This issue’s column continues along the theme of using inversions along one string, but this time, we’re going to look at the minor shapes. We’re looking at some ways of resolving phrases to minor chord tones, using inversions of the A minor 7th arpeggio. We’ll start off by mapping out one-octave patterns of the A minor 7th arpeggio along the E string: this will help us see – and more importantly, hear – the notes belonging to the A minor chord. Sometimes we learn patterns without really knowing or understanding where the notes that belong to the chord we’re playing over actually are. Learning and using arpeggios helps us to create phrases that sound musical and resolve. Once we have played a phrase, we can make it sound complete by resolving to a chord tone, so it’s important to know where they are.
Exercise #1 outlines a one-octave pattern of the A minor 7th arpeggio. There are a few different patterns we can map out based on the CAGED system, but I have intentionally mapped this one out because it fits neatly within the three-note-perstring modal patterns that many guitarists already know and use. Bar #1 outlines the chord tones of A minor 7 –A C E G.
Bar #2 outlines an A minor 7th arpeggio, but the notes appear in a different order – instead of AC E G, we have CE G A. This is called an inversion. Inversions are used a lot when playing chords to create smooth voice leading. Bar #3 outlines the second inversion, with the note order being EG A C. The last bar outlines the third inversion of an A minor 7th arpeggio, with the notes being GA C E. Try looping an A minor chord vamp and play through this exercise – it’s a great way to come up with phrases and riffs. Once you have it under your fingers, try varying the note values and phrasing – that can be a great tool for coming up with riffs.
Exercise #2 outlines the three-noteper-string patterns that these arpeggio shapes sit within. The first bar outlines the A minor shape in the root position. This is most commonly called A Aeolian mode, and contains all seven notes of A minor or the relative major key of C major; this exercise uses six notes per beat. This one flies by at 120 beats per minute, so make sure you use sweep picking. Play each grouping of three notes as ‘down, up, down’ when ascending through the scale, and ‘up, down, up’ when descending. We usually think of sweep arpeggios when we hear the word “sweep”, but sweep picking is just as beneficial to speed when playing uneven numbers of notes on each string.
Bar #2 outlines the A minor scale in its first inversion, starting on the third degree of the A minor scale. This pattern should look very familiar, as it is just the C major scale pattern. The third bar is the second inversion of A minor, beginning on the fifth degree of the scale. Starting on an E note, but playing all the notes of A minor is also called E Phrygian mode. The last bar outlines the G Mixolydian mode, and uses all the notes of A minor starting on G. Record a loop of an A minor chord and play Exercise #2 over the top of it. Once you have that under your fingers, play a phrase in each pattern resolving to each scale degree. This is a very effective method of writing phrases and riffs.
Exercise #3 outlines two octaves of the A minor 7th arpeggio. After playing through Exercise #2, you should start to see how these shapes sit within the scale pattern of the A minor scale. The second bar outlines the first inversion for A minor, and it fits neatly within the C Ionian pattern. The third bar outlines the second inversion of A minor that fits under E Phrygian mode, and the last bar outlines third inversion and G Mixolydian mode. Once you have these shapes under your fingers, try improvising with your own phrases using a combination of scale runs and arpeggios. When you go to resolve a phrase, you want to be able to quickly go to one of these chord tones.