Jazz Improvisation #2

Jazz Improvisation Using Arpeggios (with AUDIO mp3)

Jazz improvisation is the art of creating melodic lines spontaneously. It is traditionally inspired by a piece’s rhythms, melody and harmony.The goal of the jazz improviser is to invent lyrical, inspired melodic content within the boundaries of harmony. In fact, great jazz solos are often outlining the chord changes effectively!

It’s also good to know that jazz musicians sometimes play *OUT* on purpose. They can try to avoid the pre-determined key centers. It’s seems that artistic expression cannot be boiled down to formulas after all! Since this is an instructional website, I will focus on how to play effectively “IN” the changes… I would like to share three of my favorite jazz improvisation “tools” with you.

Download All the Sheet Music Found in This Lesson

The tools are explained in three pages + audio examples and should help you outline chords clearly while improvising on the guitar.

Here’s the audio introduction (click to download mp3)

Jump to a page:
Jazz improvisation #1: Scales
Jazz improvisation #2: Arpeggios [You are here]
Jazz improvisation #3: Guide-Tone Lines

Audio Content

Please listen to this audio (streaming mp3) while you check out this lesson. I’ll be walking you through the steps and explaining things a bit further than what’s written out. Feel free to pause the audio as you “puzzle things out” on your own instrument! (-:

Here’s the AUDIO LESSON for Jazz Improv #2: Using Arpeggios

Arpeggios Are Vertical

Using arpeggios to outline chords is natural. Arpeggios are built of larger intervals (thirds or fourths) and are easy to hear. The basic arpeggio is in fact a scale built in thirds. Let’s look at the F dominant 7 chord :

Jazz Improvisation: Arpeggios

See, the arpeggio is vertical
The chord, the scale and the arpeggio contain the same notes!

Applying the Arpeggios

The basic steps in arpeggios application are as follow :

  • Pick a tune and learn exactly one arpeggio for each chord.
    (Stick to the basic 4-note 1-3-5-7)
  • Play arpeggios up and down through the tune “rubato” (no tempo).
  • In strict tempo, play arpeggios up in quarter-notes and then play arpeggios up and down in eight-notes.

The first four bars of the blues in with arpeggios in eight-notes:

While attempting to play this, stick with familiar fingerings. The goal for now is to hear the progression not to unlock the entire fretboard!

Beginner Jazz Guitar Arpeggios Outlining

Once you are familiar with the process, I recommend you pick a new tune and study its arpeggios. Do NOT pick the blues in F again!


I recommend a jazz standard with an 32-bar form. Carefully select the tune and work on it for a while. Try the following suggestions:

  • Scale degrees number 1,3,5 and 7 are called chord tones. Start each arpeggio on the third (then repeat with fifth and seventh).

Jazz Improvisation: Arpeggios

First four bars of F blues starting on different chord tones

  • Become as comfortable descending than ascending the arpeggios. (starting on any of the chord tones)

This offers you new possibilities for jazz improvisation.

Intermediate Jazz Guitar Arpeggios Outlining

Now you can play the arpeggio outlines to a blues and another standard of your choice. That is quite specific and you should begin to hear the chord changes clearly in your head. The ultimate goal here is to know all the arpeggios to all the jazz tunes in your repertoire. It’s simpler than it looks! Play through your repertoire now!

Obvious patterns will start to emerge after you’ve played arpeggios through a few familiar songs. Apply the above suggestions and read on…

Here are two more arpeggios practicing suggestions to mix-it-up a bit further :

  • Choose the chord tones you start on randomly.
  • Choose to ascend or descend the arpeggio randomly.

Here’s a PDF of mixed arpeggio outlines on F blues

Advanced Jazz Guitar Arpeggios Outlining

  • It is possible to play from different arpeggio segments. Re-do the beginning and intermediate steps with 3-5-7-9 instead of 1-3-5-7.

Jazz Improvisation: Arpeggios

You can also play with 5-7-9-11 and even 7-9-11-13 if you wish! Work on one segment at a time to “get” the concept and the sound.

And one last thing:

  • Please read the “Advanced” section of the “Jazz Improvisation #1: Scales” page. Adapt the “entire range” and the “small range” exercises for arpeggio playing. Work with different 4-note arpeggio segments.

That’ll keep ya busy …  😉

Download All the Sheet Music Found in This Lesson

Moving On

Please keep in mind that arpeggios are only tools to develop genuine jazz improvisation. They will not make music for you… but they will help you hear through chord progressions. When you are really “blowing”, be in the moment and focus on the feel. Arpeggios are simply part of the grammar of jazz vocabulary, not your whole speech. They emotions you want to convey are above any rules!

Have Fun!

Go to Jazz Improvisation #3: Guide-Tone Lines ————>

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