF at the bottom of the post.)

These exhaustive lists may appear too information-packed to be useful. (There are 840 combinations per scale.)

I suggest dipping into them occasionally to more deeply explore the vertical (chords) and horizontal (melody) aspects of their all-important parent scales.

You’ll find every standard approach to chord voicing contained herein, as well as many uncommon sonorities.

Some structures may be impossible to play as chords unless one or more of the tones are raised an octave.

Experiment with the lists, and you’ll discover many new things about these commonly-used harmonic palettes (scales).

Below are a few examples of how the lists can be used to create chords and arpeggios (taking some liberties with octave placement and contour):

Pat Martino’s Linear Expressions – Phase I in all 12 keys, Cycle of Fourths

One of the most important books ever written on melodic improvisation for guitar, Linear Expressions by Pat Martino, was originally published in 1989.

I have created this video to show the “solution” to the “problem” Pat suggests in the first part of the book.

The video is very helpful for “drilling” the lines.

Minor 7 and Minor 6 Drop voicings are included for context and comping. These will come in very handy later when practicing chord substitutions.

Learn this first, then take the next step to recontextualize the lines using Pat’s “minor conversion” theory.

Linear Expressions is an absolutely essential book for every guitarist’s library.

Buy the book on Amazon. Click here.

7th Chord Arpeggio Permutations, Contours, & Chord Cycles

“The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Below are 24 possible orderings of a 7th chord arpeggio.

I have organized the combinations across a six-day practice cycle for digestibility:

Though notated as C Major 7 arpeggios, these permutations can represent other harmonies. I highly recommend playing the permutations through harmonized scale “cycle” progressions, “tweaking” the intervals to suit the chord qualities involved in a given progression:

Various contours are possible, depending on the octave chosen for each of the tones. Here are four different contours for the same combination (1357):

Here are the same four contours, transposed up an octave:

Now through the harmonized Melodic Minor scale, Cycle 2:

The same four contours, transposed up an octave:

Now through the harmonized Harmonic Minor scale, Cycle 2:

The same four contours, transposed up an octave:

As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

Try practicing a few permutations per day through either Major, Melodic Minor, or Harmonic Minor harmonized scales.

Remember to explore the various “Cycle” progressions, listed above.

It’s not reasonable to practice every pattern, but you’ll discover some exciting things if you occasionally dip into this well of possibility.

Tetrachords (Triads with added 2nd’s)

These four-note combinations (tetrachords) consist of triads (major, minor, diminished, and augmented) with major 2nd’s (or 9th’s) added above the root.

Tetrachords are a convenient method for creating unassailably harmonically-correct lines.

I find that improvising with these patterns (rather than intricate arpeggios, chord-scales, and modes, etc.) frees up brain processing power to think more about rhythm, phrasing, and line direction.

Try improvising lines through chord changes using these patterns.

Emphasize half-step resolutions between changing harmonies.

Anchor the patterns in your memory by focusing on the triad forms embedded in these diagrams.

I have written the patterns on the root “C,” but they are easily transposable by shifting the shapes to new root locations.

Major Tetrachord:

Minor Tetrachord:

Diminished Tetrachord:

Augmented Tetrachord:

Contrapuntal Combinations

Here are some really nerdy PDF’s for composers.

These files list all of the possible arrangements of 2 or 3 voiced counterpoint, including the retrogrades (r), inversions(i) and retrograde inversions(ri) of the lines.

When you want to generate some unexpected material, or just marvel at the infinitude of music, give these a try.