Superimposed arpeggios

Superimposed Diatonic Arpeggios - Guitar Lesson

Superimposed arpeggios lickIn jazz music, there are two main different ways of improvisation, the use of scales and the use of arpeggios. Great jazz improvisers as Wes Montgomery, George Benson, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Pat Martino or Barney Kessel master both scales and arpeggios. Arpeggios are very helpful devices to easily outline the chord changes especially in tunes with fast tempos as bebop tunes for examples. The basic use of arpeggios is to play them over their related chord, for example play a Gm7 arpeggio (G-Bb-D-F) over a G minor 7 chord or a C7 arpeggio (C-E-G-Bb) over a C dominant 7 chord. Over a classic II-V-I progression in C major (Dm7-G7-Cmaj7) you will play Dm7 arp, G7 arp and Cmaj7 arp. This way you take no risks and you are sure to underline and hear correctly the harmony. Unfortunately, this can be boring in the long run, that's why, in this article, we will see how to superimpose diatonic arpeggios to open new paths and create original and interesting jazz lines.

What are diatonic arpeggios

What's an arpeggio ?

An arpeggio is a chord whose notes are played one by one. Just as diatonic chords, diatonic arpeggios arise from the diatonic scale. Before we discuss how we can superimpose arpeggios it is better to understand how to build arpeggios in a diatonic scale.

Considering the C major scale (C D E F G A B ), we can build a diatonic 7th chord by stacking 3 thirds. A diatonic third is the second note from the note you are on so for C the third above is E, for D it is F, For E it is G. By stacking 3 thirds from C we obtain 4 notes: C-E-G-B respectively the root, the major third, the fifth and the major seventh that consitute a Cmaj7 chord and therefore a Cmaj7 arpeggio. 

When harmonising a diatonic major scale in thirds we get 7 chords, therefore 7 arpeggios grouped into 4 different types (major 7, minor 7, dominant 7 and half-diminished). It is important to memorize the order of the diatonic chords (so, the arpeggios) in a major scale that is to say : maj7, min7, min7, maj7, dom7, min7 and m7b5.  Remember that this order will be exactly the same for any diatonic major scale. If we take the G major scale, arpeggios (and chords) will be Gmaj7, Amin7, Bmin7, Cmaj7, D7, Em7, Fm7b5.

Harmonisation of the major scale in four note chords


Diatonic guitar arpeggios in major scale

Basic exercises - 7th arpeggios sequences

The previous diagram (diatonic arpeggios above) represent the basis on which the following arpeggio sequences are based. The principle is simple, it is to play the notes of the arpeggios in a different order thus giving different sequences. This previous exercise can be named 1-3-5-7 representing the order of the notes of each arpeggio. By mixing these notes we get different sequences as 1-5-3-7 or 1-7-5-3 or 3-1-7-5. Well, you probably understood that there are many combinations, too numerous to give individual examples for them all, but here are a few exercises using arpeggios sequences :

Diatonic 7th arpeggios sequence - variation 1 - Order of intervals is 1-5-3-7:


Diatonic arpeggios 1 5 3 7 sequence

Diatonic 7th arpeggios sequence - variation 2 - Order of intervals is 1-7-5-3:


Diatonic arpeggios 1 7 5 3 sequence

Diatonic 7th arpeggios sequence - variation 3 - Order of intervals is 3-1-5-7:


Diatonic arpeggios 3 1 5 7 sequence

These three exercises should help you to understand how to work on diatonic arpeggios and help you to create your own patterns.

Superimposing diatonic arpeggios - Arpeggio substitutions

How to superimpose diatonic arpeggios ?

Diatonic arpeggio superimposition (or arpeggio substitution) is a very used harmonic concept that enables you to develop more interesting soloing ideas for your guitar improvisations and helps you to create more sophisticated sounds. This concept consists of superimposing diatonic arpeggios to create upper extensions to your jazz lines. You will see in details below how the diatonic arpeggios seen in the previous chapter can be superimposed.

