Improvisation - Arpeggios

The simplest way to improvise over a given chord progression is to play arpeggios. An arpeggio is where you play the notes of the chord one after another rather than simultaneously.

It's guaranteed to work because the notes you use in the arpeggios will, by definition, be exactly the same as the notes in the chords. But this means that you will first be required to learn the notes in the chords very thoroughly. Having done that, you simply play them one at a time, in order, either up or down, and over whatever distance you like.

For instance, a simple arpeggio might be played like this:

1 -  3 -  5 -  8 - 5 - 3 - 1 (These are the scale degrees.)

C - E - G - C - G - E - C

Improvisation Arpeggios 1

The distance covered in this example is only one octave. Beginning on C, it goes up using the other notes of the C major chord, until it hits the next C, and then comes back down via the same notes in the chord, until it again reaches the C note we began with.

Unfortunately, playing straight arpeggios can be a bit boring, so you might like to vary the pattern somehow. One way of doing that is to play broken arpeggios (often referred to as broken chords). In the next example, we cover two octaves of the C major chord in broken arpeggio style. Since this book is also for those who can't read music, I had to come up with some other way of notating pitch over more than one octave.

So first let me explain the notation I have used. In the first octave, the notes are given as usual. When we reach the next C from the first one, all the notes in that octave are indicated by a 2, until we reach the top C which is C3. If we demonstrate this by showing the C major scale over two octaves it would look like this:

Improvisation Arpeggios 2

So, having explained that, here's an example of a broken arpeggio:

C - E - G - E - G - C2 - G - C2 - E2 - C2 - E2 - G2 - E2 - G2 - C3

Improvisation Arpeggios 3

Still using the same notes of the C major chord, we played the first three notes of the chord, back to the E, then up again to G and C, back to G, then up to C and E, and so on. When you hit the top you can come back down in the opposite order to going up.

The next table contains some other broken arpeggio patterns you might like to experiment with. All of them are taken over two octaves, and although their general direction is up, once you reach the top you can easily come back down by reversing the process.

You should be able to come up with some of your own patterns too. You can also start at the top, go down, then make your way back up. It's up to you to try them on as many chords as you can.

Improvisation Arpeggios 4

This is how these same broken arpeggios look as written music:

Improvisation Arpeggios 5

Improvisation Arpeggios 6

Improvisation Arpeggios 7

Improvisation Arpeggios 8

Improvisation Arpeggios 9

Improvisation Arpeggios 10

Understanding Scales | Understanding Chord Structure | Understanding Diatonic Chords | Understanding Minor Scales | Diatonic Chords in Minor Keys | Scale Degree Names | Chord Substitution - Extended Chords | Chord Substitution - Overlapping Chords | Improvisation - Arpeggios | Improvisation - Major Scales | Improvisation - Pentatonic Scales | Improvisation - Blues Scales