How to Improvise with an Arpeggio

Making good lines with a set of notes like an arpeggio is an important skill to master when improvising. In this lesson I am going to take one arpeggio, a G7 and one scale, C major and give some approaches to make melodies over a G7 chord combining the two. This way you will get much more vocabulary from each arpeggio that you know.

So to demonstrate how you can work on this I chose to keep it really small and simple. For doing this I took one octave of C major (or G mixolydian if you will) and a one octave G7 arpeggio, which is what you would have if you practiced arpeggios like I talk about in this lesson:  Diatonic Arpeggios – how to use and practice them

This is shown in example 1:

How to improvise with an arpeggio ex 1

Just the Arpeggio

Let’s first take a small look at some of the basic ways you can play the arpeggio by reordering the notes:

How to improvise with an arpeggio ex 2

Already here I think you can tell that a lot is possible by just changing the order of the notes and checking out some patterns to play your arpeggios in. This should give you some ideas for your technique practice.

One important thing to also check out is to get used to playing the arpeggio without starting on the root. The exercises in example 3 should help this a bit too.

How to improvise with an arpeggio ex 3

So it is important to keep in mind that you don’t need to play the entire arpeggio every time you use it, and you can start on any note of the arpeggio. You need to practice towards getting an overview and freedom to do this and you

Adding the Scale

If you have a an overview of the arpeggio you can of course start trying to mix in the scale notes. The easiest way to think about this in the beginning is probably to think about the notes in between as passing notes, so you add a scale note between two chord notes (which there mostly is by the design of the arpeggio: It’s made of diatonic 3rds).

In example 4 I am simply going over adding a note between the root and 3rd, 3rd and 5th and 5th and 7th. This is of course a very simple way to look at this and you can do much more and be more free about the other notes, but if you start like this you’ll have an easier time making logical melodies and you can quickly losen the rules of the approach a bit.

How to improvise with an arpeggio ex 4

Improvised examples

In the video I demonstrate how you might work on this while improvising. The improvised examples are partly there to show how I play and give some inspiration for practicing this, but also to show how I work on stuff like this. One thing is to work on exercises but you also need it to lift this into you playing, and doing this is the best step to play.

In example 5 I am playing a short solo with just the arpeggio so the just the chord notes. Practicing like this on a single chord and on progressions is essential if you want to be able to play in a bop based modern jazz style.

How to improvise with an arpeggio ex 5

The lines in example 5 make extensive use of the exercises from example 2.

The next eample is showing how you could work on using one of the diatonic passing notes and the arpeggio. The melodies here are making use of 3 note groupings and motifs, as I explain in the video.

How to improvise with an arpeggio ex 6

In the final example I am using the “entire” octave of the scale and the arpeggio. You should notice that even though it’s now a set of 7 notes, the 4 notes of the arpeggio are still the important ones that I use as a target and place around the heavy beats (ie. 1 and 3).

How to improvise with an arpeggio ex 7

I hope you can use the ideas to make some more lines with arpeggios and to start to integrate them more in to your playing by placing them in the context of the key and not just as a lose set of notes. It is often a problem that we spend a lot of time learning new things and not so much in getting it connected to your other vocabulary.

If you want to download a PDF of the examples I went over here for later study you can do so here: How to improvise with an arpeggio

The Backing track is available here:

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