Jazz Guitar Arpeggios

Positions Part Four: Complete Arps

Jazz Guitar Arpeggios

Arpeggios are commonly used to outline chord changes in jazz improvisation. Jazz guitarists of all eras used them in their solos as a mean to effectively “run the changes”. In this article series, we will look into arpeggios derived from previously discussed scale positions. (seven positions of major and melodic minor)

The arps can be very useful as is and will become a powerful tool that deepens your understanding of scale positions. If you’re new to position playing, please read the introductory jazz guitar scales article on positions here.

This effective approach is based on something we already know (positions) … as compared to the usual learning and memorization of arpeggios in “shapes” on the fretboard. Ready? Go!

Jump to a page:
Arpeggios Part 1: Complete Arps [You are here!]
Arpeggios Part 2: Triads and Seventh Chords

Up to the 13th (aka “complete arp”)

Let’s start with the widest possibility for arpeggios : having seven different notes in the arp. If we started in G with the “6-2” position (see previous article) we could play something like this :

jazz guitar arpeggios - 1

The arp contains the notes G B D F# A C E G …
in “scale degrees” it means 1 3 5 7 9 11 13 and 1

In fact this arpeggio contains all the notes present in the scale. That’s why it’s often called “complete”. It’s the scale played in non-consecutive scale tones.

To clarify: This is the scale on two octaves, and the 13th “complete” arp is bold:

G    A    B    C    D    E    F#    G    A    B    C    D    E   F#  G

    2     3    4    5    6    7    8    9     10   11    12   13   14   1

I like to describe this type of arp as “playing the scale, skipping every other note” (or “playing the scale by third intervals”). By seeing arps like this (as non-consecutive scale tones), learning the proper scale positions will automatically unlock all the possibilities for arps.

In Every Position

Just to make things more interesting, it is possible to do that for the seven positionsof major and melodic minor. It takes a bit of work, of course, but it’s well worth the effort! Go ahead and do it. Use the seven positions to play seven note arps… seven days a week! (just trying some rhymes here!)

Points to keep in mind:

  • No matter what position, you will be playing all the notes present in the scale (by third intervals).
  • Make sure that you keep the original fingerings found in positions. Be strict at first, then come up with your own fingering concepts for playing the 13th arps.
  • It will be tempting NOT TO stretch the index or pinky. Be careful and make your hand “stay” as much as possible.
  • For every position, start on the root and go up as far as possible … then down as far as possible. (aka “completing the position”)

Some positions have naturally more notes below than above the root. Go as low as possible, no matter what. Here’s a good example (4-1 in G) :

jazz guitar arpeggios - 2

Go ahead and do it! Just play (!) the 13th arps in the seven positions now (in major, then in melodic minor). Try it for a while and you’ll notice stuff hapenning in your playing.

Don’t Forget the “Negative”!

And, just to double the amount of stuff you can work on (thus doubling the possibilities when you improvise) notice that every seven note arp has a “negative”, like photographic film. It is the arpeggios “on the flip side” so to speak!

Here’s what I mean (in G major, “6-2” position) :

jazz guitar arpeggios - 3

So each position has the “starting on the root” seven note arp… and “the other way around”. Neat uh?! Doing this, you are playing every possible third interval in each position… all over the neck (in major and melodic minor.)

Again, I will say: Go ahead, try it! If you do it in all 12 keys you will basically be playing ALL the available thirds (major and minor) on the entire fretboard. Isn’t that cool?

But who needs thirds anyways? (-;

Moving On

The next article is about the other arps in position (that are made of less than seven notes.)

Go to Arpeggios Part II: Triads and Seventh Chords ——>

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