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.

Major Scale Fingerings (Positional, CAGED)

Playing music on the guitar well often demands that we play along the string (shifting). Certain musical gestures cannot be attained through positional playing alone, and often fingering a passage along the string simply feels better than the positional alternatives.

However, positional scale and arpeggio studies are essential to developing an understanding of the symmetry and organization of the fretboard. Also, a positional approach provides the consistency required to develop the kinesthetic-visual-aural associations that improvisation demands.

The PDF files below present 5 fingering patterns (or regions) for the C Major scale. The regions are named for the lowest scale tone in the given position. For example, Region 7 begins on the 7th scale degree. Study of these 5 simple shapes will lead to mastery of major scale harmony as applied to the guitar.

A few things to consider while practicing these scales/arpeggios:

  • They are movable to other tonal centers. The white dots/notes provide visual cues.
  • They can be chromatically altered to produce other scales and modes. For example, lower the third, and you have Jazz Minor sounds (ascending Melodic Minor).
  • In the beginning, it is most effective to practice improvising over a given chord progression within a single region. Later, when all 5 regions have been assimilated, one can move between the others freely, shifting at will.

6th & Diminished 7th Chord Passages: Bebop Major and Minor

These chord passages are constructed from inversions of 6th chords (Major and Minor respectively) with Fully Diminished 7th chords interspersed.

This is a harmonization technique that is often associated with the pianist Barry Harris.

Remember to analyze these from other roots, reinterpret the harmony and use your imagination to find less than obvious substitutions.