Tag Archives: arpeggios

Notice Moment’s Notice

Check out this Transcription of John Coltrane’s solo on his composition, “Moment’s Notice”. This is a great tune. The melody is very singable and the chord changes, while difficult, make sense. I’ve loved this tune for years but never really learned it well.

Looking at the solo, the first thing that strikes me is how often ‘Trane will use the same melodic material with slight variations. It’s clear that he has worked out some basic ideas for these changes. The second thing I noticed is an increasing use of the sharp five on dominant chords as the solo progresses. This is nearly always part of a descending arpeggio and happens at mm 21 (Bb7), 29 (Eb7), 33 (Bb7), 43 (Bb7 – not part of a descending arpeggio), 57 (Bb7, though he actually starts on an A natural here. Also, not resolving to I), 63 (Ab7), 85 (Ab7), 95 (Bb7, not resolving to I), 98 (Bb7 – he plays the arpeggio after the chord has already resolved to I and follows up with a lick that he also plays a few times earlier in his solo. That lick is also two beats later. Compare mm 21-22, 81-82, and 97-99.), 101 (Ab7), 109 (Bb7), and 115 (Bb7). I hadn’t really picked up on this with casual listening but it became very clear once I got into the transcription process.

Coltrane starts the solo out with a break. He plays down the so-called major bebop scale (a major scale with a chromatic added between 6 and 5 which keeps chord tones on strong beats) and then outlines the I chord. It’s repeated almost note for note at his second break in measures 40-41. The descending Maj7 arpeggio in measure 8 is used again in measures 62, 84, 85 (up a half step) and 100. Actually, he plays the exact same line in mm 99-102 that he played in mm 61-64. The difference is that the later repetition is part of a very long eighth note line. It’s as though he was assemling ideas in his first two choruses and then putting them together in the final chorus.

In measure 13 I think it’s pretty clear that he was still playing over Cmin7 even though the change to Bbmin7 had already arrived. It still sounds great and he makes the modulation quite clear in the second half of the measure with a descending Bbmin7 arpeggio.

Contrast the 13th measure of the form (mm 16, 54, 92) with the 29th measure (mm 32, 70, 108). It’s clear that despite the written changes, he is treating the former as a I chord (before launching into the key change up a minor third), whereas in the latter he is treating the measure as a ii-V to the ii chord. It’s an excellent example of how the function of a change can determine what you might do with it.

I love the desending melodic minor scale Coltrane uses over the Abmin6 chords in this tune. Check out mm. 31, 69, 91, and 107. I also appreciate the way he echoes the melody over the last 8 bars of each chorus. And of course there is the double time diminished scale lick right before the third chorus in measure 75. Dom7#5 chords played in descending minor 3rds. Each four note group is half of a diminished scale and the next four note group covers the other half. Well worth learning. Also note that the longest 8th note phrase – 5 bars long – is in his final chorus. And the first note of each measure is G, F#, F, E, Eb, and F. In case you thought that the F# on the Eb chord was some kind of error!

Every time I transcribe I learn something new. Usually I discover that what I thought was complicated is actually really straightforward. And I’ll admit that I don’t have this solo learned at full speed. Yet. That’s what practice is for!


Out of Stitt’s Brain

I’ve recently completed this transcription of Sonny Stitt’s solo on “Out of Nowhere” from his Last Sessions LP. It’s one of the many tunes that I should have known years ago but only recently learned. I transcribed Sonny’s interpretation of the melody as well as his two chorus improvisation. The fingering should allow you to get close to the original phrasing, which is why, for example, in measure 53 there is a sudden jump up from position II to XII.
Rather than analyze the entire solo, here are some highlights that I found particularly interesting. There is a lot to learn from transcribing a solo, from phrasing to feel to interpretation and scale choice.

