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):

Triads with Doublings and Suspended 4ths (Harmonized Scale: “D” Harmonic Minor)

The following examples show various four-note triadic constructions with doublings and suspensions moved through a “D” Harmonic Minor scale.

The first chord is a commonly played triad with a duplicated root. The intervals, stacked vertically, are as follows: 5th, 4th, & 3rd. The intervallic construction is maintained and moved through the harmonized scale:

Next, the 3d is suspended (replaced with a diatonic fourth) and the resulting 5th, 4th & 4th construction is moved through the scale:

The second voicing type is a triad with a duplicated 3rd. The intervals, stacked vertically, are as follows: 3rd, 4th, & 3rd. The intervallic structure is maintained and moved through the harmonized scale:

Next, the upper 3d is suspended (replaced with a diatonic fourth) and the resulting 3rd, 4th & 4th construction is moved through the scale:

The third construction is a triad with a duplicated 5th. The intervals, stacked vertically, are as follows: 4th, 3rd, & 3rd. The intervallic structure is maintained and moved through the harmonized scale:

Next, the 3d is suspended (replaced with a diatonic fourth) and the resulting 4th, 4th & 2nd construction is moved through the scale:

Try finding additional four-note triads with duplicate notes or “doublings.” Here are two other possible starting chords:

Also, try transferring these voicings onto other string sets. Here is one of the previous chords transposed down an octave and placed on string set 5432:

Finally, experiment with various scales. Harmonic Minor is particularly useful, however, as it contains Major, Minor, Diminished, and Augmented triads.

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:

Triad Inversions (Four Adjacent String Sets)

There are many ways to play major, minor, diminished, and augmented triads on the guitar.

Learning triads on the four adjacent string sets is the right place to begin.

Try playing harmonized scales with these triads and later add “foreign” bass notes to produce slash chords.

There are all sorts of possibilities with even the most basic of materials.

Chord Inversions, Arpeggios, Scales: Combined Practice

Here is a useful exercise that combines 7th chord inversions and arpeggios with scales, allowing you to kill three birds with one stone in your practice.

The diamond-shaped white noteheads are the “main” note, the one you should have in mind while playing the other components of the exercise.

The idea is to blend chord inversions, arpeggios, and chord scales, or modes, into one stream of thought.

Try developing this concept within a jazz standard. Here’s an excellent chord progression:

Isfahan by Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington in the Key of D♭ (Original Key)

Try it in the key of C for some perspective and more guitar-friendly roots:

Isfahan by Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington in the Key of C (Easier Key)