This article is for late-intermediate to advanced guitar players and guitar teachers who improvise over chord changes or chord sequences using arpeggios. If you have already learned major 7, minor 7 and dominant 7 arpeggios on the guitar, then this is for you. If not, learn those first and then come back to this article, as this is slightly more advanced than those basic arpeggios.
1. One arpeggio to rule them all
Recently I’ve been noticing that you can use the same arpeggio shape in different places to play different chords. For example, take the C Major 7 arpeggio. You can play it over a C Major 7 chord, obviously. But you could also play it over an A minor 7 chord, which will sound really nice, because the major 7 note in the C chord (the note B), is a 9 in the A minor chord. The arpeggio fits as an A minor 9 without the root.
The reverse is also true; you can take any minor 7 arpeggio, let’s take A minor 7 for example, and play it over a major chord. If you play an A minor 7 arpeggio over a C chord it sounds like the chord C6. If you play it over an F chord it sounds like F major 9.
You can create some really nice sounds in your improvising using this approach. Minor 7 and Major 7 chord types work with the same arpeggio shapes much of the time. However, for dominant 7 chord types you need a different type of arpeggio.
I recently discovered one arpeggio shape that works for a huge array of chords: The minor 7 flat 5, or m7b5 arpeggio.
This is the 7th chord in a major key, or more commonly used in jazz as the 2nd chord in a minor key. A minor 2-5-1 in jazz is typically something like:
Dm7b5 G7#5 Cm
The chord construction is: Root, minor 3rd, flat 5th, flat 7th.
Here are 4 inversions of the Am7b5 arpeggio on 3 strings:
3. What can you do with this arpeggio?
If you know what I’m about to tell you, you can get a LOT of mileage out of this one arpeggio shape. You can use it on 4 different families of chords:
1. Minor7b5 chords (duh)
2. Minor chords including Minor7, Minor9 and Minor6 chords
3. Dominant 7 chords including Dominant7, 9 and 13 chords
4. Altered dominant chords including 7b9, 7#5, 7#5b9, and all other chords derived from the Altered scale (or Superlocrian scale, 7th mode of the melodic minor)
How you ask?
For a minor7b5 chord, simply play from the root. In case you need an example, on an Am7b5 chord, play the arpeggios of an Am7b5, as in the image above. Hopefully that one is obvious.
On a Cm7, Cm9 or Cm6 or just plain Cm chord, play the exact same arpeggios as in the image above (Am7b5), it will work great. You will be spelling out the notes of the Cm6 chord, which is compatible with any minor chord UNLESS it has a b6 in it, which is quite rare (unless you are playing a lot of Steely Dan).
On an F7, F9, or F13 chord, play the exact same arpeggios as in the image above (Am7b5), it will work great. You will be spelling out the notes of the F9 chord without the root.
On a B7#5, B7#5b9 or any other B Altered chord, play the exact same arpeggios as in the image above (Am7b5), it will work great. You will be spelling out the Root, major 3rd, sharp5 and flat9 of the chord.
(If you are wondering whether this will sound good on a B7#9 chord, try it out and see. Even though the notes aren’t strictly the same, they will blend pleasantly enough, just like adding a 9 into a minor 7 arpeggio, played over a minor7 chord which does NOT contain a 9 in it).
4. Use the same idea for chord shapes!
If you’re smart like me, you might start thinking, “If the arpeggio shapes work on all these chords, then that must mean the chord shapes themselves must be interchangeable”. Exactly! They are J
Therefore you can use an Am7b5 for all of those chords mentioned in this article. Here is a common shape for a Root Inversion Aminor7 chord on strings 1-4:
Can you see how this chord shape could be played for a Cm6, F9, or B7#5b9 chord?
Now come up with 3 other inversions for this chord on strings 1-4, 4 other shapes for strings 2-5, 4 other shapes for strings 1,2,3 and 5, and 4 other shapes for strings 2,3,4 and 6. Once you’ve done all that, you can then expand the above arpeggio pattern to 5 strings and you’re done.
That should take you through the weekend at least!
Also once you’ve done that, you can play chords through or improvise over ANY chord sequence like a badass combination of Frank Gambale and Wes Montgomery with 14 fingers and plectrums for fingernails.
This is a challenging exercise. If you are in Dublin, Ireland, and want to find a teacher who can coach you through these types of fretboard-mastering lessons, check out guitar lessons in Dublin.