The Science of Building Strong Jazz Guitar Lines Part 1: Serial Melodic Arpeggios

I’d like to share something with you that may refine some of the common jazz improvisation concepts that you already know; Scales, and Arpeggios.

When creating a musical line, whether composed in written form, or composed in an improvised context, the same mechanics always come into play. In order for your ideas to sound strong and cohesive you must start paying closer attention to where you are placing “key” notes in each phrase

In this two-part series of articles, I will share two types of approaches to how I’ve learned to organize my note choices. In Part 1, we’ll discuss Serial Melodic Arpeggios and embedding them into your lines to create more interest and excitement in your jazz guitar solos.

First off, a little review of some important terms for those who are new to the jazz guitar game.

Arpeggios are simply chord-tones, the notes that comprise any given chord. Think of an arpeggio as a melted or separated chord, and a chord as a frozen arpeggio.

Serial Melodic Arpeggios are very similar to a bass line, only you play them in the upper register, utilizing only chord-tones and not necessarily starting out with the root note at the beginning of a new chord change, as you would normally do when constructing a bass line.

This is a great way to learn how to create long, flowing lines.

In example 1, you will construct Serial Melodic Arpeggios based on the chord changes to an F Blues. Take note that when you play example 1 without any chord changes backing you up, you can still hear the changes in the line, albeit implied. This is the beauty of this technique, being able to bring out the sound of each chord while being creative at the same time.

Example 1:



Now that you have the basics down, let’s go a step further to create a longer, melodic line. You’re now going to place notes in between each of the chord tones from the first example, which is why example 2 seems more like a scale and less like an arpeggio.

By separating the notes of the chords first, then adding in the remaining scale tones, which end up being tension notes by the way, you have a melodic line using a mix of scales and arpeggios.

There is even an added chromatic passing tone in certain places to avoid repetition of the same note. Use the rest of the notes in example 1, and complete the 12 bar form in a similar fashion.

Example 2:

Can you now see how there is a chord built into the notes of this scale run above? There is a chord inside every scale; you just need to be able to see it.


It doesn’t have to sound so much like a (silent groan) “scale”. Try approaching each chord-tone either from a semitone below, or a scale-tone above, no matter whether your line is ascending or descending.

In example 3, the first measure is approaching each chord-tone from a scale-tone above and the next measure is a mixture of scale-tones below and above. Then, in the third and fourth measures we approach these notes with semitones below. This approach now eliminates the need to repeat notes in certain places, adding more smoothness and clarity to your lines.

Your line now sounds so much more interesting! As in the previous example, use the rest of the notes in example 1, and complete the 12 bar form in a similar fashion.

Example 3:


So ,one last thing, don’t forget to use space in your lines when taking these ideas to a real-life musical situation.

Each example in this article is written in the extreme just for illustration purposes.

Doing things like this as an exercise is great, but don’t forget to chop your line into phrases so your music breathes.

By burying what I call Serial Melodic Arpeggios inside your lines, then approaching the chord-tones, the arpeggios, from different angles, a semitone below, a scale-tone below, or from a scale-tone above, you can create some cool sounds with only two concepts, scales and arpeggios.

Feel free to leave your comments below


About the Author:
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2 Comments on The Science of Building Strong Jazz Guitar Lines Part 1: Serial Melodic Arpeggios

  1. Thanks for saying hello, Karel! I best of luck with everything.


  2. Thank you for your hard work.
    Greetings from The Netherlands

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