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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 3 to 9 Arpeggio thread in the MWG Forum.



35 Comments

  1. Mike, June 26, 2011:

    Brother this is incredible.

  2. Matt Warnock, June 26, 2011:

    Thanks Mike, glad you dug it!

  3. Mike, June 27, 2011:

    Yea, no problem man, glad you’re posting this stuff for free. This has been more informative than the Berklee book. I’ve been looking for a way to negotiate Donna Lee’s changes and this is it. I especially like the patterns woven with the bebop scales and arpeggios, it reminds me alot of Parker’s and Tal Farlow’s approach.

  4. Matt Warnock, June 27, 2011:

    yeah, I think that’s the key, mixing in the Bebop patterns etc, that really gives it that Martino Mike Stern kind of vibe, glad you’re diggin’ it!

  5. Mike, June 28, 2011:

    Oh, yea definately, I hear alot of Martino’s style come out with this type method. What is also interesting, is that most of of the melodic devices you covered in “Three Elements of Music” happen on their own if you use weave arpeggios and scales together.

  6. Matt Warnock, June 28, 2011:

    For sure, since we are all strapped for time I try and practice all three elements together whenever I can, keeps me moving forward with all three and doesn’t eat up all my time with just one or the other.

  7. rick bourne, July 16, 2011:

    great concept,Iwish I could add more the lesson say’s it

  8. Matt Warnock, July 16, 2011:

    thanks Rick, appreciate you checking out the article!

  9. adam, July 25, 2011:

    this is a fantastic lesson matt, i’ve been solely working on 3 to 9 arps for about a week now and it’s done wonders to my playing already. really expanded my ear as well. i’ve also been listening to a lot of Horace Silver lately; he seemingly builds entire solos out of just these 3 t0 9 arps!!

  10. Matt Warnock, July 25, 2011:

    Hey Adam,
    Thanks for checking out the lesson! Yeah 3 to 9 arpeggios are fantastic ways to outline chords and tons of famous guys use them, like you said some almost exclusively. Mike Stern and Pat Martino come to mind as guitarists who love this technique.

    If you haven’t already, check out the 3 to 7 triad article, great way to expand these ideas further, guys like Wynton Kelly made a career out of playing these ideas.

    http://mattwarnockguitar.com/jazz-guitar-chords-3-to-7-triads

  11. Mike, July 29, 2011:

    Hey Matt, I’ve been using this system for the last month, and I’ve got alot of gain out of it. However, I found I was getting as much color as I wanted out of the arrpeggios, especially when two minor chords were next to each other in a progression. Take a g-7 chord(Gminor7). a 3,5,7,9 would be Bb, D, F, A. So instead I started using a 3,5,7,9 on a Bbmaj7 Chord, D, F, A, C, and I noticed I was getting a significant amount of more color! I wish I could say this idea was mine, but I’ve read that Wes loved subbing relative major/minor arrpegios in his soloing.

  12. Mike, July 29, 2011:

    Sorry, *I was *not* getting as much color as I wanted

  13. Matt Warnock, July 29, 2011:

    Yeah, the 3 to 9 is the first step to get away from root-7 arpeggios. Mike Stern really likes 5-11 arpeggios, so Dm7 over G7, the sound you’re talking about basically.

    Sheryl Bailey talks about the “family of four” that’s where you harmonize every note over a dominant 7th chord and use those arpeggios.

    So for G7 try using G7-Bm7b5-Dm7-Fmaj7

    or for Gm7 try using Gm7-Bbmaj7-Dm7-Fmaj7

    very cool sounds in there, mix it up with some Bebop patterns and you’re cookin’!

  14. Mike, July 29, 2011:

    Brother, you are Treasure chest of Knowledge…Thanks for the gifts!

  15. Matt Warnock, July 29, 2011:

    No problem man, glad I could help out, hope you keep diggin’ the site.

  16. ankkiz, August 6, 2011:

    Hi

    on the Cmaj7 (Em7) you used Phrygian Bebop scale (Phryg + M3) but did’nt mention anything about it.
    It might be confusin for some student who is unfamiliar with bepopscales.

