Arpeggio Question

Question from our CAGED video on YouTube:

very good video, it’s been a while since I bought my membership to you but can you explain why we need arpegios? I’ve never really got what they’re for or where we would use them?

Our Answer:

A great question.  First of all what is an arpeggio? It’s a chord that’s been broken up, where the notes are played seperatly rather than all at once. The word arpeggio means “in the style of the harp”, just picture a harp playing a big rolled chord and you can see the connection.
Arpeggios are useful for the same reason scales are. Primarily because they occur all over the place in music. Almost anytime you play a melody and the notes are not adjacent you are playing an arpeggio. Let’s take a simple folk song as an example. Say “On Top of Old Smokey”. I highlighted the arpeggios in red and the scale parts in blue.

Red indicates arpeggio, blue indicates scale.

On Top of Old Smokey - Red indicates arpeggio, blue indicates scale.

Why practice arpeggios? Practicing arpeggios is like taking the difficult sections of 100 songs and boiling them down to a super concentrated form. A little arpeggio practice goes along way.
Arpeggios are also used in improvisation. Both Jazz and Rock both make extensive use of them. If you look at a lot of great jazz solos you will see arpeggios all over the place. The simplest use of them is to play the same arpeggio as chord. For instance on a ii V I progression (e.g. Dmi7 G7 Cmaj7) play a Dmin 7 arpeggio over the Dm7, G7 arpeggio over the G7, and a C maj 7 arpeggio over the C. When the key is changing a lot this is a good way to lock in with the chords. One of the biggest mistakes I hear improvisers make is using the same scale over everything and not connecting with the chords. Not all notes in a scale sound good against chords in the same key. Take the C major scale and the C chord. The note “F” is in the scale, but sounds awful if you emphasize it. By using arpeggios you are focusing on the notes that sound “good” with the chord. If you only played solos using the notes of the chord it would get a bit boring, but using them in important places locks the solo in.
A more advance use of arpeggios is to play substitutions. For instance play a minor 7 chord built on the 5th of a 7th chord (e.g. Gm7 over C7, a Pat Martino suggestion) or a maj 7 built on the 7th of a 7th chord (Bb maj7 over C7, a David Baker suggestion) There are lots of others. I like a min(maj 7) chord built a 1/2 step above and altered dominant chord, like Bb min (maj 7) over A7 (Don’t worry if you don’t follow that one). I found that one in a Cannonball Adderley version of Autumn Leaves.
So practice those arpeggios. How you say? With the Super Scale Trainer of course! It has tons of arpeggios to learn and great ways to learn them.

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