Dominant 7 superimposed arpeggios

Let's start with dominant chords by taking the basic dominant 7 formula which is 1-3-5-b7. To obtain a 9 sound you just have to play a m7b5 arpeggio (1-b3-b5-b7) starting on the major third of this dom7 chord. This is what many call "3 to 9 concept". Now, to get a 11 extension (including the 9), all you have to do is to play a minor 7 arpeggio starting on the perfect fifth of the dominant 7 chord. The 13 extension is obtained by playing a maj7 arpeggio starting on the minor seventh (b7), this way the 9, 11 are highlighted too.

Dominant 7 chord formula 1 3 5 b7      
G7 arp G B D F      
Dominant 9 arpeggio formula 1 3 5 b7 9    
G9 arp G B D F A    
Bm7b5 arp   B D F A    
Dominant 11 arpeggio formula 1 3 5 b7 9 11  
G11 arp G B D F A C  
Bm7b5 arp   B D F A    
Dmin7 arp     D F A C  
Dominant 13 arpeggio formula 1 3 5 b7 11 13
G13 arp G B D F A C E
Bm7b5 arp   B D F A    
Dmin7 arp     D F A C  
Fmaj7 arp       F A C E

Minor 7 superimposed arpeggios

The principle of superimposition works well over diatonic minor 7 chords. The basic formula is a minor seventh chord made up of 1-b3-5 and b7. By playing a maj7 arpeggio starting on the minor third (3 to 9) we obtain a minor 9 arpeggio. Playing a min7 arpeggio starting on the fifth occurs a minor 11 sound (containing the 9). Then, playing a maj7 arpeggio starting on the minor 7th gives a minor 13 extension (including the 9 and the 11).

Minor 7 chord formula 1 b3 5 b7      
Dmin7 arp D F A C      
Minor 9 arpeggio formula 1 b3 5 b7 9    
Dmin9 arp D F A C E    
Fmaj7 arp   F A C E    
Minor 11 arpeggio formula 1 b3 5 b7 9 11  
Dmin11arp D F A C E G  
Fmaj7 arp   F A C E    
Amin7 arp     A C E G  
Minor 13 arpeggio formula 1 b3 5 b7 9 11 13
Dmin13 arp D F A C E G B
Fmaj7 arp   F A C E    
Amin7 arp     A C E G  
Cmaj7 arp       C E G B

Major 7 superimposed arpeggios

The rules are the same for major 7th chords. Remember that major 7 chords formula is 1-3-5-7. By superimposing a min7 arpeggio starting on the major third of the basic major 7 chord (or arpeggio) you get a major 9 arpeggio. Playing a dominant 7 arpeggio starting on the fifth gives a major 11 arpeggio and a half-diminished arpeggio starting on the major seventh (7) gives a 13 color.

Major 7 arpeggio formula 1 3 5 7      
Cmaj7 arp C E G B      
Major 9 arpeggio formula 1 3 5 7 9    
Cmaj9 arp C E G B D    
Emin7 arp   E G B D    
Major 11 arpeggio formula 1 3 5 7 9 11  
Cmaj11arp C E G B D F  
Emin7 arp   E G B D    
G7 arp     G B D F  
Major 13 arpeggio formula 1 3 5 7 9 11 13
Cmaj13 arp C E G B D F A
Emin7 arp   E G B D    
G7 arp     G B D F  
Bm7b5 arp       B D F A

II-V-I ideas using superimposed diatonic arpeggios

The first II-V-I example uses a F major triad (F-A-C) superimposed over the Dm7. This creates a Dm9 sound. In bar 3 an Em7 arpeggio is played over Cmaj7 to create a Cmaj9 sound.

Major 7th arpeggio II-V-I lick

Example 2 and 3 : 

Fmaj7 arpeggio over Dm7, Bm7b5 over G7.

Dominant 9th arpeggio guitar line


Minor 9th arpeggio lick 2-5-1 sequence


Example 4 :

Three arpeggios (Fmaj7, Am7 and Cmaj7) are superimposed over Dm7 thus giving a Dm13 tonality. A Dm7 arpeggio is played over G7 and finally a G7arp over Cmaj7.


Superimposed arpeggios lick

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