Arpeggios are the musical equivalent of greeting someone by name—it’s the most direct way you can communicate with a chord and it’s going to take your playing up a notch.
Theory: Advanced Beginner
• Learn how to apply arpeggios directly to a blues progression.
• Break out of only playing pentatonic scales.
• Easily combine different arpeggios in the same position.
Have you ever wanted to break out of the pentatonic scale when playing blues? While there is nothing as universally accepted, used, taught, and beloved as the minor-pentatonic scale for playing over a blues progression, it’s not your only option. The pentatonic scale works well over blues changes because it contains enough of the notes from the underlying I–IV–V progression to match up and work well. Plus, there’s something about the pentatonic scale that just works.
Here’s an analogy that might help: Using the pentatonic scale is akin to walking into a room and saying, “Hey everyone!” It’s more general than greeting someone by name, but it almost always works. Arpeggios are the musical equivalent of greeting someone by name—it’s the most direct way you can communicate with a chord and it’s going to take your playing up a notch. Let’s take a look at a 12-bar blues in A to understand what our chord progression is in Fig. 1.
As you can see, there are only three
chords, A7, D7, and E7—the I7, IV7,
and V7, respectively. The pentatonic scale
works just fine for all three chords because
it contains just enough notes to talk to each
chord and sound inside. Take a look at the
notes in the chords as they relate to the
notes in the scales:
A minor pentatonic = A–C–D–E–G
A7 = A–C#–E–G
D7 = D–F#–A–C
E7 = E–G#–B–D
The notes in the chords that also appear in the pentatonic are shown in bold. As you can see, the scale talks to each chord in some way, but it does leave out a bunch of nice tones. For example, the A minor-pentatonic scale doesn’t give you the 3rd of any of the chords, and the 3rd is the tone that defines whether a chord is major or minor. It’s amazing that we’ve gotten away without proper 3rds in our pentatonic-based blues playing this long. Arpeggios are going to help us fill in the missing gaps, and when combined with pentatonic scales, they’re going to elevate your playing.
Let’s start mapping out these arpeggios in and around the 5th position. Check out the A7, D7, and E7 arpeggios in Fig. 2. By themselves, they sound like exercises, but when you break them up and combine them with some notes from the A minorpentatonic scale, you can end up with Fig. 3, a phrase that outlines the A7 and D7 in the first four measures of our progression. In this example, I’m leaning on C# and F#—the 3rds of A7 and D7, respectively— because the pentatonic scale omits them and I love the way they sound. Combine that with some simple phrasing, and you have a nice lick that breaks you out of the pentatonic rut, while still sounding bluesy.
To take the idea further, check out Fig. 4 and Fig. 5, which are two examples of playing over E7 and D7 in measures 9 and 10 of the progression.
In both examples, I’m keeping it as simple and melodic as I can, while still picking notes directly from the arpeggios. To stop them from sounding like exercises, I’m focusing on the top two or three strings of the arpeggios and throwing in notes from the pentatonic scale whenever possible to help ground me in the blues language. Just because you have arpeggios spanning multiple octaves at your disposal doesn’t mean you need to play more than a note or two from each in order to connect with your chord progression. As you learn to incorporate these arpeggios into your playing, I’m sure you’ll discover that a few of the notes you were already playing outside of the pentatonic box are actually from the arpeggios—you just didn’t know it yet! There’s clearly a lot more you can do with arpeggios, and hopefully this gets your creative juices flowing to create some licks of your own.
Marc Schonbrun graduated magna cum laude from the Crane School of Music in New York. He is an active educator, writer, and performer in the San Francisco area, and has an eclectic performing background that includes classical concertos, jazz trios, and rock bands. An active lecturer, Schonbrun frequently tours the country explaining music technology to players and teachers. Visit marcschonbrun.com for more info.
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
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- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
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- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.