  17. Matt Warnock, August 6, 2011:

    Hey Ankkiz,
    I used the major Bebop scale on that chord, which I mentioned in the text

    “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.”

    with links to articles with the fingerings and definition of the scales there.

    For me, the Ab or G#, is the b6 of the C Major Bebop Scale, not a Phrygian mode sound. Though I’m thinking Em7 for the 3 to 9 arpeggios, the scale is a C Major Bebop so it’s related to the tonic sound of the chord.

    That’s all, nothing fancy, just the 3 to 9 ascending (Em7) and the Major Bebop Scale (C Major) descending.

  18. John, August 11, 2011:

    Great stuff! I’ve been doing this for some time now and it’s great to see someone explaining it!…Great job. I try to think of each triad built from the R,3rd,5th,7th of a given chord and then relate that to it’s chord function.

  19. Matt Warnock, August 11, 2011:

    For sure John, great ways to take concepts you know, triads and arpeggios, and use them in a new way to create a whole new sound in your playing.

    Getting a lot of bang for your buck with these ideas for sure!

  20. yusuf, August 15, 2011:

    This I was looking for …

  21. Matt Warnock, August 15, 2011:

    thanks Yusuf, glad you dug the article!

  22. Mark, September 10, 2011:

    Thank you very much for this great article and all the other cool stuff on your site! These 3 to 9 arpeggios really add a great deal of melodic interest. Especially when you start applying them to the melodic minor scale (Dm7 vamp is what im working on at the moment), got too love that Fmaj7#5 sound

  23. Matt Warnock, September 10, 2011:

    For sure Mark, love that sound of Fmaj7#5 over Dm7.

  24. AJ Green, December 17, 2011:

    Oh crap, I just found this lesson. it’s 11:30 at night and I just put on a pot of coffee and grabbed my guitar. coolest thing I’ve learned in a while, thanks for going to all this trouble for us Matt. I’ll be working on this all night.

  25. Matt Warnock, December 17, 2011:

    Hey AJ,

    Glad you dug the lesson, but sorry I ruined your getting a good night’s sleep!

  26. AJ Green, December 17, 2011:

    No prob, all I got is time. Now, after checking out more of your site I can really say thanks. The insights you teach may be “basic” jazz concepts but you have a real talent for presenting them in a clear and orderly way.
    You keep posting and I’ll keep practicing.

  27. Matt Warnock, December 17, 2011:

    Thanks AJ, I’ll keep posting! Have you signed up for my free newsletter yet? If not you can do so in the top right of the sidebar on any page on my site. You get two free ebooks for signing up and a free, newsletter exclusive lesson each Monday. So check it out if you haven’t already.

  28. AJ Green, December 17, 2011:

    Yep, all signed up. Thanks for all your dedication.

  29. Kurt Rehbein, December 9, 2012:

    Thanks very much Matt,

    Great lesson. Just what I have been looking for.

  30. Matthew Warnock, December 9, 2012:

    No problem glad you dug the article!

  31. adam smith, January 5, 2013:

    hi matt – love it – could you briefly explain

    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

    thanks Matt

  32. Matthew Warnock, January 6, 2013:

    yep those are correct. For G7b9 you could play B D F Ab, Bdim7, for GmMa7 you could play Bbmaj7#5, Bb D F# A.

  33. adam smith, January 6, 2013:

    got it – thanks

  34. Vincent, September 10, 2014:

    Hey Matt! How do we apply the 3-9 arpeggio for chord melody without backing track?

    Do we first play the actual chord e.g. C Minor 7 or root note C, and then 3-9 = Ebmaj7 Arpeggio? Or perhaps end with actual chord e.g. C Minor 7 or root note C?

    What is the recommended approach?

  35. Matt Warnock, September 10, 2014:

    Hey, try playing just the 3-9 in a chord melody, so if says Cm7 play Ebmaj7 to get that sound into a CM

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