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
|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:
A C E G
b3 5 b7
: represents the root or 1 of the
guitar chord. The letter inside the box is the note name.
: blue squares represent a chord tone
other than the 1.
To practice this minor arpeggio,
play it like this until it jumps out of your fingers without having to think about it:
You can also practice it by first
playing the chord and then the arpeggio, a good exercise for your ears:
We go on to the D7 chord:
D F# A C
3 5 b7
Start by practicing this dominant
arpeggio like this:
Like the minor arpeggio examples,
you can also play the chord before the arpeggio as an exercise.
And then we arrive at the Gmaj7
G B D F#
3 5 7
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:
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:
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