When you improvise over a chord arpegggios are one of the buiding blocks you use to make the lines. One good source of material is to start looking for different types of arpeggios that you can find in the scale that is used over the chord. The more arpeggios you know the more options you have to make melodies over that chord.
In this lesson I will take a plain old C7 as you find it in the F major scale and go over 10 different arpeggios and try to give you some ideas for making lines with them. I will also talk a bit about how you find arpeggios that fit a chord.
How to find good arpeggios for a chord
When you need to find arpeggios for in a situation like this the best place to start is probably to look at the different types of arpeggios you know from the notes of the basic chord. Since this lesson is about a C7 that means checking out the arpeggios found on the C, E, G and Bb. The reason for this is that the arpeggio will then in some way be related to the chord and therefore make sense as a strong melody.
All the examples in the lesson are on a C7 dominant chord. For each example I present a simple version of the arpeggio and then a one bar phrase that shows how you might use it. You could use the examples over both the V I cadence that I use here or over a static C7 vamp.
1. C7 Arpeggio
Obviously the best place to start in terms of arpeggios is the arpeggio of the chord itself. The only thing you might want to take away from this (since I am sure you could have figured this out as well) is that you can also make melodies by playing a sequence, inversions or other patterns.
2. Em7b5 arpeggio
The next place you want to try is also fairly well know: Use the diatonic arpeggio found on the 3rd of the chord. Since this arpeggio will share most of the notes with the chord. In my opinion this is one of the arpeggios that you need to have in your vocabulary for any chord.
The line is using the arpeggio and following it up with a bebop cliché chromatic phrase on a C7.
3. C triad
Since a C7 also contains a C major triad, this is a good arpeggio as well. You can use it for lines that are more bluesy or basic in terms of harmonic content. A varied solo will not only be up in the extensions all the time, it is just as important to connect with the basic chord sound.
4. Edim triad
Of course the triad found on the 3rd of the chord is a good subset of the basic arpeggio, and since triads are anyway some of the strongest melodies you have at your disposal.
You can check out more ideas for using triads in this lesson: How to use triads in solos Where I also go over some more ideas on using inversions etc.
5. Bb Maj7b5 arpeggio
The BbMaj7b5 arpeggio is not really a diatonic chord in the F major scale since it isn’t a stack of thirds in the scale (Bbmaj7 is). There are a few good arpeggios that you can find looking in the non diatonic arpeggios like the sus4(7) chords and it can be a worthwhile place to look for new sounds.
I did a lesson on Maj7b5 which covers some of the many places you can use this: Maj7b5 Chords and Arpeggios – a powerful tool for superimposition
6. Em7b5 Shell Voicing
Another great place to start looking for new melodies is to use different types of voicings (that you anyway use while comping) and turn them into arpeggios so that you have a new melody with the same notes and with some larger intervals (most voicings we play are not 3rds based but are drop voicings where the notes are spread out over a larger range). The Em7b5 voicing (which doesn’t contain a 5 since it is a shell voicing) is again using the thinking that we can use an arpeggio from the 3rd of the chord to stay close to the sound of the chord.
I did a lesson on using shell voicings here: Shell Voicings as Arpeggios
7. Stack of 4ths from Bb
Quartal harmony is one of the first places you want to look if you want to use arpeggios that don’t sound thirds based since it is completely based on another interval: 4ths. In this example I took the top part of a C7(13) drop3 voicing which happens to be a stack of diatonic 4ths from Bb. Since it contains both 3rd and 7th it will work very well as an arpeggio and the combination with the 13 highlights that extension.
If you want to check out more stuff on using quartal harmony in lines: Quartal Harmony in Solo lines
8. Em7b5 Drop2 Voicing
Another place that you can start looking if you want to use arpeggios with a larger range is to start using drop2 voicings as arpeggios. The Drop2 voicing in example 8 is an Em7b5 which will work really well in terms of the notes and as you can tell in the line also works well as a melody. The difficult part of using Drop2 voicings is probably that the way we use them as chords make them 4 note arpeggios with one note per string, but with a bit of practice and some Steve Morse etudes it is do-able in my experience.
You can check out my lesson on using drop2 voicings as arpeggios here: Drop2 Voicings as Arpeggios
9. Stack of 4ths from E
To really spell out some extensions you can also choose a stack of 4ths like the one I am using in example 9. You could look at this arpeggio as a stack of 4ths from the 3rd(E) of C or as a 2nd inversion of an Asus4 triad. The arpeggio contains the 3rd,13th and 9th of the C7 chord so it will work well in spelling out the upper structure of the chord.
10. Stack of 5ths from G
Since we can make melodies with the stacked 4ths in the scale we can of course also start to stack 5ths since these are the same note groups as the stacked 4ths. You could view them as sus4 derived I guess.
The arpeggio I am using in example 10 is a stack of 5ths from the G which gives us the 5th(G), 9th(D) and 13th(A) over the C7.
I hope you can use this list as a source of inspiration to find some new things to mess around with when working on lines. The way to go about this is probably to work on them one at a time and see what you can make out of it before trying to insert that into your playing.
As you can also tell from the description of each example there are a lot more possibilites than just the 10 I went over here and you can easily start looking at other variations of the arppegio choices and in that way find your own favourites and maybe your own sound?
If you want to download a PDF of the examples I went over here for later study you can do so here: 10 arpeggios over a dom7th chord
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