Arpeggios - Major Sixths
Our focus this month will be on a theme that has recurred often in these articles, learning a new pattern using one that you are already familiar with. As arpeggios get more complex, often they can be used over multiple chords, as we have seen when we looked at the upper extensions of any arpeggio consisting of four notes or more. Another thing that can happen is that an inversion of an arpeggio you already know can work over a chord of a completely different name. That will be the focus of this month’s article.
We will start by first building the Major Sixth arpeggio, using G6 as our example. Remember to always start with the scale that is the same name as the chord, so that you do not miss any sharps or flats as you build the chord. For a G6 chord then, this would be the notes G, B, D, and E. You often find this chord used at the end of a piece of music that ends with the root note as the melody. The Major Seventh chord contains the seventh, which is a Minor Second away, so using the sixth causes less dissonance. You can also use this over any plain Major chord to extend it. Remember you can always play extensions to the harmony as long as it is musically appropriate. This can add a lot of "color" to your improvised lines.
Practice this arpeggio using the examples from a previous article, starting not only on the root, but also the third, fifth and sixth of the arpeggio over the whole range of your instrument in all twelve keys. This time, take a little closer look at one of these variations. Play the one starting on the sixth of the chord, and see if you recognize the pattern. The note sequence is E, G, B, and D, which you should recognize as your Em7 arpeggio. What we see here is a result of the Major - Relative Minor relationship. The rule to remember is that every Major Sixth chord contains the same notes it’s relative Minor Seventh chord. So what you have here are two inversions of the same pattern working over two chords.
If you play an instrument capable of playing chords, look at your fingerings for these two chords. Depending on the bass line you want, you could use either fingering. Now you can also see why one name may get chosen over another, depending on how the composer wants the bass line to move. For instance you could have a G6,(Em7/G) go to an A7/G, then to a Dmaj7, allowing you to pedal a G note underneath the first two chords. Notice too that this could be written two ways. Em7/G in this case is more accurate in terms of describing the actual progression, but you might see it the other way, so this would help you to better interpret what is actually going on in the progression, rather than having the G6 seem out of place here.
As you can see then, learning a new arpeggio is not always that big a chore if you learn to really look carefully at the notes it contains. When you are learning a new arpeggio, look carefully at how it is constructed, and see if you can’t relate it to one that you already know. Next month we will see how this can really pay off by being able to use one fingering to help build three arpeggios. This is a good illustration of how just because something looks complex, it often is just a lot of smaller things that already know combined. Keep this in mind and you will be able to learn a lot more material in a lot less time that you ever thought possible.