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Fiddle Lessons: Diatonic Arpeggios

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I wanna share with you all an idea and
a technique that has changed my playing
radically and made me a lot more
confident in playing any style of music,
Bluegrass, jazz, everything.
So it's really helped me to make my
improvisations more secure.
I feel more confident about not hitting
wrong notes and various chords.
And it's just given me a whole bunch of
very comprehensive vocabulary for all
kinds of playing.
So I'm really excited about this.
This technique.
It's called arpeggios.
But there's something special about these
They're not just merely arpeggios.
They are, what we're calling diatonic
And, diatonic means chords that don't have
chromatic notes in them.
It's just like major and minor scales.
If we take a G major scale.
That's diatonic scale because it doesn't
have any chromatic type notes in it.
It, it would be a chromatic scale if we
And that's a whole other kettle of fish.
But we're talking about basically building
three and four-note arpeggios.
Off each note of a major scale.
Sometimes we'll do a minor scale but for
now, let's just look at the major scale.
So let's look at that simplest, most
direct scale here.
Most, many of you will notice that I'm
playing a five string violin here.
I'm not gonna play anything on the low C
string, I'm gonna play everything on the.
Start on the G string for you 4-string
So, don't worry and don't get confused.
I am starting on the G string.
So here we go.
We're gonna play a G scale.
As we just did we're gonna play that
Here we go.
I'm gonna leave it to you to play it all
the way up and all the way back down.
But, that is our standard G major scale
that you
are all already very familiar with.
All right.
So, what we're gonna do is we're gonna
build a little three note arpeggio on
each note of the G major scale using only
the notes that are in the scale.
So, this actually sounds a little bit more
complicated than it actually is.
What we're gonna do, is we're gonna go in
up in thirds.
We're gonna go up the scale using these
three note arpeggios.
And you're gonna plu, repeat each
three-note arpeggio after me.
I'm gonna leave a space after I play each,
and you play it right after me.
So here we go.
Now, you can probably figure out how to go
back down.
We're gonna, you can go back down without
the space.
Now I want you to get very comfortable
with those three note arpeggios.
I want you to be able to take a G major
And go.
All right.
Now that's, that's where we're gonna
But I want you to do that.
are continuing with the diatonic
arpeggios, which are gonna be an amazing
gateway to fluency and ease and relaxation
and confidence on your instrument,
whether you're improvising bluegrass,
jazz, or any other kind of style.
So here we go we already looked at.
Three-note arpeggios going up and down,
just in first position, we're just working
in first position right now.
I want to look at what I'm calling closed
positions, which means that
we're going to be using our fourth finger,
instead of open strings everywhere.
And we're still going to doing first
But the thing about the closed position is
at some point, when we get comfortable
with this,
we are going to be able to move our
fingers anywhere, anywhere on the neck.
And that is going to be incredibly useful
doing all kinds of funny keys, jazz,
everything else.
So, all we have to do, let's start with
like the most closed position that I can
think of right now is probably A flat
major, right, A flat.
All the notes exist on the fingerboard.
And it's just a very simple system, it's
pretty much just like G,
except were not using any open strings.
So, we're gonna start with our first
finger, right?
So we're gonna find that A flat on the G
And then we're just gonna go up,
real slow.
I'll play again, just like I did in G,
I'm gonna play one triad at a time, that
three notes.
And then you play it after me, so here we
A flat, everybody find A flat.
Okay, here we go.
That's as far as we're gonna go.
And then we're going, go down.
I think I'm gonna come all the way down
with you, echoing maybe,
cuz this is a little tricky.
Some of the little displacements from
string to string are moving some fingers.
And of course, having the fourth finger in
there is,
is it just makes it a little bit more
So here we start,
we're gonna start with the highest note we
can reach in first position, which
just happens to be a B-flat, even though
we're still in the A-flat major scale.
So [INAUDIBLE] here we go.
So what I want is for you to be able to go
just as you did with the G major.
That might take a little bit of practice,
getting comfortable with your fourth
finger, remember when you're doing this
kinda work you wanna make sure that you're
feeling relaxed.
You know, if you're feeling tense, shake
your hand out.
Remember, bringing that elbow around so
that you can see it a little bit is going
to really help, it's gonna really help.
And then, and of course, if the, the
instrument isn't like this in front,
it's gonna be really hard to bring that
elbow around.
So we wanna make sure that the instrument
is pointed out to our general left,
the leftish area.
So that's important and just making sure
their fingers are pretty close to
the string and that we're doing this
slowly enough so that it is very clear and
that we're getting, getting it, and would
that we're not practicing it wrong.
Now we're gonna go a little, quite a bit
farther with this.
But I just want to make sure that you are
with these three-note diatonic arpeggios.
This is gonna be a huge thing for anybody
who's gonna be wanting to,
like, branch out into jazz and other kinds
of improvisation.
So I wanna make sure that you have this.
So I gonna do a call for a video for
both the G major and A flat major scales,
just exactly like I played them.
It doesn't have to be fast,
it just has to be smooth, with no
I don't wanna hear any.
