If you’ve begun to explore chord soloing on guitar, you’ll know that one of the toughest shapes to harmonize are arpeggios. This is because they’re built with intervals of 3rds or larger, jumping around the neck in a short amount of space compared to scales, which tend to use more stepwise motion.
Because arpeggios are an essential part of jazz standard melodies, it’s useful to have tactics in your repertoire to handle these shapes in a chord solo.
The approach that’s demonstrated in this lesson is something I’ve learned from studying Joe Pass chord solos, and I’ve also found it in solos by Kurt Rosenwinkel, Lage Lund, and John Scofield.
The lesson is broken down into two sections, the video lesson and the text-notation section. Feel free to jump around between those two sections, or to start with the video and refer to the examples as needed.
There is also a backing track included so that you can practice improvising your own lines once you’ve learned the chord solo examples below.
Chord Soloing Examples
In my previous lesson on chord soloing, you learned a set of voicings that can be used for creating phrases over a turnaround.
In this lesson, you’re going to explore more turnaround phrases, only this time the focus will shift to arpeggios for each chord-soloing line.
The reasons for playing thirds instead of a full chord, is that it’s easier to execute from a technical standpoint.
And, since you’re moving from a low to a high note, or the other way around, the full chord on lower string tends to sound muddy; breaking up chords in thirds avoids this.
The first line, harmonizes an arpeggio for each of the chords in a ii V I VI chord progression in the key of Eb.
In the video, you’ll see a few approaches to make it easier to play each harmonized arpeggio by re-using fingers and shifting positions etc. These approaches may or may not fit your hands, but they’re worthwhile to explore. From there, you can find the best fingerings to fit your technical ability and hands on the guitar.
Each arpeggio in the example is a straightforward arpeggio, the diatonic arpeggio such as playing an Fm7 arpeggio over the Fm7 chord.
The one exception is the C7alt chord, where you play Bbm7b5 over that chord. The reason for this is, is that the diatonic chord for the C altered scale isn’t a C7, but a Cm7b5. If you stack the notes of C altered from the root, you get C-Eb-Gb-Bb, a Cm7b5 chord.
You need to get into the upper half of the chord to find the major third interval. In order to include the major third, you can play a m7b5 arpeggio a tone below the root of any 7alt chord. When doing so, you highlight the intervals b7-b9-3-b13, a rootless 7alt arpeggio shape, and one that is commonly used by many great jazz guitarists in their comping and solos.
With that theory in mind, you can move on to the next example, where you’ll mix in some full chord shapes with the broken arpeggios in thirds over the progression.
In this example, you’re using the harmonized arpeggio to target a melody note in a full chord, so the line builds from thirds to land on a larger chord shape.
This works really well across the barline as well, try substituting the Fm7 with a Bb13.
The second approach ensures that the melody continues in a stepwise motion when transitioning from thirds to the full chords. This is what’s happening in the second bar of example two.
Harmonized Arpeggio Licks
The first licks starts out with two Fm7 triad based chord voicings, and from there continues with a harmonized Abmaj7 chord.
The end of the bar also contains another useful application of thirds, in that they’re used as a chromatic approach leading to the Bb7 chord in the second bar.
The Bb7 chord is based around one chord shape with an ascending melody on top of that shape, in the same way that Red Garland often used chords in his solos.
The Ebmaj7 is first stated by a drop 2 voicing, followed by a scale movement of thirds down to a triad based shape in the second half of the bar.
The final Bb on beat four is harmonized as a third, because it’s in the lower register.
For the C7alt chord, the first part of the line is a harmonized Bbdim triad, followed by drop 2 C7alt voicings that resolve to a drop 2 Fm7 voicing on the & of 4.
The next chord soloing lick starts out on the Fm7 with drop 2 voicings, reminiscent of Wes Montgomery’s chord soloing lines.
On the Bb7, you use the Bb7 arpeggio from example 1, and then move to a Bb7alt drop 2 voicing, before resolving to Ebmaj7.
This line clearly demonstrates a mixture of drop 2 and triad based voicings, and that the choice of which one to use often depends on which string the melody is on.
Lastly, the C7 phrase starts off with a C7b9 triad voicing, and from there plays a descending harmonized arpeggio that resolves to the 5th(C) of Fm7, harmonized as a third, on the & of 4.
In the last example, you’re again using descending arpeggios.
The Fm7 line starts out with a short Fm9 statement.
From there, it continues with a descending harmonized Ab major triad, that then moves scale wise to the b9 of the Bb7alt chord.
The melody continues up to a Bb7(#9,b13) that resolves nicely to a Ebmaj7 drop 2 voicing with a D in the melody of that chord.
The chords then continue with drop 2 voicings in a stepwise manner up to the C7alt.
On the C7alt chord, the statement is a bit big band like, as it uses the #9 and b9 on the top of a drop 2 voicing before it resolves to an Fm9 drop 2 voicing.
I hope you can use the techniques and ideas I went over here to create your arpeggio runs in your chord solos!
Do you have a question about this video jazz guitar lesson? Share it in the comments section below.
About the Author
Jens Larsen is a Danish jazz guitarist living in the Netherlands. He is the guitarist/composer of the band Træben. A teacher at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague and also has a YouTube channel with lessons on Jazz guitar, music theory and guitar technique. Visit his website for news, lessons and concert information: http://www.jenslarsen.nl