Diatonic Arpeggios - How to Use and Practice Them with Jens Larsen

A lesson describing how to practice and build arpeggios for diatonic chords in a scale, and a few examples on how to apply them in improvisation.

Ultimate Guitar
A lesson describing how to practice and build arpeggios for diatonic chords in a scale, and a few examples on how to apply them in improvisation.

Arpeggios are one of the most important tools in improvising over harmony, since harmony consists of chords and arpeggios are the melodic form a chord, so the chord played note for note.

Diatonic Chords and Arpeggios.

In this lesson I will show some exercises on how to find and play the arpeggios that are contained in the scales you play. Let's first look at what a diatonic arpeggio is.

If you have a scale like the C major scale: C D E F G A B C, you can build the diatonic 7th chords by stacking 3 thirds on top of each other. A diatonic third is essentially the 2nd note from the note you are on so for C the third above it is E, for D it is F etc. etc. If I stack 3 thirds from C I'll have these 4 notes: C E G B which is a Cmajor7 chord or arpeggio. From D I get D F A C which is Dm7 etc etc.

It is very useful to learn the order of the diatonic chords in a major scale:

Maj7, m7, m7, Maj7, Dom7, m7, m7b5 (for C: CMaj7, Dm7, Em7, FMaj7, G7,A m7, Bm7b5)

and is later just as useful to learn them for Harmonic minor and Melodic minor.

A few basic exercises

As I explain in the video you should aim to have the entire neck covered for each key of the major scale, especially if you play music that changes harmony a lot like jazz, but in the end it is useful to master in all genres. To keep things simple I've chosen to use this basic C major scale position at the 8th fret because it is one that is very often used as one of the first.

So for technical reasons it makes sense to play the scale in 3rds. The 3rds are the building blocks of the diatonic chords, and it is a pretty basic exercise that you should do on all scales (try a pentatonic scale if you want some surprising sounding diatonic 3rds).

If we then start to stack 2 thirds on top of each other we get a triad, which is of course also a useful exercise to go through:

And if we stack three 3rds we have the diatonic 7th chords:

It is also useful to take a few other exercises through the scale like these two:

Some examples on how to apply arpeggios in lines

I will leave the explanation of this for the video since I go through it there in some detail. But try to play the lines and see if you can identify the chord notes that I am using and see the arpeggio. The point of the examples are to demonstrate how you mix the arpeggio up with the scale in improvisation, you don't want to have melodies that sound too much like scale - arpeggio - scale, you want the two to blend in a natural way, similar to how melodies move.

About the Author:
By Jens Larsen. I hope that you liked the lesson. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or to connect with me via YouTube, Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases. For more lessons check out my website: www.jenslarsen.nl.

42 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Chris Zoupa
    You're amazing and thorough! I'm wicked jelly!
    I'm wicked jelly of you both but you guys are not hoarders of info-technique so both insights are so valuable to me and what I'm trying to achieve. There are not many selfless people in this world.
    Always brightens my day to see another lesson from you. Just as I started digging the diatonic stuff I run into this. Thank you so much
    And what is this? Chris with an official UG lesson series? You guys are some of the best things to happen to my playing, learning and inspiration in forever. Thanks for sharing some of your knowledge and time with us, both Chris and Jens.
    Well if you like "Learn that solo" on Facebook and subscribe to Chris on YouTube I am sure you'll find out
    The tabs for the exercises and examples can also be downloaded here: http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/j/jens_l...
    Sucks the file is a .gpx. Only readable with guitar pro 6. How about an upload for guitar pro 5 and lower.
    So, the way to practise this would be to take a chord, and from the notes of that chord extract diatonic 7th arpeggios of every note of the chord thats in the key and play with them ?
    Well no, this is about knowing the scale that the chord fits in. So you practice your major scales in diatonic arps and know which arps go where, That's the technical part. The second part is putting it to use, so let's say an Am7 chord and we want to play dorian on it, that's the G major scale. Then you look at the chord and find diatonic arpeggios in the G major scale that fits the Am7. chord. Is that a bit clearer? There's another lesson on the subject on the way on UG
    Another great lesson,thanks and keep doing the good work.. . )
    A bit, ill be sure if it's clear or not when i start working on it in greater detail.
    I played through this and oh man is it better than my lesson on arpeggio progression :/ Nonetheless this was great to read through and take in. Also after looking through the lessons on your website, it would be so cool to have a PDF to download and print out sort of in the order of importance to know as you see fit It's a little tricky for me to order this in my head
    I am glad you liked it. I am not sure what you mean with order of importance, did you mean that I should try to order the lessons on my website? The pdf of the tab is easy to arrange Consider it done.. Thanks for checking out my lesson and giving some feedback!!
    Well I see that the lessons on your website are all based off of each other as you went along, so my thought was a PDF of say the starting point of the drop 2 voicings you did, then moving on to arpeggio construction and appropriation like this, then combining the two. I don't have internet very often and I would save the your actual website if I could. So just the lesson series in one convenient file. It's ok if you would rather not do that though
    Sorry I did not see your reply until now.. I am not sure there is an order like that of the lessons, the subjects are a bit all over the place since I just write stuff that I think I have a solid take on and that I find important and useful.
    AlI got is holy s#!t!!!! Many of you are probably lie, " yeah good lesson whats the big deal." But for some reason I knew parts of this but the way you explained this just broke open my head on some scale and arpeggio things I've learned. I dont know what I mean. I knew a lot of this but you brought some relationships ofthings to me in a way I hadnt thought of before. Thanks somuch Jens you are an inspiration.
    Awesome, awesome lesson man. I'd been stuck on modes and how they connected to chords for four years and I recently figured them out and broke through that wall. I quickly encountered the next obstacle; breaking out of the habit of simple chord runs for improv and soloing over chords, and the answer was this lesson! Very clear and concise but explained as well. Thanks!
    That's great to hear! Thanks for checking it out, and let me know if ou have suggestions for topics!