Everywhere you look a Jazz teacher is telling you that you should practice arpeggios if you want to play Jazz, but it is just as important that you know how to turn that arpeggio into music, into something you can play that also sounds like Jazz.
In this video, I’ll show you why you should not start with full arpeggio positions, not focus on arpeggio inversions (and give you something better instead).
I’ll also give you a way to find more arpeggios for the same chord, turn them into Jazz licks with a few phrasing and rhythm tricks, and of course The BEST arpeggio Exercise.
The Most Basic Arpeggio
Let’s start with a very simple arpeggio, here’s a basic one-octave G7. I’ll explain why I start here in a bit.
And so you have an idea about the sound, you can hear it as fitting with this G7 chord, just to have a picture of the harmony
You often find discussions online about whether it is better if you start with scales vs arpeggios or chord tones.
In reality, if you look at solos then it is clearly a combination of both, so you want to know your arpeggios and you want to understand that they are a set of notes in the context of a scale, they fit together and it is not one or the other, as you will see.
Rhythm and Phrasing
This is about building your vocabulary, and especially developing your rhythms in that vocabulary!
Think of the 4-note arpeggio as a scale and start improvising just using those while using short rhythms and some phrasing like sliding into a note, in this case the 3rd:
Or using a pull-off to create more interesting dynamics in the line, here between F and D. This is the first type of Jazz lick: Arpeggio and rhythm
And when you try to make your own licks like this one, then start with a short 3 or 4-note phrase
Or like this:
Once you have that then compose a line, listen to what you can come up with as a follow-up and try somethings out to end with something like this:
Composing licks is where you get much more free to play melodies and also where you can start developing better rhythmical ideas. Limitation can be a great way to level up your playing, but now we need to add some more notes to the mix!
There Are More Notes!
As I mentioned, Chords and Arpeggios don’t exist in a vacuum, you can mix in the other notes in the scale and that is a great way to get better lines and be able to create a more natural-sounding flow in your solo.
It really is just about putting in some notes from the scale between the arpeggio notes, here’s a very simple one, and notice that you don’t have to start on beat 1 all the time:
And you can of course still add some phrasing to these more dense lines, which gives you the second type of Jazz Lick: Mixing Scale and arpeggio
Once you start working on the arpeggios like this then you can clearly create and play a lot more great lines with arpeggios because you can add in scale notes.
The BEST arpeggio Exercise
Before I show you some ways to add chromatic notes to your vocabulary then first, let’s quickly cover how you should practice the arpeggios. You already heard how useful it is to add the scale notes to the arpeggio when you are soloing, so it actually makes sense to focus on that connection when you are practicing.
In this case, the G7 is in the scale of C major, and you can turn all the diatonic chords in a scale into an arpeggio exercise which then links those arpeggios to the scale and as you will see later also gives you some more options with arpeggios that you can use over a chord, and you already practiced them!
For every note in the scale, you can stack 3rds in and in that way, create a 7th chord on each note of the scale.
If you play this for the C major scale then you get this exercise:
Once this becomes easy then you want to explore ways to add chromatic notes and rhythm to these arpeggios, but first, try to explore that in lines!
Chromatic Notes – Outside The Scale Are NICE!
There are many ways to add chromatic passing notes to your solos. First, check out this example, and then I’ll show you how you can turn that into some strategies and exercises you use yourself:
You have two kinds of chromatic approaches here, both are important to know.
First a leading note for the 3rd in the first chord run.
It can be useful to try this out as an exercise adding a note a half step under each chord tone like this:
The other approach is in the middle with two notes surrounding the 5th of G: D.
This is referred to as a chromatic enclosure. A chromatic enclosure is a short melody that moves to a target note,
in this case, it is sort coming from the previous exercise but combining it with a scale note above the chord tone.
YOu can see that in this exercise where there are enclosures before all the notes in the arpeggio:
And if you have the feeling that your solos are just running up and down scales and arpeggios then enclosures can fix that very effectively which gives you the 3rd type of Jazz Lick adding chromaticism:
It almost doesn’t sound like a G7 arpeggio anymore, but maybe that is also the point? We a re just getting started, because there are more arpeggios you can use over a G7 chord, it isn’t only the G7 arpeggio.
More Arpeggios On Every Chord?
This way of thinking works for all chords, so you want to think of this as a system. Because it is really powerful!
The way it is constructed is by stacking 3rds, and if you add another 3rd on top then you have a G7(9) chord(play), but if you take away the G then notice that it is a Bø arpeggio (play)
And, this works over the G7 as well so you can use this to make lines as well, and of course, also use chromatic notes and phrasing.
I am using this Bø arpeggio:
And that can give you the 4th type of Jazz Lick with the arpeggio from the 3rd:
And keep in mind that this is why you can use an Em7 arpeggio over a Cmaj7 chord and an Fmaj7 arpeggio over a Dm7 chord.
It gives you a lot of great sounds.
I mentioned that you can use something else instead of inversions, and this is one of the best Bebop tricks in the book!
One of the Best Things Barry Harris Taught Me!
Beginner Jazz licks can sound too much like just running up and down scales and arpeggios in a mechanical way, and here is a great way to fix that which I learned from Barry Harris.
Usually, we play the arpeggio starting on the root and then up the arpeggio.
But you can also play the root and then move the rest of the arpeggio down an octave, it’s a more interesting melody and you are still just playing the arpeggio:
In this case, it makes more sense to play this arpeggio an octave higher,
and notice how you are for the most part just playing the arpeggio the same way we started the video, now you are just changing the 1st note:
This is what Barry Harris called a pivot arpeggio, and again this is something that works for all arpeggios, and you can create some really great lines with it, so the 5th type of Jazz lick is a Pivot Arpeggio Bebo Lick and notice the grace note on the low note as well: :
The Source Of Amazing Bebop Techniques!
Barry Harris’ pivot arpeggios are a great way to level up your Jazz lines, and you can take this even further by exploring Barry’s approach to adding chromatic notes to your lines often referred to as Barry’s chromatic scale which is a great approach to make chromatic phrases very melodic! You can check out my video on that here, and also learn why Bebop scales are usually a complete waste of time!
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