I want each and every mini arpeggio.
Every three not arpeggio to just roll
trippingly off the fingers and doesn't
have to be fast.
Like I said, it just has to be smooth and
that you feel, the most important thing is
that you feel comfortable doing this.
And if there are certain notes or
combination of notes that are giving you
trouble, focus in on them, get comfortable
with them before
you integrate them back into the rest of
the arpeggio series.
All right?
That would be great to hear how you're
doing with this.
This is going to be an amazing expansion
to your playing once this
all gets under your fingers, under your
and might take a little while, but it'll
definitely be worth it.
Okay, we are continuing on with the
the adventure of the diatonic arpeggios.
And, we are now going to add a note to
each arpeggio, so
we're gonna have four note arpeggios.
Still, within the key of whatever major
scale that we are working with so,
let's go back to g again, and we'll add a
note to each arpeggio.
So, it's going to be all in thirds, just
like we, we're just going up one more,
and that's the beauty of the way this
instrument is tuned.
Is that you can just, if you're going-
If you're going zero, two, zero.
The next one is gonna be a two-
So we're going.
And so forth, I want you to keep going.
Until you've reached the highest note that
you can, with, in the stanford position,
and then come back down.
Now, we're still playing the scale.
We're still playing the g Major scale.
We're just breaking it up.
We're breaking it up into puzzle pieces.
We're attacking it from a lot of different
So, we can do this with any scale.
We can do it with a.
Now, we're just, instead of just playing.
We're actually making our hands remember
more complicated patterns,
but still on the scale so that it's going
to be.
You know, once you get really comfortable
with this, it's gonna be very difficult to
play a wrong note in whatever key that
you're playing.
Because you're gonna be very comfortable
getting, you know,
playing from note to note.
Okay, now here is the thing that's going
to be really interesting and
expand our knowledge, our,
our harmonic knowledge out into previously
un, unknown areas.
When we play these little arpeggios.
That's obviously we're in the key of g
That spells out a chord.
These, these arpeggios spell out a chord.
That is like a, it's like a g major seven,
We're happy, happy chord.
Now the, what's the next, the next
It sounds like a minor, a minor arpeggio.
It is a minor arpeggio.
It's got a-
And what happens when we go to the next
If we, if we just really listen to that.
And just say, okay, well what is that
It's another minor, it's like a kinda a
Chord, right?
What happens on the fourth degree?
When we hit the fourth degree?
Oh, that's, there's another major type
In fact it's a major seven.
It's another one just like that very first
one so we, we've done one major and
two minor sounding ones and we have
another major sounding one.
Now what's the next one?
Well that's interesting.
It's like a major but it's got that flat 7
in it.
It's got that bluesy mixolydian
sound and did I say mixolydian?
What am I getting at here?
I'm saying that we are actually spelling
out the modes, and we've already, and
if you wanna refer back to our lesson on
the modes this would be a very good time.
To do that, and go ahead, go back and
check out the modes, because what we
are doing is spelling out the modes in
arpeggios, so the fifth degree-
And then another one, the sixth.
We're almost to the end.
There's another minor-type arpeggio.
And then we've only got one more before we
just hit the octave.
And that's just the same thing over and
over again.
Now, what is that?
That sounds.
Sometimes it's hard to hear these because,
you're just, you know,
if you're relating to the-
If you're just, but we just spend a little
time, and go, you know, okay.
Okay, what is going on there?
It's like a minor, right?
Because it's got a minor third.
And then instead of the-
It doesn't do that.
It does-
So if we're thinking of this as the one
then minor, this is a flat fifth.
So that is a oddball note.
And then we've got-
Regular flat seven, also.
So that spells out probably the most
complicated chord of
all the little arpeggios that happen
within the major scale.
And that's probably it's interesting
because it's in, the next to last note.
It is the last note.
Really, because then we end up on the one
So, that very last note in the scale
generates a very peculiar chord.
Which is that if you go back and look at
the mode section,
you're gonna see that, that was that weird
one we're talking about is
the Locrian which has a flat five.
You know, if we look at the scale.
So, when we play these diatonic arpeggios,
we are actually spelling out the modes.
These, these greek church modes that
pretty much form the basis for
modern harmony and that kind of form the
basic, movement,
you know, that help us figure out how
chords move around
to make just about every kind of western
Bluegrass, folk music, rock and roll
western classical and all that.
So, when we do these four note arpeggios,
we're actually doing more than just
training our hands.
We're actually spelling out modes.
We're listening to harmonic movement.
We're training ourselves to not play a bad
note when we're in a key.
And all kinds of other things.
It's sort of like, like, I don't know if
you've ever done sit ups, you know,
like crunches.
And you know, oh I wanna do sit ups.
I wanna do crunches because it'll make my
stomach smaller.
But then after about a month of doing
that, you notice the,
the law of unexpected consequences, and
those are positive consequences.
Maybe you're breathing better.
Your posture's improved.
You're just feeling better your back
doesn't hurt anymore.
All because you were doing this thing that
was supposedly about your stomach.
