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This week's practice tip is the next step in REALLY learning to play over changes. Ready?

Installment #3 - Arpeggios Part 2

In last week's tip we covered learning a one octave arpeggio for the four basic 7th chords. I trust you inferred that you'll need at minimum two fingerings for each chord and arpeggio, which makes eight chords and eight arpeggio fingerings. Let's talk a bit about how to apply this material to tunes.

The reason I picked these chords (maj7, m7, 7, and m7b5) is that they are the most basic chords you'll need for learning standards and jazz tunes. Actually, most all chords used in standards-based jazz are either:
1. Major
2. Minor
3. 7th

So, you first order of business when learning a tune is to reduce the more complex chords to basics. If you see a Bbmaj9#11, it's just a Bb major chord with some extensions. You play Bbmaj7. A G7#5b9 is still just a G7, with some notes added and altered for color, an Am6/9sus is still A minor (or Am7), and so on. This is not a new or revolutionary way of thinking - on the contrary, it's how most older pros learned to call changes. The m7b5 is a bit of a special case; you can think of it as a m7, but sometimes that might be risky if the melody note is the b5.

You might be thinking, "hey, if there are only major, minor, and 7th why are we putting the 7ths on the chords and arpeggios?" Simple, if you improvise for very long using just the triads it sounds pretty bland, not jazzy at all.

One last thing before we get to tunes: learn a chord fingering and one octave arpeggio for a diminished 7th chord also. Just one, though is all you'll need. (for now)

So, assuming you know your nine chords and arpeggios, you'll want to pick a tune or progression to practice. One that I use a lot in teaching is "All of Me." Let's start with the (usual) first chord, which is C6. This is a C major-type chord, so you can use your maj7 chord and arpeggio. What you'll want to do is something called "cadenza practice." How it works is simple: You play a Cmaj7 chord, and then you improvise, using just the arpeggio tones, for as long as you like. No tempo, please! Just explore the sounds of the notes. You can call this "noodling" if you like.

Then, when you've had your fill of Cmaj7, stop on one of the arpeggio tones, either C, E, G, or B. Hold your note, and visualize the next chord, the E7. Now, here's a big secret for playing on changes. This one tip can potentially save you hundreds of dollars on jazz improvisation method books. DRUM ROLL, PLEASE..........

You are never more than a whole step away from a chord tone in your next chord! Compare the notes in these two chords:

Cmaj7 C E G B
E7 E G# B D

If you're on the note C, you can go 1/2 step DOWN to the B in E7, or one whole step UP to the D in the E7. If you're on the E (in the Cmaj7 chord), you're already ON a chord tone of E7, although you could also go DOWN one whole step to D if you want. If you're on the G, you can go UP 1/2 step to G#, and if you're on B you are once again already on a chord note in the E chord.

So, you'll move to the closest note in the next chord (or stay if they're the same), and begin improvising on this chord using just its arpeggio tones. It should be obvious once you try it why you need two fingerings/positions for each chord and arpeggio. (You don't want to make big leaps around the fingerboard, at least not at the beginning.) So, slowly and securely begin working your way through the changes, one chord at a time, and connect from your last chord to the next one by no more than a whole step. The fingerings aren't really that important; what IS important is learning your notes and how they function in each chord. Remember, don't worry about tempo, measure lengths, or note values at this point. Your goal is to seamlessly move from one chord arpeggio to the next, by the closest note. Another term for this is "voice leading."

© 2001 by Clay Moore; all rights reserved

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