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Arpeggios are just the notes of a chord played individually from lowest to highest and back again to the tonic. For example the notes in a C6 chord are C E G and A , being the 1st 3rd 5th and 6th notes of the C major scale. By playing these chord tones separately we are playing the C6 arpeggio. Soloists use arpeggios when improvising to clearly outline the underlying chord changes in a song. By playing the chord tones over the top of the chord upon which the arpeggio is built the soloist creates a very INSIDE sound. The opposite to this would be to play those notes not in the chord, such as the extension notes , 9ths 11ths and 13ths , as well as passing tones to create an OUTSIDE sound.

Clearly, a solo that is too INSIDE, can become predictable, just as a solo that doesn't appear to relate to the chord changes will sound too OUTSIDE for most people to understand , with the theme and mood of the song becoming too abstract. Achieving the right balance, as in everything in life , is the key to creating an enjoyable, interesting and exciting solo. A combination of VERTICAL (moving up and down the chord tones) and HORIZONTAL (moving along the scale tones) playing style, will usually achieve a good result.


We're going to learn the basic arpeggios by looking at some common chord progressions. The most common chord progression in jazz is the II-V-I. In this example we'll be working in the key of G major:

  II        V      I            I

|Am7 |D7 |Gmaj7|Gmaj7|

To play over this kind of chord progression, we'll need 3 kinds of arpeggios: minor, dominant and major. Here's the arpeggio for the Am7 chord:


Am7 A     C     E      G   
  1     b3    5      b7 

Guitar Fretboard Legend : Root : represents the root or 1 of the guitar chord. The letter inside the box is the note name.

Guitar Fretboard Legend : Note : blue squares represent a chord tone other than the 1.

minor arpeggio

To practice this minor arpeggio, play it like this until it jumps out of your fingers without having to think about it:

Minor arpeggio tabs

You can also practice it by first playing the chord and then the arpeggio, a good exercise for your ears:

Minor arpeggio exercise

We go on to the D7 chord:

D7 D     F#     A      C   
  1     3      5      b7 

minor arpeggio

Start by practicing this dominant arpeggio like this:

Dominant arpeggio tabs

Like the minor arpeggio examples, you can also play the chord before the arpeggio as an exercise.

And then we arrive at the Gmaj7 chord:

Gmaj7 G     B     D      F#   
  1     3     5      7 

Major arpeggio

Practice this major arpeggio the way we did for the minor and dominant arpeggio (start on the root).

Ok, we know the basic positions for the arpeggios, now we're going to combine them:

2 5 1 arpeggio example

This is an example of how you can combine the arpeggios. It's not very musical at this point, but being able to play them like this is a necessary step in the learning process. Let's have a look at another example, starting from a different place:

2 5 1 arpeggio example

Now start improvising over these chord changes using only these arpeggios. You can start on any note you want or use any rhythm you want, although for educational purposes it's better to play a long stream of 8-notes like in the examples. To make sure you change chords at the right place you can use software like

Band in a Box (or you can do the hard work yourself and record the changes with a metronome).

Good to know: all arpeggios are movable. If you know the arpeggio for Am7 you can use that same 'shape' to find the arpeggios for other minor7th  chords. Let's say you want to find the arpeggio for Gm7. All we have to do is slide the arpeggio for Am7 2 frets down. So instead of starting on the 5th fret in case of Am7, we start on the 3rd fret for Gm7. This is the result:

G minor arpeggio on the guitar neck

You move the root to the appropriate note on the string and play the shape from there. Another example: we know the arpeggio shape for D7, so it's easy to find B7:

B7 arpeggio



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