And this is very much so like that.
This exercise that you do in every key.
Is gonna help you do a lot of things in
the realm
of whatever kinda music that you are
It's gonna really help you be very
confident about what key you're
playing in, not playing wrong notes, and
you're gonna be building a harmonic
foundation for yourself that's
gonna enable you to play jazz and whatever
kinda music that you want.
So get on that.
Get on that get on the four note chords
and play them through.
The best way to do this is to stick with
one key at a time and
just get comfortable with it, cuz each,
each key has its little quirks, you know?
If you do it in b flat, right?
You're gonna have certain notes that are
going to be displaced from string to
string and all that kinda stuff.
So, each key has its little tricks and
quirks but they're all for
now we're just talking major scales, so
get one scale really comfortable under
your belt, and of course you'll notice
that some of the scales are related.
G is gonna feel a lot like d.
B-flat is gonna feel a lot like f.
A is gonna feel a lot like e.
And so forth.
So, you're gonna notice a lot of overlap.
And you're gonna notice systems that are
gonna happen.
You're gonna notice patterns, that you can
repeat, that relate to other keys.
And that's even more exciting.
Because then you're seeing the internal
between keys and that's gonna even help
you even more.
All right, so, get out there and
get those four note arpeggios going
through the scales and then.
I think we're gonna,
this is just the beginning of a pretty
long series on this stuff.
Obviously we're gonna wanna look at the
minor keys.
We're gonna wanna see how these arpeggios
spell out all kinds of different chord
progressions and things like that.
And that is coming up.
That's, we're gonna pursue this for a good
amount of time.
And I, I think it's really gonna help your
And I'm kind of excited about this.
So, as you can probably tell.
Cuz I'm waxing on endlessly.
So, get, turn me off, turn this off, and
All right, we are continuing with diatonic
arpeggios on the fiddle and
I just wanted to have a little arrow
at some ideas that you can use right away
with this stuff.
When you're playing long streams of the
same chord, for
instance tunes like oh, Leather Britches
or something like that.
Things where you might be playing you
could be playing licks,
you could play fiddle tune licks.
Or you could be playing pentatonic type
Or you could be using these peh,
these diatonic arpeggios to kinda work
through these long series of chords.
All the notes are in the key that you're
playing in.
So, what's interesting is that as you do
you can see that you're sorta generating
little mini chord progressions.
So, in that example I was kinda ripping a
bunch of three note arpeggios,
four note arpeggios, mixing it up with
So, I'm gonna do this a little bit slower.
So you can kinda see what's going on here.
I'll try to call it out.
So, I'll start with like a, kind of a
So I just did a little bit of a.
So, mixing the three note going up.
The only four note going down.
Just starting from anyplace in the scale.
It's very interesting how they kind of
tend to give your playing some shape.
You can mix the threes and the fours
He we go.
So, we're doing all kinds of mixing
We're doing three's.
Doing rests.
Doing pickups.
You can repeat certain, you know, you can
re, repeat them and then go on up,
you can break them.
So, there's all kinds of ways to break
these things up so
they sound more like music and less like
the exercise, but
in order to get to that part you need to
very, be very comfortable with just being
able to systematically go up and down with
any key.
And that's gonna give you all kinds of
ability to just land wherever.
Jump around and just wherever you are on
the instrument, you're gonna be able
to feel pretty confident that you're going
to not play a note that's out of the key.
And let's also give, it's gonna get you
playing some interesting shape,
you know, that you're actually moving in
and out of these kind of toddling back and
forth between the two sides of whatever
key you're in, because there is,
there's kind of a of feeling of the one.
And then this.
This is sorta like a two feeling.
We're going back and
forth between two different feelings two
almost like two different keys, even
though it's the same scale.
You know, right?
we have all these different colors that
are just happening.
They're being generated by the notes on
the scale.
And that is also one of the really great
things about this.
You're also gonna see that when you start
really playing around with these, and
you're encountering some swing tunes,
there's some swing chord progressions.
Plugging this kinda stuff into a swing
chord progression.
Even if you don't know very much about the
chord press, progression itself or
the theory behind it, you're gonna find
that this is gonna get you through some
problem areas.
Of course, this website is and
the whole school of fiddling is gonna dive
into all swing and
jazz theory and you're gonna be able to
know exactly what you're doing.
But sometimes, as we all know, you're
gonna get thrown on stage
in a situation where you're gonna have to
make some music.
And this diatonic arpeggio thing is a very
useful tool to get you
through some [LAUGH] what might other,
what might otherwise be a pretty scary
And that's what we need,
we need are little ways of getting through
stuff that we don't know what we're doing
yet, because we're always gonna encounter
that as musicians.
So yeah.
And this just the beginning of a long
series that's gonna work,
work you thru a lot of different kinds of
harmonic progressions,
and get us into jazz fiddling which is
definitely related to every other kind of
And will help your bluegrass playing and
help any kind of fiddling that you plan to
do in the coming years,
centuries, weeks, months, whatever.
And hope you stick with this, cuz this can
be so much coming up.