Harmonizing scales to create arpeggios

When you learn a new scale it is a good idea to learn how to harmonize it creating arpeggios over it.  You may be asking what that means. This is simply building a triad or seventh chord off of each note in the scale. Using these arpeggios gives you a wide range of arpeggios to use over your playing. When you are generalizing over a song you can pick any of these arpeggios or play the harmonized scale ascending or descending. Any scale can be harmonized.

Before you start to harmonize a Scale let me quickly go over the nerd stuff. The word harmonize comes from the word harmony. Harmony is the underlying progression of notes. Notice, I did not say chords. Harmony can be chords, but it does not always use chunks of notes. Harmony can be split up into broken chords (notes from a chord played individually.) If you want to harmonize a scale you need to build intervals of thirds. You can review intervals here.  A triad is a 3 note chord (with all thirds) and a seventh chord is a 4 note chord (in all thirds.) So in brief, you need to add a couple notes to each scale tone using thirds.

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

Now if you are not generalizing over a chord progression you may want to approach this harmonization a little differently. Take the arpeggio and figure out which arpeggio belongs over the Third of the chord, 5th of the chord or 7th of the chord. This will allow you to focus more on important tones. You will be starting arpeggios on the root position arpeggio which is very connected to the chord. Below is an example of harmonized arpeggios.

Harmonized Arpeggios

Harmonized Arpeggios. Notice if you look at all the notes of the arpeggios in each category they complete the full major scale. However they are built in thirds rather than seconds.

Once you are comfortable with these 2 approaches you can intermix them in your playing for a unique sound and more option. The more options you have, but better you can play a wide range of music and have fresh and new ideas. Spend some time working on harmonizing scales and learning to play them. Once you are comfortable with that spend some time memorizing then harmonized arpeggios.

Using this same system you can start to imply altered tones in your playing by changing your arpeggio choices. You can learn to play extended arpeggios and just be freer with your music. These are not meant to restrict your playing; rather they give you building blocks to use to make music. It is hard to be innovative without knowledge of what came before; it is also hard to be good without the knowledge of the basic building blocks of what you want to do. Arpeggios and scales make up much of the music we hear. Learning to use them to our benefit is well worth the time.

Arpeggios are important to jazz guitar

If you play a popular style of music such as rock, metal, country or blues you are probably very aware of how scales are important to soloing. A common question I hear a lot and have asked myself is “what scale is he using”. However in jazz it isn’t the question stated above it is the question “what arpeggio is he using” and “what alterations is he using” Scales are also used in jazz but a large percentage of true jazz is arpeggio based.

If you listen to jazz music early in jazz history you will see a lot of arpeggios used.  Let’s take Louis Armstrong for example. Listen to his playing and you will hear tons of arpeggios. Listen to Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. All of these musicians and many more use arpeggios extensively.  As mentioned above, scales are used in jazz as well, but they take on a different role. Everything in jazz is based around arpeggios.

Which arpeggios are important? There are only 6 that you need to know.  Only 4 are really important for starting out. The 4 most important arpeggios are Major, Minor, dominant and minor 7(b5). The 3 extra ones you need to learn are diminished and augmented. This beats memorizing a bunch of different scales. It is good to learn to play arpeggios in one octave. 1 – 3 – 5 – 7 are the important notes that make up these arpeggios.

With the knowledge of arpeggios you can add more advanced techniques to them to add more interest and have more available interesting uses.  There is lesson that you may find valuable to get some more bebop sounds using arpeggios. Adding some chromaticism to arpeggios can spice it up and create an interesting melody that sounds really hip.

Try playing around with triads and seeing what melodies you can come up with just using them. They may seem simple at first, but these are the building blocks you can use to build an awesome jazz melody with. Spend some time listening to early jazz and trying to listen to the arpeggios that they use. I also suggest transcribing some of the melodies that you hear. Good luck with your jazz journey.

Adding chromaticism to add interest to simple melodies

All 12 notes can be valid choices to use while improvising.  What makes it good or bad depends on how it is used. We will cover ways you can add chromaticism into your playing without it feeling like you are hitting wrong notes. These are neighboring tones, approach tones, enclosures, and use of diminished arpeggios.


Neighbor Tones:

The simplest form of adding non-diatonic notes into your improvised melodies are neighbor tones. This concept is extremely easy to grasp and put into your playing almost immediately. A neighboring tone is a note a half step below or above any note in the scale you are using. This creates a nice smooth sound that creates so many new possibilities.


Approach tones:

Once you understand the concept of neighboring tones you can jump into approach tones. The typical approach tone is 3 notes. This is very bebopish, and cool sounding. When used in rock it sounds really hip. Guthrie Govan is known for using this kind of stuff a lot. You can think of an approach tone as approaching a note in the scale you are using from 3 chromatic notes above or below. In most places in the scale, what you are doing is simply connecting 2 different notes in the scale with a neighboring tone. You can extend this to longer approach tones by thinking about connecting the scale with neighboring tones.  Django Reinhardt often used extended approach tones in a very fast chromatic scale way.




Take 2 notes above and 2 notes below your note of choice in the scale you are using. There are good amount of combinations you can come up with.  A common enclosure is one above and 2 below. This is a very popular type of chromaticism in bebop and sounds extremely cool.  You have seen each of these so far have added on to previous knowledge, starting with neighboring tones. Now we will take a little bit different approach to adding chromaticism to your solos.


Diminished Arpeggios:

To fully understand this concept I am going to explain some theory behind it.

1)      A Diminished chord is often a substitute for a dominant chord. When chords have the same function, they often substitute for each other. There are only 4 diminished chords, after that they repeat in an inversion.

2)      Often diminished chords are used as passing chords. For example you could play the chord progression C – Dmin like C | Db Dim | D-. This works because the diminished is working as a secondary leading tone. This also means you can add a secondary dominant. The secondary dominant would be C | A7 | Dmin. Most chords are capable of having secondary dominants and leading tones.

3)      Implying chords simply means playing around other chords that are not written. Or in other words you are using notes that are note emphasized by the rhythm section.

So how does this work? You imply a bunch of chords. Let’s say you are playing in the key of G. You can play a G arpeggio, G# Diminished arpeggio, A minor arpeggio, A# diminished arpeggio, B minor arpeggio, C arpeggio, etc. This allows for tension and release as well as creating a chromatic root line.


All of these approaches to adding chromaticism are not meant to withhold your creativity, they can be play with your stylistic manners. You can articulate them differently, put different rhythms to them, Different notes, Mix them up however you wish. These are just a few proven ways to use chromaticism to spice up your solos.