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How to Play 3 to 9 Arpeggios for Jazz Guitar

Many of us that are learning how to play bebop jazz guitar have practiced arpeggios and use them in our soloing over jazz tunes, especially Bebop tunes where the chords often move at a breakneck pace and we need to navigate them very quickly.

But what do we do when we become bored with the regular, ole root-3-5-7 arpeggios that we have under our fingers?

There are many directions we can go at this point, when we have the standard arpeggios down and need to expand our playing further, and one of the best and most common approaches that we can check out is the 3 to 9 arpeggio concept.

The concept itself is fairly simple, we just play the arpeggio for each chord that we are soloing over using the intervals, 3, 5, 7 and 9, leaving out the root.

Why would we do this you may ask? Well, one reason is that adding the 9th gives us an extra color tone in our playing, one that is more “jazzy” and colorful than the root.

Secondly, as guitarists, we have a habit of starting our lines, at least early on when we are first learning jazz, on the lowest note of any shape or fingering we’ve learned, mostly because it’s the first note we see on the neck in that position and we’ve practiced running up and down arpeggios starting on the root in our practice rooms.

But, if we simply take the root out, and start these ideas on the 3rd of each chord, we are getting rid of that boring sounding root and even if we start every line on the lowest note in our arpeggio shapes, it will now be the 3rd, a more interesting note that the root.

The first thing that we will take a look at is the arpeggios for a ii-V-I in Cmaj7, starting from the root of each chord and running up to the ninth. These are by no means the only fingerings for these arpeggios, but they work well for the context of this lesson.

If you want to learn more about these fingerings, check out the Guitar Arpeggio page on my site, which contains many one and two octave fingerings for these, and other, arpeggios.


Root to 9th Arpeggios


3 to 9 arpeggios


With the root to 9 arpeggio under our fingers, let’s go ahead and remove the root from the equation, leaving us with an arpeggio that starts on the 3rd of each chord and finishes on the 9th. When we do this, an interesting thing happens, we are left with a new arpeggio for each chord.

Dm7 is now Fmaj7 (FACE), G7 is now Bm7b5 (BDFA) and Cmaj7 is now Em7 (EGBD). Not only is this a cool theory tidbit to get into our palette, but it will help us learn and memorize the 3 to 9 arpeggios. Instead of thinking of the intervals of each chord, just think of these relationships:


  • m7 3 to 9 arp= Maj7 starting on the 3rd of the chord
  • 7 3 to 9 arp= m7b5 starting on the 3rd of the chord
  • Maj7 3 to 9 arp= m7 starting on the 3rd of the chord


Since we are only looking at major key 2-5-1’s in this lesson, here are a couple of other popular 3 to 9 formulas in the minor keys that you can apply to your playing.


  • m7b5 3 to 9 arp= m7 starting on the 3rd of the chord
  • 7(b9) 3 to 9 arp= dim7 starting on the 3rd of the chord
  • minMaj7 3 to 9 arp= Maj7(#5) starting on the 3rd of the chord


With our heads wrapped around the 3 to 9 concept, and how we can apply arpeggios that we already know to the 3rd of these chords to build them, let’s get them under our fingers in a ii-V-I in C Major.

Again, this is only one position for these arpeggios, there are many more to explore, so be sure to try and learn as many ways to please these arpeggios across the neck as possible.

If you are looking for ways to spice up these arpeggios, so you don’t just play them up and down when soloing, check out my lesson on Adding Chromatics to Basic Arpeggios for ways to add more interest to your arpeggio lines.


3 to 9 Arpeggios


3 to 9 arpeggios 1


While playing these arpeggios is a great way to outline chords and chord changes, without having to play the root all the time, only playing these arpeggios can become boring after a while, though it is a great exercise to learn the 3 to 9 arpeggio for all of the chords in a tune you’re learning and only solo with these arpeggios.

So, how do we spice up this concept to make it more musical and get it to sound more “jazzy?”

One of the easiest ways, and a way that jazz players have been using going all the way back to Charlie Parker and the Bebopers, is to play the 3 to 9 arpeggio ascending, from 3rd to the 9th, and then descend the Bebop scale that fits the chord you are on.

So for m7 it would be the Minor Bebop Scale, for 7th chords it would be the Dominant Bebop Scale and for Maj7 chords it would be the Major Bebop Scale.

If you are unfamiliar with these scales, check out my page on Bebop Scales for Guitar as well as 21 Bebop Scale Patterns for Guitar to learn more about this often used, and very cool, scale device.

In the example below, we have the 3 to 9 arpeggio ascending for each chord in the ii-V-I, followed by its related descending Bebop scale. At first, just practice this concept as is, up the arpeggio and down the scale, in a given position. But, once you have the fingerings memorized, start to improvise with this idea right away.

Change the rhythms, add notes, use some of the Bebop Scale Patterns you know etc. Then move on to a different position on the neck and learn the fingerings there for each arpeggio and scale, and improvise in that position right away.

It’s very important to practice improvising with these, or any, jazz concept because as the great jazz guitarist Roddy Ellias once told me, “nobody has ever paid me to play scales, they pay me to play music!”


3 to 9 Arpeggios Exercise 1


3 to 9 Arpeggios Exercise 1


With the 3 to 9 arpeggios, and their related Bebop Scales, under our fingers and in our ears, we can now apply this concept to any tune or chord progression that we’re working on. A good rule of thumb is to do the following exercises over a tune to help internalize this concept in the context of that particular song:


  • Play the 3 to 9 arpeggios all ascending for each chord
  • Play the 3 to 9 arpeggios all descending for each chord
  • Play the 3 to 9 arpeggios ascending for the first chord, then descending for the next etc.
  • Play the 3 to 9 arpeggios descending for the first chord, then ascending for the next etc.
  • Play the 3 to 9 arpeggio and related Bebop Scale for each chord
  • Improvise using only the 3 to 9 arpeggio for each chord
  • Improvise using the 3 to 9 and related Bebop Scale for each chord


Below are a few different licks that I came up with to demonstrate 3 to 9 arpeggios and their related Bebop Scales in the context of a Major ii-V-I progression.

Check out these licks, then come up with some of your own, for this and other chord progressions that you’re working on. As well, when you’re transcribing solos from famous players, try and pick out the different instances to see how your favorite guitarists use this concept.

You’ll find that cats such as Pat Martino, Mike Stern and Kenny Burrell all use 3 to 9 arpeggios, but in slightly different ways, which might push you in different directions with your own playing.


3 to 9 Arpeggios Lick 1


Click to hear audio for this 3 to 9 Arpeggio Lick.


3 to 9 arpeggios lick 1



3 to 9 Arpeggios Lick 2


Click to hear audio for this 3 to 9 Arpeggio Lick.


3 to 9 arpeggios lick 2



3 to 9 Arpeggios Lick 3


Click to hear audio for this 3 to 9 Arpeggio Lick.


3 to 9 arpeggios lick 3



Do you have a favorite way to practice or apply 3 to 9 arpeggios to your playing? Share it in the comments section below.

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