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by Tony Oreshko
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Jazz Soloing: Lesson 2

Using Arpeggios to Improvise in a Blues

In lesson 1 on jazz soloing we looked at arpeggios, and saw that an arpeggio is just the notes of a chord played one after the other rather than all at the same time. More interestingly, we also saw how a Bm7b5 arpeggio can be used to solo against a G7 chord to create a jazzy G9 sound.

We're now going to look at a 3 chord blues progression and see how we can use different arpeggios to solo over each of the three chords.

The Blues Chord Sequence

Here's a simple, 3 chord version of a 12 bar blues in the key of C. We looked at this in an earlier lesson:

     C7    /    /    /   |      F7    /    /    /   |      C7    /    /    /   |      C7    /    /    /   |

     F7    /    /    /   |      F7    /    /    /   |      C7    /    /    /   |      C7    /    /    /   |

     G7    /    /    /   |      F7    /    /    /   |      C7    /    /    /   |      G7    /    /    /   |

        Blues MP3  Listen to the Blues progression

We can see there are three chords in the sequence above : C7, F7 and G7.

Now we already know that we can play a Bm7b5 arpeggio against the G7 chord to create a G9 sound. But what can we play against the C7 and F7 chords?

Arpeggios for All Three Chords

The answer is that if we use the same sort of substitution as with the Bm7b5 against the G7 chord it works out that we can play an Em7b5 arpeggio against the C7 to create a C9 sound, and an Am7b5 arpeggio against the F7 to create an F9 sound. Here's how it all looks:

          Chord      Arpeggio to play
             C7           Em7b5
             F7           Am7b5
             G7           Bm7b5

You might remember from lesson 1 that we counted 6 steps through the musical alphabet to work out which m7b5 arpeggio matches which 9th chord. Em7b5 matches with C9 because E to C is 6 steps. Similarly Am7b5 matches with F9 because A to F is 6 steps. Bm7b5 matches with G9 because B to G is 6 steps.

So the idea is that every time the chord changes, we play a new arpeggio against it. Here are the fingering diagrams for the three different arpeggios we need. Notice that it's exactly the same pattern every time, only starting in a different place on the guitar fingerboard. (Note: arp = arpeggio).

Click on each fingering diagram to hear how the arpeggio sounds (first played slowly, then a little faster):

m7b5 Arpeggios

           Em7b5 arpeggio diagram            Am7b5 arpeggio diagram            Bm7b5 arpeggio diagram            

Advantage of Using Arpeggios

One of the best things about using arpeggios is that they are based on chords, so you can use them to imply harmonies. What do I mean by that? Well, if you play a Blues solo using single note lines built on these arpeggios you can actually hear the chord changes, even if there is no-one playing the chord accompaniment! This is because you are outlining the chords as you play your solo.

Listen to the example below, and hopefully you'll hear what I mean. Here I'm doing an unaccompanied solo using the three arpeggios Em7b5, Am7b5 and Bm7b5 and using them to imply the chords C7, F7 and G7 from the Blues progression above. Can you hear where the chords seems to change, even though no-one is playing them?

        Blues Solo MP3  Solo using m7b5 arpeggios over a Blues progression

Rearrange the Notes

Remember that the notes of an arpeggio can be played in any order and with different rhythms to create countless soloing ideas. You'll need to work hard to really break open these arpeggios and explore their many possibilities.

To recap, we've looked at a simple Blues in C, and seen that the chords it uses are C7, F7 and G7. We've seen how we can solo over each of these dominant 7th chords by using an arpeggio.

We already knew that we could use a Bm7b5 arpeggio to solo over a G7 chord. By extending this idea we've seen how we can use an Em7b5 arpeggio to solo over a C7 chord, and an Am7b5 arpeggio over an F7 chord. We can get the Em7b5 and Am7b5 arpeggios simply by playing the Bm7b5 arpeggio pattern starting in different places on the guitar fingerboard.

Hope this lesson has made some sense to you and has given you some new sounds to try out. In the next lesson I'll show you how to use this same m7b5 arpeggio pattern to play against minor chords.

Tony Oreshko

Go to Jazz Soloing Lesson 3

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