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Make Your Sequences More Musical

Patterns can be viewed as boring or trite, but a little bit of creativity can turn them into bits of inspiration.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediater
Lesson Overview:
• Learn different ways to arrange scales.
• Combine various sequences to create more intersting lines.
• Solidify your technique by practicing unusual groupings of notes. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

I want to offer some food for thought on making sequences musical. Using sequences in our playing helps develop our musicianship in various ways. It can help us tune into the fretboard, develop melodic ideas all around the neck, and further our improvisation and compositional skills. So, spending time with sequences is certainly not time wasted. Please note that I sometimes use the word “rule" in this column, this is only a pointer to keeping on track of our exploration of these concepts. The intellect is very useful, but intuition is where the creativity comes from. When in balance lots of great things can be done. Let's get stuck in!

It's simple to play a scale from bottom to top, or top to bottom, but we can develop a sequence by shuffling these notes around. In Ex. 1 we have a C Major scale (C–D–E–F–G–A–B) played in thirds followed by a sequence highlighting the diatonic triads of the major scale. By following a “rule" we can develop many different sequences. The options are endless and a little overwhelming.

Click here for Ex. 1

Lets start by simply combining an interval sequence with an arpeggio sequence. In Ex. 2, the first two beats of the first measure feature ascending thirds. This is then followed by a triad arpeggio starting from the third note on the string. The next set of thirds then starts on the “and" of beat 4. The entire sequence is a seven-note pattern that is created by combining two thirds and a triad. It gives us a nice bit of rhythmic displacement as the phrase is now starting in a different place in the measure.

Click here for Ex. 2

Ex. 3 is a descending idea in A minor that basically flips the sequence we looked at in Ex. 2. Here, we are starting with two descending thirds before the triad. I'm using pull-offs and economy picking to articulate the triads. This one works well over D minor as well if you want a D Dorian (D–E–F–G–A–B–C) flavor.

Click here for Ex. 3

You can see the effectiveness of combining different sequences and groupings of notes to create interesting runs. It's also really effective for making phrases. In Ex. 4 we take a small fragment from Ex. 3 and change the rhythm. In the sound example I repeat this a few times over some implied chords in my bass line: Am, F, and Dm. It's great to get more from one line by seeing the different chord types you can play it over.

Click here for Ex. 4

In Ex. 5 we're going to start using fourths and fifths. It starts with an ascending A minor triad (A–C–E) before leaping to the 9 (B) and then hitting a G major triad (G–B–D). A similar pattern leads into the C major triad (C–E–G). Throwing in these wider intervals alongside triads is very effective for creating a dramatic sounding runs.

Click here for Ex. 5

For our next example (Ex. 6), we will take fragments from Ex. 5 and space them out a bit. I wanted once again to show how these sequence ideas can also be helpful for developing melodic phrases. Once we have a cool sequence or fragment, all we need to do is be creative with how we play it. We can change the rhythm, harmonic context, dynamic, and much more.

Click here for Ex. 6

Before we move on, it's important to remember that we can add colorful notes to our triads. Let's begin with some seventh-chord arpeggios. Ex 7 features are diatonic seventh arpeggios in G minor (functioning as a IIm chord) to get a Dorian sound.

Click here for Ex. 7

Ex. 8 is a little gratuitous of me. It begins with an idea made of several different concepts. First, we start with an Am7 arpeggio (A–C–E–G), then descend down an A5 arpeggio. I follow that up with diatonic thirds and end with a pedal-point sequence. If that's not enough, we then take this bigger idea and fit it around a chord progression. I move it to G7, Dm7 and then I break my “rule" slightly and outline notes of a C6 arpeggio (C–E–G–A). However, it does keep the same melodic contour of the initial idea. I used my ear and fretboard to guide me. It's always healthy to have a fine balance between intellect and intuition.

Click here for Ex. 8

We dig into C harmonic minor (C–D–Eb–G–Ab–B-C) for Ex. 9's monster two-measure lick. It sounds evil! In composing this phrase, I kept to the basic concept of finding seventh-chord arpeggios within C harmonic minor in the 8th position. I followed my ear as well as my slowly developing intellect. However, if you look closely you can see I was following a mini chord progression through this line. We start out with a CmMaj9 arpeggio (C–Eb–G–B–D) in the first beat, followed by a G7b9 arpeggio (G­–B–D–F–Ab). Here we have a very strong Im-V7 movement in C minor. I then move back to our CmMaj9 arpeggio and in the second measure we start descending down an Eb augmented triad (Eb–G–B). This is then followed by more CmMaj9 goodness.

Click here for Ex. 9

Ex. 10 is now taking Ex. 9 and extending it into a cool flamenco-inspired melody. The rhythms in this were inspired by the incredible Paco De Lucia. I follow the sequence from the previous example almost exactly, but I use a bit of artistic license to repeat certain fragments to fit into a “top line" or “head"-style melody.

Click here for Ex. 10

My aim here isn't to give you one rule to follow but instead to encourage you to take the sequences you know and love and start getting more out of them. Enjoy and stay safe!