You’ll see a lot of arpeggio exercises out there, heck I even have some myself! But my goal is always to get you making music, not just playing arpeggios and scales.
But knowing where chord tones are is very useful, and we can also use the arpeggios in solos but not as you see them in most exercises.
So I decided to make some examples that you can check out. All the examples are over Am7 to D7 (first 2 chords of Autumn Leaves) and many ii-V-I and ii-V progressions. The same concept can be used between any two chords.
The examples below show how you can start to making music from arpeggios. We’re mostly focusing on the Am7 chord and related arpeggio to land on chord tones of D7, but sometimes I expand a bit further into the D7 measure.
I talk about the examples after the sheet music below.
Make sure you swing the notes and I often slide into notes that are a half step below the next note, rather than pick every note.
You can play the arpeggios but add some rhythmic variety. Don’t just play quarter notes. Start on different beats. If you start on beat 3 the arpeggios I show would become eighth notes to fit them into 2 beats as example 1.
Approach each arpeggio note from a half step below. I did this in example 2 and others plus I compressed the notes so that I played a triplet.
Approach the next chord with an arpeggio from the previous chord in a smooth manner as I do in example 5 (3rd line). For example for Am7 to D7 play A, C, E, G then land on F# over the D7. Notice how the F# is encircled by the E and G. Check out my lesson using approach arpeggios.
Sometimes I use chromatic approaches from one chord tone over Am7 to D7 (Eg. E to F to F#).
Arpeggios are chord tones, ie notes from the chord so you can target any chord tone in your solo, without playing the arpeggio. So when each chord goes by you know which notes will sound good as you’ve learned where the chord tones are.
Study the examples and understand which are chromatic approach notes, which are chord tones (part of arpeggio), when I started in the measure, the rhythms I used and how I connect the chords (closest chord tone, encircling, etc).
Once you can play jazz arpeggios over a jazz standard, ascending and descending, starting on different chord tones, the next step would be to use them in a more melodic way. Many students stop at the point where they can arpeggiate a standard but they aren’t shown how to apply the ideas in a solo, so it always sounds like an exercise.
A very common way that arpeggios are used in jazz improvisation is as approach notes to a target tone. So ideally you hear a certain note that you want to target for an upcoming chord and you approach that using an arpeggio from the previous chord, often in the previous bar.
Also since many of us struggle with connecting chords this can be a great way to play across bar lines and connect chords from different keys. This technique is great because you are isolating all the possible things you could practice which can be overwhelming. Even though we are focusing on using arpeggios to approach target notes we are also working on playing across the bar line, connecting chords, starting lines later in the measure, repeating similar rhythms and so on.
In the first measure we have Ebm7 going to Bb7b9. So the first phrase shows a descending Ebm7 starting on the 5th (Bb) that targets the 3rd (D) over the Bb7. Notice how the Eb and Db encircle the D giving a very strong pull towards the D.
In the second measure I play a descending Ebm7 starting on the m7 (Db) and ending on C targeting the 3rd of Ab7 (C). This time the entire line continues in a downward direction.
In the 4th measure I play an ascending Edim7 arpeggio starting on the b5 (B) and targeting the Gb on the Ebm7 in measure 5. Notice the E and G encircle the Gb.
In the 6th measure I play an ascending Cm7b5 arpeggio starting on the root (C) targeting the A over F7 by encircling it again.
Over the Ab7#5 I play a descending Ab7#5 arpeggio. The interesting thing here is if the arpeggio has the same note as the target note (common tone) you can land on it and anticipate the upcoming chord (rather than encircling the target note). So I land on the Ab and hold it as the Dbmaj7 chord approaches.
In measure 8 I play a Bb7b9 arpeggio (Bdim7 arpeggio) to approach the 5th of the Ebm7 chord. Notice the encircling again.
In measure 9 I play a descending Bb7b9#5 arpeggio targeting the 5th (Bb) over the Ebm7 chord in measure 10.
If you look at the overall phrasing you will see that there is more than just approach arpeggios here. For example the first one measure phrase is repeated in the second measure. You might not do this much of one concept in one chorus but it’s good practice to overdo it as first.
There are other possibilities as well if you mix up the arpeggio, instead of always ascending or descending. Give them a try!
Try to finish off the solo using the same technique.
What do you think of approach arpeggios? Post your comments in the comments section below.
I like to apply arpeggios to an actual song rather than spend too much time on separate arpeggio exercises, but a good way to get familiar with the arpeggios is to play them over a standard such as the chord changes to Body and Soul. It can help you get the sound of the changes in your ear but there are other ways that I will discuss in the future (hint: just play individual chord tones over each chord – root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th).
This exercise attempts to stay in the general 5th fret area. As you play the exercise you’ll be able to see the simple 4 note shapes that each arpeggio makes. Many of the shapes are quite similar but due to the way the guitar is tuned you will get slight differences on different string sets. Knowing the notes on the fretboard helps as well so you are not just memorizing patterns.
Jazz guitar arpeggios can give you some confidence as they give you something to play, especially when you start to learn to play jazz guitar and for difficult tunes – the chord progression to Body and Soul has 2 or more chords per bar and some key changes that can cause difficulty.
You could play the arpeggios I showed in different ways, or play the arpeggio an octave above or below where I show it. But go through this exercise until you are comfortable. Note the shape of each type of arpeggio – minor 7th, major 7th, dominant 7th, minor7b5, and diminished 7.
Each time you decide to play something over a chord progression you will have to make decisions on the fly. I had decide where to start the exercise (5th fret), which octave to play if I had a choice, what to do with one chord per bar (I continued the arpeggio up another octave if I could reach or back down if I couldn’t), what to do with 3 or 4 chords per bar (I play two notes from each arpeggio). In the 2nd ending to the A section I decide to just play the A7 instead of Em7-A7. This happens a lot in jazz – you can turn a dominant chord into a ii-V7 or turn a ii-V7 into just a ii or just a V7.
You can download the Body and Soul Arpeggios here.
You should also play these descending and in different areas of the neck. You can also play inversions of the arpeggio so that you start on different chord tones not always the root or 7th.
Once you get familiar with this you want to quickly move on to more melodic uses for arpeggios. The reasons this sounds like an exercise is because there is a constant, never ending barrage of eight notes, we always ascend from the root, and we only play arpeggios (chord tones) and no other melodic cells (scales, etc) amongst other reasons.
When I improvise I like to target notes that I want to play, and approach them with arpeggios which is much more melodic than arpeggio exercises. I will discuss this approach in a future lesson so stay tuned!
What do you think about arpeggios? Post your comments in the section below.