Jazzifying Your Rock Guitar Arpeggios Using Neighbor Tones

In this guitar lesson we're going to take a look at how to use neighbor tones to make arpeggios sound more interesting.

It's an approach to playing arpeggio based lines that's often used by jazz guitarists, but I think it sounds equally cool in a rock context :-)

Some Preparation

To make it easier for me to explain the concept of neighbor tones, it's probably a good idea to choose a specific arpeggio to use as an example. Although we could use any arpeggio, for this lesson we'll be using an A Dominant Seventh arpeggio. In case you don't know, here are the notes of this arpeggio:

Now that we've chosen the arpeggio, what we need to do know is choose a scale that's commonly used to solo over A Dominant Seventh chords. One of the go-to scales that jazz guitarists use for this chord is the A Mixolydian mode, so let's use this scale as an example. Here's a table showing you the notes of this scale.

The main thing to notice from this table, is that this scale is essentially just an A Dominant Seventh arpeggio with the notes B, D and F# added to it. To make this easier to see, here's the table again with all of the arpeggio notes highlighted.

Understanding The Chord Tones

Because arpeggios are simply the notes of a chord played as a single-note line, many musicians refer to the notes of an arpeggio as chord tones. In the case of the A Dominant Seventh arpeggio, this means that the chord tones are A, C#, E and G.

Understanding Neighbor Tones

Neighbor tones are the notes that lie directly above or below a chord tone, and are used to create a smoother melodic line from the notes of an arpeggio. These neighbor tones can be either a half-step, or a whole-step away from the chord tone.

Because this might be as clear as mud right now, let's apply this information to our trusty A Dominant Seventh arpeggio. To do this, we'll look at a few example neighbor tones for one of the chord tones.

Example One: Chromatic Neighbor Tones

With this example, both the neighbor tones lie a half-step away from the chord tone A:

Example Two: Diatonic Neighbor Tones

In this example, both the neighbor tones are notes from the A Mixolydian Mode (this is the scale that we worked out earlier in the lesson).

Example Three: Chromatic Lower Neighbor, Diatonic Upper Neighbor

At this stage you might be wondering how to actually use this information. I think a fun way to understand this stuff better is to learn and analyze a guitar lick that uses neighbor tones. So let's do that now...

Example Guitar Lick

This guitar lick is based around an A Dominant Seventh arpeggio, and uses chromatic lower neighbors and diatonic upper neighbors. So this means that in all cases...

  • The neighbor tone below the chord tone is always half-step lower.
  • The neighbor tone above the chord tone is always a diatonic second higher.

If you look closely at the lick, you'll notice that it uses a repeating four note melodic pattern, that involves doing this:

  • Playing the diatonic upper neighbor using a downstroke.
  • Pulling-off to the chord tone.
  • Pulling-off to the chromatic lower neighbor.
  • Hammering-on to the chord tone.

But don't take my word for it. Be sure that you analyze all the notes of the lick, so that you totally understand the logic behind it.

A Few Last Words

Hope you enjoyed this lesson. After you've mastered the example guitar lick, be sure to experiment and make up some of your own. You'll find that, by applying the concept of neighbor tones to the arpeggios you know, you'll be able to generate an endless supply of cool-sounding guitar licks :-)

Happy practicing!

About The Author:
Craig Bassett is a professional electric guitar teacher living in Melbourne, Australia. He specializes in helping rock guitarists improve their lead guitar and improvisational skills. To find out more, you can visit his website here: www.RockGuitarTraining.com.au.

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