Tools for improvisation – arpeggios and pentatonics

Arpeggios, scales and chords 

Most serious guitarists know about the basic, but ever important, tools for improvisation: arpeggios, scales and chords. These devices are the first step towards proficiency on the instrument.

Once mastered to a satisfactory degree, the next step is to make them sound musically interesting. Great players have their ‘secrets’, which bring individuality and colour to their playing.

Adding colour to improvisations 

One way to add colour when playing over a min7 chord is to play a maj7 arpeggio down a whole step, which brings a Dorian sound to the mix. A full list of such arpeggio substitutions can be seen in the table below:




Notable players, including Wes Montgomery, have successfully employed this technique, an example of which can be found in ‘Four on six’ and other compositions, often both in the theme and improvisation.

Pentatonic scales built on the 3rd and 5th degree of the chord 

Another simple, but colourful way to add depth to improvisations is to use the well-known pentatonic scales, but built on the 5th and 3rd degrees of the chord.

Using the minor 7 pentatonic built on the 5th of Minor 7 chords and the minor 7 pentatonic built on the 3rd degree of Major 7 chords gives additional options to the improviser. These approaches can add significant depth to the vocabulary acquired through and for improvisation.

Combination of tools and approaches 

Of course proficient improvisers don’t restrict themselves to certain tools and approaches, but rather master them individually and then combine to great musical effect.

These arpeggios and pentatonics played from specific degrees of the chord are a simple, yet versatile way of adding additional depth to improvisations.

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London Jazz festival 2014 – dates to look forward to this year

This year’s London jazz festival will occupy our hearts and minds between Friday the 14th and Sunday the 23rd of November. As usual, I have my personal favourites, which I’m going to list and talk about here.

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension 

First, Thursday the 2oth of November. This, unsurprisingly, is my #1 priority of the festival: John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension. Ranjit Barot, Gary Husband and Etienne Mbappe will once again join McLaughlin on what will be an evening of  ‘Now, here, this’ and much more edge of the seat fusion.

Bill Frisell – Guitar in the space age 

It is a luxury to be able to see acts of this calibre live, performing their latest and most memorable compositions. Another good example of that is Bill Frisell, who will be coming back to the London Barbican on Sunday the 16th of November. This time, the telecaster magician will be presenting his new new program – ‘Guitar in the space age’.

Marcus Miller, Dave Holland and Lars Danielsson 

On Friday the 21st, Marcus Miller will be returning to London, to the Royal festival hall to be more precise. On the same day, not too far at the Queen Elizabeth hall, Dave Holland and Kenny Baron are getting together for a collaboration both interesting and unique. In what seems like the busiest musical Friday of the year, Lars Danielsson will also be playing at the London Cadogan hall with Leszek Mozdzer.

With many more dates to be added to the schedule between now and November, this year’s festival will be another great gathering of top jazz talent across London venues.

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RIP Jim Hall

December has made a nasty habit of taking some of the best musicians away from us – Paul Motian 2 years ago and now, regrettably, Jim Hall. Having seen him live in London only a year ago, the sad news came as another reminder that even the best aren’t immortal.



His music will remain an endless source of inspiration for years and years to come – RIP master!

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