GBol Arts

Music Notes Archive

Arpeggio Cycling

George with Guitar

In this article, we will return to arpeggios, but look at them from a different perspective. As you learned in the past, you can use arpeggios two ways. First, and the most basic, was to match the arpeggio to the chord you are playing over. The second, was to use an arpeggio to extend the chord, either adding to it, such as making a major 7 chord a major 9 chord, or adding alterations, like sharped or flatted fifths and ninths. Cycling involves starting on the arpeggio matching the chord, and then running it through different keys, ultimately returning to the arpeggio you started with.

To show how this works, start with an F major triad. Go up a flatted fifth from F and play that triad, then up another flatted fifth. This gives us F, A, and C to start with, then we go up to B, D# and F#, up a flatted fifth, and then up another flatted fifth to F, A, and C, which is where we started. This first example ends up being a fairly short cycle. Depending on the interval you pick to go up, you can get a cycle of whatever length you want.

Take the example of going up a minor third starting on a C major triad. This would give you the sequence C, E, and G, then Eb, G, Bb, then Gb, Bb, Db, on to A, C#, and E, to return to C, E, and G once again. Try experimenting with different sized intervals to see how this works. Note the length of the cycle that is generated, as well as the pattern of the roots that are generated. The more you experiment with this, the easier it will get to put it into your playing in a creative manner. Try it over different chords and see how it sounds.

This is a great way to play alterations over a chord, especially dominant sevenths. By using a set pattern like this, you give the listener something to follow that sounds familiar, so this can be a much more effective way to play alterations than to try to work them in using a more random pattern. Most listeners "like what they know when they hear it", so if you give them a pattern to follow, they will be more receptive to the "outside" sound you are trying to get.

When this gets more comfortable, try playing the same sequences, but with different permutations of the notes. For example C, G, E, then Db, Bb, Gb, and then E, C, and G. Another thing to try would be to vary the rhythms as you play these. You could start using triplets, then try varying the length of different notes. The point is to try as many variations as you can come up with and keep experimenting to expand your ability to utilize this concept.

Yet another idea would be to put repetitions within the cycle. For example try playing C, E, G, then Eb, G, Bb, then Gb, Bb, Db, then back to Eb, G, Bb, then to Gb, Bb, Db, then A, C#, E, back to Gb, Bb, Db, then A, C#, E, and finish returning to C, E, and G. By now you should get the idea and see the potential in this type of thinking. Practiced enough, you will start to hear these kind of ideas naturally and put them into your playing without thinking. The only limit to where this can go is the one that you place there. Have fun and keep experimenting.