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The Versatility of Major 7th Arpeggios

Major 7th arpeggios are one way of colouring around major chords. However, as we'll soon discover, we can also use their patterns over other chords to very nice effect.

In fact, maj7 arpeggios are one of the most versatile melodic patterns you can have at your disposal. Unfortunately, this versatility is overlooked by most teachers and musicians.

Start by watching the presentation below and then scroll down to go at your own pace...



Major 7th Arpeggio Basics

First, let's learn the ingredients that make up a major 7th arpeggio.

Below, we're starting on C major. Obviously we can play this chord in the open position. But for the purpose of soloing, it's more practical to start around a chord shape further up the neck.

So we might visualise a C major barre chord at the 8th fret...

Around this shape, we could build a C major arpeggio, taking the root, 3rd and 5th from around the chord and playing them sequentially...

But we could also add a major 7th interval, a half step down from the root, giving us a four-tone major 7th arpeggio (select the appropriate tab for intervals or fingering)...

The major 7th interval has a specific quality, which you can hear if you hold it over the major chord...

By adding that major 7th, we're effectively turning C major into Cmaj7. Remember, where there's an arpeggio, there's a chord...

Major 7th Arpeggio Patterns

As with scale patterns and chord shapes, there are a number of positions in which we can play this arpeggio.

6th String Root Patterns

Take this extended pattern built on the 6th string...

Or we could play a pattern that descends from that same root position...

5th String Root Patterns

We can also visualise patterns around 5th string root chord shapes...


Full Roadmap

What these positions allow us to do is play the arpeggio around any major chord in any place on the neck and also link them together into one large major 7th roadmap.

Can you see how the patterns from above connect up?

Cmaj7...

Emaj7...

Side note:  As mentioned earlier, you can pull chord shapes out of these patterns. Using your knowledge of arpeggios across the neck is a great way to find chord shapes.

You don't need to include the root if you're accompanying other musicians (e.g. a bass player will have the root covered). Simply look for the 3, 5 and 7 and you can play three-string maj7 shapes in several places on the neck for any given chord.

And we don't always have to play through an entire pattern, across all 6 strings.

For example, we could just play across the top 2 or 3 strings of any given position...


So that's our basic major 7th arpeggio, which we can theoretically use over any occurence of a major or major 7th chord.

Playing Arpeggios Into Scales

In other lessons, I show you how to merge arpeggios into larger scale phrases. But as a quick example, here I'm starting with an arpeggio and leading in to a larger E major scale phrase.


So once you've learned the arpeggio patterns, it's useful to practice playing them into and out of related scales. The 2 most common scales that work with major 7th chords and arpeggios are Ionian or the major scale and Lydian. As you can see, both scales include the major 7th intervals.

Major 7th Arpeggios In Relative Positions

While major 7th arpeggios are typically played over major/maj7 chords with the same root, a lot of musicians don't realise that the arpeggio also works in relative positions to chords. Let me explain.

Going back to C major.

We're going to make this our tonic or 1 chord of the key, within a larger progression.

Over this chord, we might play a Cmaj7 arpeggio...


Let's say we moved to the 4 (IV) chord - F major.

We could also follow that change by changing our arpeggio root to F, since the 4 chord in major keys is naturally a major 7th chord...


But what's interesting is that we can keep our arpeggio on the 1 position over that 4 chord.

So we could play a Cmaj7 arpeggio over Fmaj. Take a listen....


Why does this work? Well, as you can see, the Cmaj7 arpeggio gives us the 5, 7, 2 and #4 of F major. The 2, #4 and 7 are natural colour tones over the 4 chord...

Although that effectively gives the arpeggio a different name, the only thing that matters is we're using the same Cmaj7 pattern to colour F major.

In fact, this same method of staying on the tonic root works over every chord in the natural major key.

In C major, we could play a Cmaj7 arpeggio (I'm using the same sequence as before) over its 2 (ii) chord, Dm...

Over its 3 (iii) chord, Em...

The 5 (V) chord. In this example, I'm playing over a G suspended chord (Gsus9) which, when coupled with the tonic major 7th arpeggio, sounds particularly nice...

The 6 (vi) chord, Am...

And finally the 7 (vii) chord, B diminished, commonly played as Bm7b5...

The reason this works is because the same tonic major 7th arpeggio touches on natural colour tones of each of chord in the key. So we're essentially extending the chord being played by using this arpeggio.

But we can also use these relative positions outside of natural keys.

For example, take the below movement between Csus9 and Asus9.

In each case we could treat each chord as if it was on the relative 5 (V) position. Therefore we might play Fmaj7 followed by Dmaj7...


Or take this movement, between Emaj7 and Dmaj7. Of course, we could complement these chords by playing an E major 7 and D major 7 arpeggio respectively...


But for variation, we could treat both of these chords as if they were 4 (IV) chords in relation to our arpeggio. This would mean playing Bmaj7 and Amaj7 arpeggios respectively...


And this relative concept also works over minor chords and keys.

For example, in the key of Am, we might play a C major 7 arpeggio, based on its relative major key tonic, which you could see as three frets up from the minor tonic root...


This will cover all of the Am key's natural chords.

In fact, with most occurences of a minor chord, one option for soloing is to play a major 7th arpeggio 3 frets up from that chord's root, also known as the relative major position.

Over G minor try a Bbmaj7 arpeggio...


Over C# minor try an Emaj7 arpeggio...


This all shows us that the major 7th arpeggio is incredibly versatile as a melodic system and works in relative positions to both major and minor chords.

So experiment with playing arpeggios on roots other than the chord you're playing over.

By doing this you can highlight chord colours using the same familiar pattern.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson and may it give you a lifetime of playing ideas!

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