MM.24- This lick is difficult on guitar but it sounds great and the sudden drop of a fifth is very cool. Also, after this point Stitt begins to mix up the octaves that he uses to play the melody, jumping up and then back down and using melodic fills to move around. Overall his statement of the melody is loose and peppered with short licks in between the important melodic passages. While the original melody covers a ninth, from D below the staff to E an octave up, Sonny’s version covers an octave plus a sixth, from D below middle C up to the B above middle C.
MM.36- The break is what made me want to transcribe this solo. It’s such a great use of the minor pentatonic where many other players would tend to use some sort of D7 lick. The repetition of the Bb contrasts with the B on beat one of the form, when Stitt outlines the G triad from the third up.
MM.40- It’s clear from looking at the lines in measures 40-41, 56-57, 72-73, and 88-89 that Stitt is thinking of the ii-V in Ab as a Bbmin7 chord. He never really outlines the Eb7, completely avoiding the third (G, the tonic of the overall key) in every case. Also, the way that he transitions back to the tonic key with double chromatic enclosures in measures 41, 57, and 89 is ingenious. In all cases he uses two notes that are diatonic to the Ab scale to enclose a chord tone from G. What a great way to employ chromaticism diatonically!
MM42- I always learn something new when I transcribe. I never would have thought to treat the G chord in measure 5 of the first eight as a G7, especially considering the F# in the melody, but that’s exactly what Stitt does and it sounds great.
MM.50- Thanks to my student Ben Collins for showing me that you can slow a Youtube video down to half speed! He also helped to transcribe this lick when my ear was failing me. Mastering the double time licks in this solo is not easy. You will need to pay close attention to your right hand technique and decide for yourself where you want to slur. I like to slur as little as possible to maintain clarity. Note that the lick in measure 52 starts out the same as the one in measure 50 except it is down a half step, missing the first note, and is not in double time. I put the octave slide here in measure 53 to reflect the way that Sonny does it on the tenor.

MM.66- Although the changes here are iii – biii dim – ii – V, which is a very common chord progression in standard tunes, Sonny outlines a iii – bIII – ii – bII and quotes a bit of the Charlie Parker tune “Ornithology”. Both sets of changes get you back to the tonic efffectively.

MM.70- Guitarists know that playing the same note on two different strings yields a different tone. Saxophonists also have alternate fingerings for certain notes and Stitt bounces back and forth between two different B notes here. If you refuse to use open strings then catch this on the G and D strings.
MM92- This is another difficult lick. I found that in order to smoothly execute the sixteenth note Bmin arpeggios I had to play them all as an upstroke sweep. You might try down-up-up-up, but that didn’t work for me.

MM100- For some reason I didn’t learn how to effectively wrap up a solo until way after college. I guess it was when I started recording and realized that all of my solos just stopped without any resolution. Sonny Stitt uses a nice major pentatonic (mostly) lick to close out two choruses of great improvising.

When learning this solo, remember that you are copying someone else’s phrasing and feel. Work on playing along with the recording. If you just try to learn the licks off the page without listening to the record, you are completely missing the point. Good luck, have fun, and when you’re done, find another solo to transcribe on your own! It’s enjoyable and educational!

Melodic minor patterns

The melodic minor scale is one of the most useful for improvising in jazz. The scale has a flat 3 but a major 6 and 7. In C that would be C D Eb F G A B C. In E it would be E F# G A B C# D# E. I’ll be covering the modes of melodic minor in more detail in a few other posts, but today I just want to present these fingerings. They are not the only possible fingerings for this scale but I think they feel pretty good. My suggestion for practicing is to take one shape through the cycle of fourths and then move on to the next shape until you have all of the shapes memorized in all keys.

In classical music, melodic minor is an ascending scale, used mostly over a V chord in a minor key. An excellent example of this scale is the famous Bouree in E minor by J.S. Bach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7aDW1kWbAU


In jazz we use this scale and its modes on the chords that are derived from the scale, and we use it ascending as well as descending. We would use C melodic minor over a Cm(M7) chord, which is spelled C Eb G B. You also might want to use it over Cm6 (C Eb G A) or Cm6/9 (C Eb G A D). I will often use melodic minor in a modal setting where dorian might be the more expected scale. So even if the chord in the chart is Dmin7, I might still use D melodic minor.

One of my favorite places to use melodic minor happens in a huge number of standard tunes -the classic IV-iv progression. Look at the last 12 measures of “All the Things You Are.” This is a very common chord progression, usually preceded by a ii-V in the key of IV and followed by a I or a iii (subsitute for I). It’s an example of a borrowed chord – the iv is borrowed from the parallel minor. In the example of “All the Things You Are” it’s a Db minor chord. Try using Db melodic minor there.

