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Jazz Guitar Lessons

Superimposed Chord Arpeggios in Major & Minor Keys



JGT contributor Chuck Anderson provides information to develop superimposed arpeggios for improvisation.

In the key of C major, that would be Cmaj7 Dm7 Em7 Fmaj7 G7 Am7 and B half dim 7. It’s typical to refer to these chords with Roman numerals, one for each chord – I II III IV V VI VII. Many use a mixture of upper and lower case Roman Numerals. I have always found it easier and more consistent to use upper case on all chord designations.

Within these seven chords, 4 are considered Active and 3 are considered Passive. The simple meaning for these terms deals with tension and release. An Active chord is a chord which produces tension and a Passive chord produces a release of tension. 

The Active Chords V, II, IV and VII

The Passive Chords I, VI and III

This gives us a good understanding of why II V I is so popular in jazz standards – two Active chords (tension) followed by a Passive chord (Release of tensions).

We can use this information to develop superimposed arpeggios for improvisation.

The simple guideline is Active for Active and Passive for Passive.

Assuming you know your 4 part arpeggios, try the following. G7 in the key of C is the V chord, an Active chord. Play any other Active chord’s arpeggio on the G7. Play Dm7 or Fmaj7 or B half dim 7th arpeggio on top of the G7 chord. 

In a similar way, play an Em7 or Am7 arpeggio on top of a Cmaj7 chord. This applies to all combinations of Active and Passive Chords.

So, in simple II V I progressions, you have more choices of arpeggios than just the chord you’re playing over.

This same concept applies to Minor keys as well. Here are the chords in the key of Cm are Cm7, Dm7b5, Ebmaj7, Fm7, G7, Abmaj7 and B dim 7.

I have included a chart showing the chords of all major and minor keys.

More JGT lessons from Chuck Anderson.

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