The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 12 – Getting Into Modal Arpeggios – Superimpostion

Hello everyone!

Greetings from NYC!  While I’m still unpacking and waiting for instruments and boxes to make it here from South Pasadena I thought I’d mix and match a few ideas from my GuitArchitect’s Guide to Chord Scales book and modal arpeggios and talk about more ways to recycle things you already know!

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2-string or not 2-string

(is that really the question?)

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I’ve been talking a lot about 2 string arpeggios.  They’re really useful things in soloing because you can take a figure like this:

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and move it in octaves while keeping the same fingering.

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It’s a really useful visualization tool, and a relatively easy way to cover a lot of range on the instrument.

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The real secret behind this approach is how you use the arpeggio or:

“So what about this superimposition thing?”

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Superimposition is simply playing one thing on top of something that’s related but not in an immediately direct way.   Logic would dictate that you would play a C major 7 arpeggio over a C major chord.  That’s certainly one valid use, but it’s really not superimposing the chord because their directly related (i.e. Cmaj7 and C major).  Playing a C major 7 arpeggio over say a d minor or an e minor chord is getting more into what we’re talking about here.

In the examples below, I’ll be using a bass note to indicate tonality.  If you have a recording of a chord (or a bass note) to play over – just play the c major 7 arpeggio over one of those – otherwise you can use your fretting hand to tap each of the notes of the arpeggio (see the glass noodles post if you’re unfamiliar with the technique) and use your picking hand to tap the bass notes in the figure (and to help mute the strings)!

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If the C major 7 chord is created by stacking ascending 3rds (C, E, G, B) then we should be able to go the reverse direction using descending 3rds from the root.  Going a 3rd below C gives us A which creates A, C, E, G, B or an A minor 9 arpeggio (no root):

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Going a 3rd below A gives us F which implies: F (root), A (3rd), C (5th), E (7th), G (9th) and  B (#4 or #11)  or a F major 9 #11 arpeggio (no root, no 3rd):

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(Note: This concept is explored in much more depth in the Harmonic Combinatorics book but you can get some information about the approach from the slash chords post or the recycling triads posts as well.)

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You could continue on with this approach, and each time figuring out how the arpeggio functions over different chords, but there is an easier way!

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The Chromatic Root Interval Chart

In The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Chord Scales, I devised a chart that would tell the reader how any chord scale would function over any root.  I’ve adapted that chart and utilized it for arpeggios in this lesson.  Here’s the full chart:

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At first glance, this can look confusing but it’s REALLY useful for determining how scales and arpeggios (or chords) function over different tonal centers.  

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In the steps below, I’m going to outline every step that could be taken to visualize this, but once you understand the process, you can skip a lot of the steps and understand what’s happening almost immediately.

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Let’s go back to the C maj 7 arpeggio.  The formula for the arpeggio is Root (or R) 3rd, 5th and 7th.  Here’s what it looks like superimposed into the chart.  

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I’ve taken the extra step of removing all of the information in the other columns of the chart to solely show how the Root, 3rd, and 5th of a particular chord functions over other tonal centers. It’s also important to note that this chart accommodates all possible root notes.  So while sharped roots (#R) or flat roots (bR) are really heard as b2 (b9) or 7ths respectively, they’re listed here to show the functions of specific notes over tonal centers (e.g. C maj 7 arpeggio played over a C# tonality).

Okay – now let’s move the information in the chart to the key of C:

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Presented this way,  we can see how things function.  Played over D for example – the C, E, G, B functions as a b7th, 9th, 4th (or 11th) and a 6th.  As a D Dorian sound (C major over D implies D Dorian) you lose the minor 3rd but get the natural 6th flavor of the mode.

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I’ll simplify the chart a little more:

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Again, it’s also important to note that this chart accommodates all possible root notes.  So while sharped roots (#R) or flat roots (bR) are really heard as b2 (b9) or 7ths respectively, they’re listed here to show the functions of specific notes over tonal centers (e.g. C maj 7 arpeggio played over a C# tonality).  This also counts for b4 (which will be heard as a 3rd), and double flats (like bb7 which will be heard as a 6th or bb3 which will be heard as a 2nd).