The most common modes of melodic minor are the 4th (lydian dominant – 1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7) and the 7th (altered scale or super locrian – this scale has altered 9ths and 5ths as well as a 3 and a b7). Also common are the 6th mode, for playing over a min7(b5) – 1 2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 – and the 3rd mode for playing over a M7(#5) chord – 1 2 3 #4 #5 6 7.

Knowing the different modes of this scale is important, but you’ll want to be able to think of those modes – especially the lydian dominant and the altered scale – as they relate to their own tonics. This is why I advocate practicing parallel, rather than relative, modes. So once you have all of the melodic minor scales down, try doing the mental shift to get the other modes down as well.

A final note – it is often worth thinking of a scale as a chord with extensions. Looking at melodic minor in this way we have 1 b3 5 7 9 11 13 or min13(Maj7). Looking at a scale in this way helps us see what chords and extensions are being expressed when we use the scale. If we take the third mode of the scale we would have 1 3 #5 7 9 #11 13 or Maj13(#5#11).

Now stop reading and start shedding!

Charlie Parker on Guitar!

Charlie Parker on Guitar


I thought it might be fun to share this Charlie Parker solo from the song Tiny’s Tempo by Tiny Grimes. This is a great blues tune from 1944. I’ve put in some fingerings that I think make it easier to get some of Bird’s phrasing right. I’ve also written it in the correct octave for guitarists to read.

The ascending triplet Gmin7 (really a Bb6) arpeggio that starts off the solo is followed by a descending scale passage. Note that he is hitting chord tones on the beats with passing tones on the off beats. This is how you want to be using your scales when improvising most of the time. Bird hits the 5th of the chord on beat 2, the 3rd on beat three, the root on beat four, and nails the 3rd of the IV chord on beat one of measure 2. The first two measures of this solo make a great lick to learn in all keys.

Measures 3 and 4 are an excellent example of chromaticism with the whole tone scale. Think of the chord as Bb9(#5). The line starts on the 9th and drops chromatically so that on each downbeat a consonant note is played – 9th, root, 7th, and 6th. The 6th does not fit into the whole tone scale. When I first looked at this line I was confused by the F# just left hanging unresolved at the end of the measure. Then I noted that the G is the only note on a strong beat that is not part of the whole tone scale. The F# along with the D and Bb in the next measure form a D augmented triad. I think that Bird’s drop down a sixth (something he does quite often) on the “and” of 3 in measure 3 flipped the chromatic line out of sync for a beat. I guess I’m claiming that the G is an accented passing tone while the F# is the chord tone. The whole tone line continues into measure 4 until the F# which is both the last note of the whole tone scale and a half step approach to the Gmin7 (Bb6) arpeggio on beat 4, echoing the starting lick an octave down.

I love the way Parker leaves notes hanging and then resolves them later. You can find so many great guide tone lines in his playing. That F# from the end of measure 3? He picks up the F (now the 9th of the IV chord) at the beginning of measure 5, brings it down to the E (b9) at the end of the measure, down to Eb in measure 6, and then resolves it nicely with a D in measure 7, back at the I chord. Measures 5 and 6 also just sound nice and bluesy.

In measure 8 we see the same lick as the opening statement but at a different pitch level, and starting on a different beat. The ascending Dmin7 arpeggio implies a BbMaj9 chord. The descending scale that follows uses a chromatic note so that Bird can land on the b7 of the ii chord in measure 9. Again, note the chord tones on the strong beats. Also note the drop of a 6th in beat 3. Did I mention he does that often? At the end of measure 9 is a Gmin arpeggio. Over Cmin7 that gives us the 5th, b7th, and 9th. This concept of playing arpeggios off of notes other than the root to get more interesting extensions is an important one, and the more you transcribe the more you will see it.

