Diatonic Arpeggios – how to use and practice them

Arpeggios are one of the most important tools in improvising over harmony, since harmony consists of chords and arpeggios are the melodic form a chord, so the chord played note for note.

Diatonic Chords and Arpeggios.

In this lesson I will show some exercises on how to find and play the arpeggios that are contained in the scales you play. Let’s first look at what a diatonic arpeggio is.

If you have a scale like the C major scale: C D E F G A B C, you can build the diatonic 7th chords by stacking 3 thirds on top of each other. A diatonic third is essentially the 2nd note from the note you are on so for C the third above it is E, for D it is F etc. etc. If I stack 3 thirds from C I’ll have these 4 notes: C E G B which is a Cmajor7 chord or arpeggio. From D I get D F A C which is Dm7 etc etc.

It is very useful to learn the order of the diatonic chords in a major scale:

Maj7, m7,  m7, Maj7, Dom7, m7, m7b5 (for C: CMaj7, Dm7,  Em7, FMaj7, G7,A m7, Bm7b5)

and is later just as useful to learn them for Harmonic minor and Melodic minor.

A few basic exercises

As I explain in the video you should aim to have the entire neck covered for each key of the major scale, especially if you play music that changes harmony a lot like jazz, but in the end it is useful to master in all genres. To keep things simple I’ve chosen to use this basic C major scale position at the 8th fret because it is one that is very often used as one of the first.

Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios Scale ex 1

So for technical reasons it makes sense to play the scale in 3rds. The 3rds are the building blocks of the diatonic chords, and it is a pretty basic exercise that you should do on all scales (Try a pentatonic scale if you want some surprising sounding diatonic 3rds)

Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios Scale ex 2
Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios Scale ex 3

If we then start to stack 2 thirds on top of each other we get a triad, which is of course also a useful exercise to go through:

And if we stack three 3rds we have the diatonic 7th chords:

Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios Scale ex 4

It is also useful to take a few other exercises through the scale like these two:

Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios Scale ex 5
Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios Scale ex 6

Some examples on how to apply arpeggios in lines

I will leave the explanation of this for the video since I go through it there in some detail. But try to play the lines and see if you can identify the chord notes that I am using and see the arpeggio. The point of the examples are to demonstrate how you mix the arpeggio up with the scale in improvisation, you don’t want to have melodies that sound too much like scale – arpeggio – scale, you want the two to blend in a natural way, similar to how melodies move.

Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios - ex 1
Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios - ex 2
Scales in Diatonic Arpeggios - ex 3

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