7th Chord Arpeggio Permutations, Contours, & Chord Cycles

“The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Below are 24 possible orderings of a 7th chord arpeggio.

I have organized the combinations across a six-day practice cycle for digestibility:

Though notated as C Major 7 arpeggios, these permutations can represent other harmonies. I highly recommend playing the permutations through harmonized scale “cycle” progressions, “tweaking” the intervals to suit the chord qualities involved in a given progression:

Various contours are possible, depending on the octave chosen for each of the tones. Here are four different contours for the same combination (1357):

Here are the same four contours, transposed up an octave:

Now through the harmonized Melodic Minor scale, Cycle 2:

The same four contours, transposed up an octave:

Now through the harmonized Harmonic Minor scale, Cycle 2:

The same four contours, transposed up an octave:

As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

Try practicing a few permutations per day through either Major, Melodic Minor, or Harmonic Minor harmonized scales.

Remember to explore the various “Cycle” progressions, listed above.

It’s not reasonable to practice every pattern, but you’ll discover some exciting things if you occasionally dip into this well of possibility.

Tetrachords (Triads with added 2nd’s)

These four-note combinations (tetrachords) consist of triads (major, minor, diminished, and augmented) with major 2nd’s (or 9th’s) added above the root.

Tetrachords are a convenient method for creating unassailably harmonically-correct lines.

I find that improvising with these patterns (rather than intricate arpeggios, chord-scales, and modes, etc.) frees up brain processing power to think more about rhythm, phrasing, and line direction.

Try improvising lines through chord changes using these patterns.

Emphasize half-step resolutions between changing harmonies.

Anchor the patterns in your memory by focusing on the triad forms embedded in these diagrams.

I have written the patterns on the root “C,” but they are easily transposable by shifting the shapes to new root locations.

Major Tetrachord:

Minor Tetrachord:

Diminished Tetrachord:

Augmented Tetrachord:

The Augmented Scale

The augmented scale is a symmetrical hexatonic scale.

It appears in music by composers as varied as Franz Liszt, Alberto Ginastera, Béla Bartók, Milton Babbitt, Arnold Schoenberg, John Coltrane, Oliver Nelson, and Michael Brecker.

There are various ways to derive the augmented scale:

  • start with an augmented triad and add a 1/2 below each tone
  • alternate minor thirds with 1/2 steps
  • combine two augmented triads an augmented second (or minor third) apart: C E G♯ and E♭ G B

Below are fretboard diagrams for the augmented scale, starting on the root C, then moving through the cycle of fourths through all 12 keys.

Try improvising melodic lines, diads, and triads, exploring the symmetries that this unique scale creates.

Root “C”:

Root “F”:

Root “B♭” or “A#”:

Root “E♭” or “D#”:

Root “A♭” or “G#”:

Root “D♭” or “C#”:

Root “G♭” or “F#”:

Root “B”:

Root “E”:

Root “A”:

Root “D”:

Root “G”:

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7th Chord Inversions: (Drop 2 & Drop 3 on The Five Essential String Sets)

An excellent way to begin expanding your chord knowledge (beyond open chords and bar-chords) is the study of four-string seventh chords and inversions.

The most essential forms for beginning or intermediate jazz guitarists are Drop 2 & Drop 3 shapes on the following string sets:

Drop 2:

Drop 3:

It’s crucial to put these into a musical context as soon as possible.

Try playing through some jazz standards using these shapes.

Be careful to keep common tones and move to the closest voicings as you navigate chord progressions.

Triad Inversions (Four Adjacent String Sets)

There are many ways to play major, minor, diminished, and augmented triads on the guitar.

Learning triads on the four adjacent string sets is the right place to begin.

Try playing harmonized scales with these triads and later add “foreign” bass notes to produce slash chords.

There are all sorts of possibilities with even the most basic of materials.