Measure 10 is pretty straightforward looking, though I have replaced Bird’s flurry of notes on beat two with a triplet because I think it mays better on the guitar and still gets the gist of what is happening. Beats one and two of this measure are repeated note for note in measures 22 and 34. In fact, the last four measures of all three choruses are basically the same. Measures 10 and 34 are exactly the same. Measures 21 and 33 are exactly the same and only differ from measure 9 in that there is no turn on beat one of that measure. Charlie Parker is inventive, but no one is endlessly inventive, and the repetition draws everything together nicely as well.

I’m not going to dissect every measure of the next two choruses, but I will point out the things I find particularly compelling. Contrast the third and fourth measures of the second chorus (mm. 15 and 16). Note how measure 15 is completely diatonic (even using a Major 7th) while measure 16 has a b13 and both flat and sharp 9. The tension in measure 16 leads nicely to the IV chord in measure 17. The chromatic enclosure at the end of measure 16 is particularly common in bebop.

Measures 20 and 32 are both interesting in that they use passing arpeggios. Descending Dmin7-Dbmin7 arpeggios lead nicely to the Cmin7 chord in measures 21 and 33. What a great way to play four “wrong” notes in a row! This idea works just like chromatic passing tones but it takes up more time and builds more tension.

I would also note the chromaticism of measure 26, the descending scale (interrupted by another drop of a 6th) with a chromatic passing tone of measure 27, and the general fact that chord tones are played on strong beats.

The melodic elements of this solo are scales, arpeggios, and chromaticism. The harmonic elements are the same because Parker’s use of extensions and altered notes affects the harmony. The rhythmic elements are not something I have gone into here, but it is worth noting that he starts and ends his phrases in a variety of places within the measure. There are repeated patterns such as the triplet ascending arpeggios. And of course, as usual in jazz, the primary rhythmic unit is the 8th note.

Overall it’s a great introduction to bebop improvising over a familiar set of changes. It sounds killer and it lays well on the guitar. I learned a lot from looking it over and that’s the point of transcribing. You get to see how concepts are applied.

Finally, I would note that it is not likely that you will be able to use scales and chromatic lines to such good effect if you don’t know where your basic chord tones are. That’s why practicing arpeggios is so important. You don’t just land on chord tones accidentally. You need to know they are there and how they sound. Charlie Parker knew his instrument, and he knew where his chord tones were, and he knew those things because he practiced. So stop reading and go practice!

Dominant 7 Arpeggios

Arpeggios are hard. Most people don’t enjoy learning them, but they are critical if you want to understand how to improvise over chord changes. It’s important to be able to find chord tones on the guitar and arpeggios are the best way to do that. Dominant 7 arpeggios are a good place to start because secondary dominants are so common. If you know your C scale and the E7, A7, and D7 arpeggios you can easily play over All of Me, for example. Take a look at these fingerings for dominant 7 arpeggios. If you have already learned these major scale fingerings, you will notice that the arpeggios come out of the scales, based off of the 5th. A great way to learn these fingerings is to play a C scale and then play the G7 arpeggio that is found within the scale. Just leave out the C, E, and A notes. Once you are fluent with dominant 7 arpeggios in all keys you can start learning some other arpeggios such as Maj7, min7, min7(b5) and dim7.

I am using arpeggios in my playing all the time, even when I am not playing them straight up or down. When I am playing chromatically, I like to start and end my lines on chord tones. The arpeggios that I have practiced form an underlying structure over which I build my linear ideas. This is true for all styles of music, not just jazz. There is a difference between choosing a scale that sounds good with a certain set of chords and choosing notes to target at particular structural points in a chord progression. Finding those chord tones can actually free you from the confines of a particular scale.

Good luck practicing your arpeggios, and have fun figuring out how to apply them creatively!

All of Me – Scale Choices for Improvising – With Digressions!

