Using Jazz Arpeggios as Approach Notes

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.

Let’s look at some example over the chord progression to Body and Soul:
Approach Arpeggios

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.

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