Positions Part Five: Triads and Seventh Chords
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
Arpeggios Part 2: Triads and Seventh Chords [You are here!]
Let’s look at the “smallest” possible arpeggios: triads. They consist of three notes : root, third and fifth. There’s a triad built on each degree of any scale. As you will surely notice, the triads are only small segments of the 13th arps we played in the previous article.
In the key of G major we get:
G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em and F# dim.
Demonstrated in “6-2” position here:
I encourage you to play them in G melodic minor by yourself so you can hear and feel the difference. The triads of G melodic minor are: Gm, Am, Bb augmented, C, D, E dim and F# dim. Recall that the you get the G melodic minor scale by making all the B naturals become B flats in the G major scale.
Triads are often overlooked by beginning improvisers but they’re still very important. Every good jazz solo contains triads to a certain extent. Listen to bebop recordings and you’ll hear plenty of “disguised” triads (check out Charlie Parker heads like “Anthropology” and “Ornithology!”)
And, of course, triads are to be applied in the 7 positions of major and melodic minor. By doing so, you will really start to “feel” the positions and the sounds that can be made with them. Make sure you keep the right fingerings for each position!
Don’t forget that other “patterns” are possible with triads. They’re shown above as 1-3-5 in eighth notes, but this could (and should) be practiced in all kinds of ways such as:
- backwards (5-3-1)
- with different rhythms (use quarter-notes, triplets, etc.)
- skipping and coming back (3-1-5)
- repeating a note (making them 4 notes such as 1-3-5-1)
- in inversions (see below)
Here’s an example of a common pattern in triplets (in G major “6-2” again). The first triad is played upward (1-3-5), the second downward (5-3-1) and so on :
Don’t worry about finding ALL the patterns and playing them perfectly. It won’t happen! There’s just too much stuff out there for us to grasp in our lifetime. You have to choose small amounts of material and work at it.
So, the basic idea is to take a pattern you like and practice the heck out of it (in each position). You may work a long time (weeks or even months) on the same pattern. Some positions are more difficult and may help you improve your technique tremendously.
Diatonic Seventh Chords
The concept we used to get triads can be applied to get 4-note arps in a certain key. It gives us the diatonic seventh chords. In the key of G major: G maj 7, Am7, Bm7, C maj 7, D7, Em7, F# min7 (b5)
Demonstrated in “6-2” :
Play them in G melodic minor by yourself. The seventh chords of G melodic minor are: Gm maj7, Am7, Bb maj7 (#5), C7, D7, Em7(b5) and F# m7(b5)
Seventh chords arpeggios are also to be applied in the 7 positions of major and melodic minor. Keep the right fingerings for each position.
The above demonstration uses 8th notes in an ascending way but, of course, other patterns exist. With four notes, the possibilities for different patterns become scary! Here again, find and stick to something you like so you can work on it for a while.
A Little “Pep Talk”
By finding out the arps by yourself in each position, you will unlock great fingerings and ideas for improvisation. If I were to give you all the arpeggios already written out, you would wind up memorizing “shapes” that could turn out to be completely useless for you.
By going position by position, you will make sense out of the guitar fretboard and understand what works best for you! Roll up your sleeves and get to work because the process is the reward. 🙂
Once you get familiar with diatonic triads and seventh-chord arps in most positions, you can start applying them to chord progressions. One of my favorite ways is to isolate the II, the V and then the I.
An example. In G major, “6-2” position :
I find the example above just plain and boring but you get the idea. You can find different ways of playing the chords / arps and come up with interesting lines.
More to do : Extensions and Inversions
Using the concept for triads and seventh chords, you can also build up to “higher” chord tones. How about 1-3-5-7-9 ? Or even… just 3-5-7-9 ?
If you think about this for a moment, 3-5-7-9 for G major 7 is B-D-F#-A. Those are the same notes you get from a Bm7 seventh arpeggio.
Get it? So, if you’re improvising on G major 7, you can play on the extensions (3-5-7-9), thus playing Bm7 over G major 7. This is what Charlie Parker was known to do. He would blow on the extensions of chord progressions.
Arpeggio inversions are also very common practice in jazz improvisation. I won’t go into details here, but you basically start arps on a note that is NOT the root and then play it up or down. By keeping the same exact notes in the arp, it creates different intervals (and new sounds for the exact same arpeggio). Example:
That is something to consider…
- Triads in positions
- Seventh chords arpeggios in positions
- Running II-V-I changes using arpeggios in positions
- Arps extensions and inversions
- Don’t forget to check out the previous article too…