One harmonic device that is frequently used by jazz musicians is the use of 3-9 arpeggios. In this lesson I will explain what 3-9 arpeggios are and how you can use them to take your jazz guitar improvisation to the next level.

Before diving into 3-9 arpeggios, a solid understanding of how normal arpeggios work first must be already established to fully undertand this lesson.

Like normal arpeggios, 3-9 arpeggios are four note patterns. But instead of starting of the root of the chord, 3-9 arpeggios start on the 3rd of the chord and finish on the 9th.

As essential and useful as the regular arpeggios are they can sometimes sound a little dull because you are only playing the notes in the chord. 3-9 arpeggios work well because they have most important notes of the chord (3rd and 7th) and the 9th which is a tasty extension.


Major 3-9 Arpeggios


The diagram below shows a normal C major 7 arpeggio followed by a 3-9 arpeggio. Play up and down each arpeggio a couple of times so that you can see and hear the difference between the two arpeggios. The difference between them is easier to hear in the contents of a C major 7th situation. Try using each arpeggio over a backing track or major 7th chord vamp to hear the difference.


3-9 arpeggio definition


You might have noticed that the 3-9 C major 7 arpeggio is also an E-7 arpeggio which brings me on to the next point. To quickly get the 3-9 arpeggio sound just think of the arpeggio a 3rd from the root. The table below shows how this substitution for each chord in the key of C and can be used as a reference


C Major 7th 3-9 = E-7 Arpeggio

C Dominant 7 3-9 = E-7b5 Arpeggio

C Minor 7 3-9 = Ebmaj7 Arpeggio

C Minor 7b5 3- 9 = Eb Minor Major 7 Arpeggio


The next example shows a 3-9 Major 7th arpeggio lick using a common jazz rhythm pattern.


3-9 arpeggio lick

 major7 3-9 arpeggio lick


Dominant 7 3-9 Arpeggios


The next chord type to look at applying 3-9 arpeggios over is the dominant 7th chord. To get the dominant 3-9 arpeggio sound, think of the minor 7b5 arpeggio a minor third up from the root of the chord.

The diagram below shows a 3-9 dominant 7th arpeggio followed by a lick that starts with a descending dominant 7th 3-9 arpeggio in a higher octave.


c7 3-9 arpeggio lick

 dom7 3-9 lick


Minor 7 3-9 Arpeggios


One great jazz guitarist that used 3-9 arpeggios to help define his sound was the great Wes Montgomery, who particularly like to used them over minor 7th chords.

To get the 3-9 arpeggio sound over minor 7th chords just think of the relative major arpeggio which in this example is Eb. The diagram below shows a one octave fingering for a 3-9 arpeggio followed by a Wes-esc lick using a descending 3-9 arpeggio.


c-7 3-9 arpeggio lick


minor 7th 3-9 arpeggio lick


Minor 7b5 3-9 Arpeggios


To conclude the 3-9 arpeggio study for each chord type I have written out a one octave fingering for a minor 7b5 3-9 arpeggio which is also an Eb-major 7th arpeggio. The Locrian scale contains a flattend 9th instead of a natural 9th so you can use either.

But I personally prefer the sound of the natural 9th which is why I have included it in this article. After the one octave arpeggio fingering there is a lick using major 3rds found within the apreggio.


minor 7b5 3-9 lick


Connecting 3-9 Arpeggios


Now that you know how to apply 3-9 arpeggios over each chord type let’s look at how to connect them in two common progressions.

The most common chord progression in jazz music is the ii-V-I and the next example shows how to apply 3-9 arpeggios over a ii-V-I in the key of C.


3-9 arpeggio ii v i outline


Practice running these arpeggios up and down to see what kind of melodies you can come up with. To voice 3-9 arpeggios, try using other jazz soloing techniques such as enclosures and chromatic approach tones. The next lick demonstrates how you can use enclosures to voice lead 3-9 arpeggios in a ii-V-I situation.


3-9 arpeggio ii v i

3-9 arpeggios ii v i


Like four note groupings and normal arpeggios, 3-9 arpeggios are a great device to use over harmonically dense progressions such as the rhythm changes. The following example shows how you can connect 3-9 arpeggios with dominant 7b9 arpeggios over the I VI II V progression.


3-9 arpeggios i vi ii v

i vi ii v 3-9 lick


As with any new lick, scale, or arpeggio you learn practice 3-9 arpeggios in all 12 keys and in different positions across the guitar neck. Also practice applying 3-9 arpeggios over the progressions and tunes that you are working on too. What are your favorite ways to practice 3-9 arpeggios? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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