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This week I'd like to first say thanks to all who have signed up, and for the excellent feedback I've gotten. Also, I wanted to mention that if you e-mail a question about something in one of tips I'll consider posting an answer in the next tip if it seems relevant to all. I wanted to flesh out a few more details on the last two weeks' tips, and one member's questions will jump start us. Let's hit it!

Installment #4 - Arpeggios Part 3

Rich asked:

".... on the latest tip, Arpeggios Part 2, what an incredibly powerful piece of information you just gave to everyone.  'You are never more than a whole step away (major 2nd) from a chord tone in your next chord.' This principle holds for any position on the guitar? Any string you may be playing on? And for any type of chordal movement? A lot of jazz standards have root movements in 4ths (5ths) so this principle holds for that also?"

The answer to all these questions is yes, the principle holds. It's simple math really. In jazz we use 4 note chords, AKA 7th chords, as basic harmonic materials. A chord containing four of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale has - drum roll, please! - 1/3 of the available pitches in the scale. When you switch to the next chord you only have eight notes left, so you'll either have notes in common or they'll be very close at hand - no more than a whole step. But, you don't have to take my word for it; take any two 7th chords, no matter how seemingly unrelated or distant, and write the notes out. You'll see.

Next, Rich asked:

"One last question: I understand what you say at the beginning about reducing more complex chords down to basics. One example you give is G7#5b9 being just a G7 chord.  I'm not sure I understand one thing, you could consider the b9 being a color tone added. But the #5 is part of the triadic structure of the chord.  So your arpeggio would have to reflect that, correct? A straight dom7 arp being 1 3 5 b7, wouldn't you have to sharp that 5? Same for min7b5? You have to flat the 5th. I guess with the dominant chord that dissonance might be acceptable."

Jazz improvisation methods have gone from simple to quite complex. This is a normal phenomenon in any field, but the resulting theories can be quite confusing, especially to a beginner. Remember first that what we're working on is improvising, and open-ended concepts work best. Having chords written out with all the bells and whistles, such as G7#5b9, is actually an impediment to improvising, because you're being told what to play AND having to process more information. These types of chords came in written practice because many arrangers got into the habit of including all the horn and string parts in the chords written for the rhythm section.

So, while you might need to play the G7#5b9 chord as written for a big band arrangement or during the head of a jazz tune, when you are blowing on the tune it's just G7. This gives you the option of playing it as any flavor of G7 you like - G7b5, G7#5, G9#11 - whatever. There may be occasional clashes it's true, but that happens with even the best jazz musicians. It's everyone's job in the group to listen! Inevitably some theorists will tell you that playing certain types of chords, such as G9 as the V chord in a minor tune, is wrong, but Charlie Christian and Lester Young did this as a matter of course. Who're you going to believe, a theorist, or Christian and Young?

Next, if you've been playing the 1-3-5-7-1 for each chord in position it's time to expand. Find the remaining arpeggio tones IN THAT POSITION for the chord. If the root of your chord is on the 6th string, you can actually play a two octave arpeggio from root to root. If your root is on the 5th string you'll have an extra 5th and 7th BELOW the root, and a 3rd and 5th ABOVE the octave. A Cmaj7 arpeggio around the 3rd fret would be spelled (beginning with the low E string) G-B-C-E-G-B-C-E-G.

If you're feeling pretty comfortable with these materials one cool technique is to play the progression to a tune very slowly (Band-in-a-Box works great for this) and improvise with arpeggio tones IN STEADY QUARTER NOTES, connecting from chord to chord by no more than a whole step. This is like what walking bass players do, but you're also using it to prepare for more complex lines. Start with the metronome speed of around 60 BPM. If you find you have a lot of trouble keeping this going it means you need more familiarity with the individual arpeggios, and you'll need to go back to the rubato practice discussed in Installment #3.

© 2001 by Clay Moore; all rights reserved

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