A fellow guitar teacher asked me how to improvise over the changes for All of Me. The tune is usually done in C but it is also commonly played in G. Rather than answer him immediately I wrote the following analysis. Well, I’m not sure if it is an analysis, or just a rambling look into my own mind, but whatever. You might just find it useful. I am not delving into strange scale choices, or discussing phrasing. I’m just throwing out the basics here. Thanks to Travis Preston for transposing this entire analysis to C from the original G.

mm 1-2 – C6

The first two bars are a C6 chord. That’s I in the key of C, so your typical scale of choice is C. Or C pentatonic, or C major blues, whatever.

mm 3-4 – E7

This is a chord type known as a secondary dominant. That’s any chord that is V of something other than the tonic. In this case it is V/vi or “five of six”. There are a few ways to generate the most expected scale to use over this chord. If we take a C scale and only change the note we need to accommodate E7, we get C, D, E, F, G#, A, B , which happens to be an A harmonic minor scale. Alternatively, if we say “E7 is V in the key of A minor (not A major, because A is a minor chord in the key of C), and when faced with a V in a minor key the most expected scale is the harmonic minor,” then we get the same answer. Also, it’s nice to know how to play a straight up E7 arpeggio. AND, it’s nice to know what extensions are generated by using A harmonic minor on an E7. E G# B D F (A) C spells E7(b9,b13). The A is the 11, and is an avoid note, or a passing tone, but not part of the chord.

mm 5-6 – A7

We would expect V/vi to actually go to the vi chord. In this case, it sort of does. The vi chord (Amin7) has been replaced by yet another secondary dominant – V/ii or A7. That’s what secondary dominants do; they often stack up on each other in a series known as “backcycling”. If we take C and only change the note we need to accommodate A7, we get C# D E F G A B, which turns out to be D melodic minor. Not surprising as A is V in the key of D minor. Melodic minor is a scale that gives us the V chord without that funny augmented second between the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale that we get with harmonic minor. On the other hand, if we use the second method mentioned above – “A7 is V in the key of D minor (not D major, because D is a minor chord in the key of C), and when faced with a V in a minor key the most expected scale is the harmonic minor,” then we get a different answer. So we have a choice between D harmonic minor or D melodic minor. Again, it’s useful to know the extensions generated by each scale. A C# E G B (D) F is A9(b13) whereas A C# E G Bb (D) F is A7(b9,b13). There’s a pretty obvious b9 in the melody on beat 3 of measure 6, so I’d definitely use a b9 when playing chords over the melody. Harmonic minor is probably the most expected choice here, but there’s never just one choice in music, as far as I can tell.

mm 7-8 – Dmin7

Our series of secondary dominants has arrived at the ii chord. We’re in the key of C and this is the ii chord in C, so C is the scale we should use. Extensions generated? D F A C E G B spells Dmin13, but we are NOT playing with modal or static harmony, we are playing with funcional harmony. Nailing that 13 is not doing the tune any favors. This is a ii chord in C, not a i chord in D minor. Hitting that B will just make it sound like you think you’re on a V chord, which you are not. Feeling bluesy? A little D minor blues scale might sound hip here.

mm 9-10 – E7

V/vi. You know what to do!

mm 11-12 – Amin7

Our V/vi resolved to the vi chord. Again, we’re in C and we have a chord that is diatonic to C, so we should be using C. A C E G B D (F) spells Amin11. The F is not part of the harmony. Again you could use minor blues if you want. You could try to use A dorian here but I don’t think it’s all that spectacular. By the way, did you notice how the melody in mm 7-8 and mm 11-12 went from the 4 down to the minor 3? That’s not just something you’ll see on this tune. Look at ii and vi chords in any number of jazz tunes and you will see that it is an extremely common melodic device. This stuff is as formulaic as anything else that humans do.

mm 13-14 – D7

Another secondary dominant. This one is V/V. Again, if we just accommodate the chord to the C scale, we get C D E F# G A B, which turns out to be a G major scale. That makes sense, because D is V in the key of G, and G is a major triad in the key of C. Since we’re not in G, we should probably call this scale D mixolydian. Looking at the arpeggio, we have D F# A C E (G) B, or D9(13) the 11 is not part of the harmony. It clashes with the 3rd. Another way to deal with this chord is to add the #11. D F# A C E G# B is D13(#11). Putting that arpeggio into scale form, we get D E F# G# A B C – a D Major scale with a sharp 4 and a flat 7. This scale is known as Lydian-Dominant, and also happens to be the fourth mode of melodic minor (in this case A melodic minor). So, D mixolydian (D major with a b7, and the 5th mode of G), or D Lydian-Dominant (D major with a #4 and b7, and the 4th mode of A melodic minor) are both typical for this part of the tune. D major blues would work as well.

