Improvising with Arpeggios (BeBop)

In this post I’ll be exploring how we can create jazz or bebop lines using arpeggios. Arpeggios sound excellent in jazz lines partly because they give us the exact sound of the chord we are improvising on. Arpeggios are in fact a chord played melodically or horizontally as opposed to all at once or vertically.

When we look at a transcription of a bebop style solo, one of the first things we notice is that there are a lot of 8th notes. This is especially true for tempos that are medium to up. We will start with the idea that since the style calls for lots of flowing 8th notes, we will build improvisational lines that use mostly 8th notes.

To begin, let’s look at some 4 note arpeggios. There are 4 note arpeggios with no extensions (root, 3rd, 5th and 7th) as well as 4 note arpeggios which include the 9th. In this case we will omit the root and use the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th.

Let’s start with a simple II – V7 – I chord progression in the key of C major.

Next thing we need are some 8th notes to fill in the empty spaces. Notice the change in octave in bar 3 for the C note. When an arpeggio changes direction this is called a “Pivot.” The Pivot allows you to keep your arpeggio within a specified range. Had we not used the Pivot, the range of the line would be much greater and a change of position would be needed. By using a Pivot, the entire line fits nicely within a position.

This example illustrates a slightly different possibility.

Now let’s try playing 3 – 9 arpeggios. (3rd to 9th)

Now let’s add some notes to connect the arpeggios. In this example I’ve used some chromatic notes as well.

And another example. Also note that I’ve changed position as we are starting a 3rd higher.

As a next step, learn these jazz lines in different keys and in different positions. Also try playing them over a simple tune like “Tune Up” by Miles Davis. Tune Up uses only II – V – I progressions so it’s a great place to start.

Next, try to create new lines of your own using different notes to connect the arpeggios. You could also try to include some chromatic notes and/or neighbour tones. Also consider breaking up the arpeggios by using the Pivot in different ways.

Getting Started with Jazz Scales on the Guitar

A Poor Man’s Guide to Jazz Guitar Scales

A Guest Post by Marc-Andre Seguin

Hello and welcome to a little “crash course” on jazz guitar scales, and many thanks to Michael, who has had an big impact on my life and my playing (more than he knows!)

The whole point of this lesson is to:

  • learn scales;
  • apply them on the guitar fretboard;
  • … in a jazz context. (Yikes!)

Improvising blues licks and rock solos can be done relatively easy on the guitar (“Hey, look at that 5th fret pentatonic fierce AC/DC lead!”) … but trying to make sense of scales as chords go by (fast) in a jazz context is a totally different ball game.

Remember your first jam session, the moment the bandleader pointed to you and went “Guitar solo!” on a blues in F or even Autumn Leaves?!? Yeah, me too. I was embarrassed enough already, struggling through complicated chords for strumming, I didn’t need the spotlight!

Ok, enough with the bad memories: let’s cover the M.E.D (minimum effective dose) so you can start walking before you run, without getting inundated with music theory. At the end of this post you’ll know exactly which scales to practice and how to master them.

Materials: Three Scales

To make things simple here, we will focus on three types of scales to fit with the three most common chord types in jazz. Our scales of choice are the major scale, the Dorian mode and the Mixolydian mode. The fit the major chords (or maj7), the minor chords (or min7) and the dominant chords (“plain” 7th) respectively.

For now, each scale will only be conceived of on the fretboard with one fingering. No need to stress out with positions and alternative “boxes” on the instrument. You’ll learn that *one* fingering and then go up on the next string with the same fingering. This will yield more or less the same digits patterns (which is very practical for playing without thinking later on).

It goes without saying, anything and everything you learn here can (and should) be applied in different keys. The guitar is wonderful this way: just learned something in C major and want to play it in D major instead? No problem! Move up two frets!

The Major Scale

Here’s the fingering for the major scale, in the key of C. Notice how we are starting with the 2nd (middle) finger of our fretting hand.

For now, only play the scale up to the 7th degree (sounding: DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI) and back down slowly until it sounds good. Repeat with the three starting string we’ve provided in the TABS, always starting the C note with your 2nd finger. Then see if you can play around in different keys.

It is extremely important that you only play to the 7th degree and NOT attempt to relate this back to any known scale position. You can always do that later. Continue reading “Getting Started with Jazz Scales on the Guitar”