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From intervals to chord tones

Since this chart was initially created for chord scales, the intervals all exist within an octave.  For the purposes of chords and arpeggios it’s more beneficial to think of:

  • 2nds as 9ths
  • 4ths as 11ths and 
  • 6ths as 13ths 

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I’ve converted these intervals to chord tones in the chart below:

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One sound I get out of this immediately is the Ab which gives a Ab maj 7 (#5, #9 no root) sound.  I’ve resolved it to Ab in the example below – but give it a shot – it takes a generic C major 7 arpeggio and gives it a shot glass of tabasco.

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When I went to Berklee and got knee-deep into analysis, my teacher gave me this pearl of insight, 

“Actually the whole point of harmony 1-4 [classes] is to show you how any chord can follow any other chord”.

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The reality behind all of the charts and theory is, if you understand how an arpeggio functions then you’re more likely to be able to resolve it – regardless of what chord you play it over.  

That’s a big picture concept – you may want to give it a second to let it sink in.

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The thing to start to focus on is how things sound to you – specifically how various chord tones and intervals sound over various chords you’re using.  How do you like the sound of a #4 over a major chord?  Or a b9 on a minor chord?  As you start to find chord tones that you like over those areas, you’ll start to find that you’ll seek those sounds out.   The chart is just a shortcut for seeing how things function – but it’s reliant on what you hear.

My recommendation is take this arpeggio, play it (slowly at first) over all the tonal centers and really be aware of how the notes are functioning.  And (here’s the step most people skip) if it sounds “bad” to you – find a way to resolve it (like going to the Ab in the example above).  I call this the Van Halen approach, there are plenty of times that Eddie hits clams – but he finds cool ways to work them around so that you say, “wow what a cool idea” rather than “oh he botched that one”.

I’ll talk more about the importance of knowing how to “fix” things in a future post, but trust me – it’s worth spending some time on.

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In the next lesson post, I’ll get into arpeggio modification slash chord stylie.  It’ll be really cool and if I have my audio converters delivered in time I can even go back to posting audio clips again!

ah the joys of moving….

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I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

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-SC

3 thoughts on “The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 12 – Getting Into Modal Arpeggios – Superimpostion

    • Hey Scott!

      Thanks for your post. 2 quick things.

      In terms of the audio/video: I just relocated from So Cal to NY in the last couple of days so I’m literally waiting for my life (1 box at a time) to get here. Once I get my audio converters here (one of them has gone missing – hopefully not for too long) I can put up some links! In the meantime I hope that people pick up a guitar and try to play through the ideas!

      A big part of what I do on the site (and in the books) is actually to get away from the alienating aspects of the “mumbo jumbo” and make complex ideas easier to grasp (and easier to make music from). This is part 12 in the series so a lot of the jargon issues have been covered already but – like I say in my books (and as I say in most of my posts) – the point isn’t to get hung up on what something is called but instead to focus on how it sounds.

      The deeper people understand things the more easily they’ll be able to use them (and adapt them). If I’m explaining a chord in a progression to someone saying “it’s a Bmin7b5 (add 11)” makes it easier to get that person to play (or improvise over) the chord if we both understand common terminology. Otherwise I’m saying, “okay this chord has a B, F, A, D and an E in it” and then having a player get to that chord and try to remember the individual notes.

      Theory is just shorthand to save time in explaining ideas. I have a really short post here that talks about the usefulness of applied theory.

      But yes – in short – I stand toe to toe with you on the anti-mumbo jumbo front. ; )

      Thanks again for your post!

      -SC

      • You gave a very calm answer to the original guy – I would have flipped out given the circumstances 🙂 This was a very good read and this blog has really taken me up a notch in my musical thinking. Thank you!!

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