mm 15-16 – Amin7-D7

A secondary dominant usually goes to the chord that it “points” to, or to another secondary dominant with the same root. In this tune, V/vi went to V/ii, which went to ii. Later, V/vi went to vi. That’s because chords functioning as dominants want to resolve to their respective tonics. That process is called “tonicization”. We tonicize the vi with a V/vi, and so on. So it seems strange at first that the D7 in mm 13-14 does not move directly to G7, but instead changes to Dmin7, and then goes to G7. What’s happening here is that in jazz, a V chord (D7) can often be replaced with a ii-V (Amin7-D7). So, imagine this as two bars of V that have been replaced with a ii-V. Incidentally, it’s much more common for a V/V to resolve to a ii-V than it is for secondary dominants in other positions. That is to say, the chord progression seen in mm 13-16 is extremely common in jazz standards. In any event, we have a ii-V in the key of C here, so a C major scale is where it’s at, so to speak.

mm 17-24 – See mm 1-8

mm 25-26 – F6-Fm6

Here is a classic chord change in jazz and pop that illustrates the concept of borrowed chords really well. We have a IV-iv, or “four to minor four” progression. The iv chord is borrowed from C minor. Yeah, we can do that. Thank you very much, giants of western classical music. We’re still using the key of C for the F6 chord, which means we are implying Fmaj13(#11) – F A C E G B D. Since the Fmin6 comes from C minor we can use a C minor scale. Looking at the arpeggio, we would have F Ab C Eb G B D, or Fmin13. This is a great place to use that 13, by the way, unlike the ii chord earlier. We can also just change the notes we need to, staying as close to C as possible. C D E F G Ab Bb would be the scale. We had to flat the A to accommodate the chord, and we had to flat the B because B natural would sound like a flat five. Minor chords pretty much universally accommodate perfect fourths but shun augmented fourths. That scale is F harmonic minor, and I much prefer it to C minor when dealing with borrowed iv chords. Looking at the arpeggio we have F Ab C E G B D, or Fmin13(Maj7)! AWESOME!!

There is a variation on this change that is just as common, and that is to use a bVII chord (Bb7 in this case), or to use both chords (Fmin7-Bb7) as a sort of ii-V in the key of the bIII. All the same scales mentioned above will accommodate both changes. Actually, the F harmonic minor does not fit the Fmin7 perfectly as you’ll need a Eb for that change, but I don’t usually worry about that very much.

Finally, it is important to note that borrowed iv and bVII7 chords function as V chords. This means that they go to I or to a chord that functions in place of I, such as iii, or to another chord that delays resolution such as IV. The progressions that I consider all roughly the same that are encompassed here are as follows. Pick one from each column…

IV            V          I

ii             iv         iii


               iv bVII7

And then in rock there is the ever popluar I – bVII – IV – I. Can’t Explain is a good example.

Getting back to “All of Me”, you could replace the iv chord in mm 26 with a V chord and the melody would work just fine.

mm 27-28 – CMaj7 – Emin7 – A7

This is pretty straightforward. Measure 27 is a I-iii (not very common) and you can use C Major here. Measure 28 is V/ii and you can treat it like the other A7 chords in the tune.

mm 29-32 – Dmin7 G7 CMaj7

The tune wraps up, like most standards, with a ii-V-I. Resolution in measure 31 is typical of a 32 bar tune. Obviously the key of C is the most expected sound here. Again, knowing arpeggios is always helpful. It should be noted that the progressions in this tune are pretty typical of jazz tunes. It’s less common for chords to be static for two bars as they are in this piece, but the actual progressions are very straightforward. Every chord is either a diatonic seventh chord, a secondary dominant, or a borrowed chord. We generally take one of two approaches to these chords – Either stay as close to the key as possible, only altering scale tones that need to be altered to accommodate the non-diatonic chords, or use an appropriate scale for the chord based on its actual function. Either way we get roughly the same outcome. Of course, there are less common scales that could be employed at various points in this tune – fully altered, half-whole diminished, and whole tone scales come to mind.