In this lesson we will cover some of the first arpeggios we will use for improvising and how to apply them to the chords and chord progressions we learned in the previous lessons. This is where we start dipping our toes into jazz improvising and start learning some of the basic jazz language!
First of all we need to learn what an arpeggio is. An arpeggio is the notes of a given chord, played in succession, one after the other. We learned that a C major 7 chord is made up of 4 chord tones, the root, the major 3rd, the perfect 5th, and the major 7th. An arpeggio is built using these exact same notes! The only difference between the arpeggio and the chord is that we play the notes of an arpeggio one at a time, and we play them one after the other, so there will be more total notes played in an arpeggio. Check out the figure below and you will get it!
In the first bar we have the C major 7 chord, and over the next three bars the arpeggio is played in eighth notes. Notice how it outlines the sound of a C major 7 chord, as well as how it fits over the shape of the chord. Just like the chords we learned, these arpeggio shapes are moveable, so whatever the name of the root note is, that will be the name of the arpeggio. This arpeggio happens to be played over the "A-Form" chord, in which the root of the chord is located on the A string. Let's go ahead and learn the major 7 arpeggio for the E-Form chord!
Again, this arpeggio is directly related to the chord shape in the first bar. It sounds like that chord, fits over the chord shape, and is moveable as well. Next, we will cover the dominant 7th arpeggios!
And now the E-Form dominant 7th arpeggio...
Again, notice how this sounds like a dominant 7th chord. There is a distinct difference between this arpeggio and the major 7th arpeggion, even though only one note changed! Don't forget to try and memorize these sounds! Let's go ahead to the minor 7th arpeggios.
This arpeggio is moveable like the others, and also has its own distinct sound when compared to the other arpeggios. This particular arpeggio can be a little tough to play due to the stretch from the first fret to the fifth fret on the D string. If this stretch is too tough you can relocate the note played on the first fret of the D string to the 6th fret of the A string. Let's move on to the E-Form arpeggio shape!
Just like the other arpeggios this one is moveable as well. It also features a difficult stretch, but you can relocate the note to an easier location if you need to! Let's move on and put these arpeggios to practice!
You will want to practice these arpeggios the way I have them written out. Play the chord first, and visualize the chord while playing the arpeggio around it. Try to really hear each note of the arpeggio and take your time!
In the examples below you will see how to apply these arpeggios to a iim7-V7-Imaj7 chord progression.
Notice in the above example that we are connecting each arpeggio by either a half step or a whole step. This helps create a really smooth transition between chord changes.
In this example we started playing the Am7 arpeggio from its 3rd, or the second note in the arpeggio. We also intentionally tried to stay away from landing on the root of each arpeggio until the very last measure. Beginning improvisers can easily get into a bad habit of playing every new measure starting from the root. It may seem easy to start out like this, but as you progress you need to try to avoid landing on the root while practicing.
Some other good ways to practice connecting arpeggios are to start on different notes of the arpeggio, and to attempt to smoothly connect one arpeggio to the next by going to the next note either higher or lower. You don't always have to change directions with each new chord change, you may decide to continue going higher or lower, atleast for a few notes. Start working on connecting and learning your arpeggios today! We are going to really get into improvising in the next lesson and these arpeggios are an integral part!
Seth Holobaugh is a jazz guitarist and guitar instructor in Plano, TX.