The augmented arpeggio is one of the most beautiful sounds in Western music. With its dreamlike quality, this sonority is often used in television shows and movies to accompany alternate universe and dream scenes. The French impressionist composer Claude Debussy used the augmented arpeggio extensively in his compositions, in which he created cascades of watery sounds. Following in the line of Debussy, Django Reinhardt used these arpeggios in his improvisations.
In this Weekly Workout, we’ll first look at how augmented arpeggios are constructed, and then play through some fretboard exercises that you can also use as patterns and lines for soloing and composing in any style.
Weekly Workout is a series of monthly guitar exercises made up of interesting technical workouts that will get your fretting- and picking-hand fingers working in different ways, and offer musical studies that will help you visualize and explore the fingerboard.
Week One: Theory and Chord Shapes
Before you pick up your guitar, let’s review a little basic theory. An augmented triad contains a major third (four half steps) between each of its notes. It can also be thought of as a major triad (1 3 5), but with a raised fifth (1 3 #5). A C augmented triad is spelled C E G# and written as either Caug or C+. [AG always uses the former symbol. —ed.] To get an augmented dominant seventh chord, just add the flatted seventh to any augmented triad. So, a C augmented seventh chord is spelled C E G# Bb and the symbol is Caug7 or C+7.
When learning these arpeggios for the first time, remember to practice slowly and maintain the same fingering each time you play. This will help you get familiar with their shapes while building them in your muscle memory. If you’re playing on a 12-fret guitar, you can eliminate playing the higher notes above the 12th fret. Lastly, these exercises can be played either fingerstyle or with a flatpick, using alternate picking for two notes on the same string and downstrokes for everything else.
Now try some exercises based on a Gaug triad (G B D#). The first bar of Example 1 starts on the root (G), the second bar on the third (B), and the third bar on the augmented fifth (G#). Notice that even though you are starting on a different chord member in each measure, the intervallic construction is exactly the same; that’s due to the augmented triad’s symmetrical arrangement, a stack of major thirds.
Example 2 is a descending arpeggio that starts with the highest note in each hand position of the arpeggio pattern. Lastly, Example 3 takes your through a G augmented seventh arpeggio (G B D# F). Notice the added color that the flatted seventh provides. Anticipate the larger intervals in the same position by stretching your hand open.
Beginners’ Tip #1
When working on these augmented arpeggios, try the three-times-in-a-row rule: If you can play something perfectly three consecutive times, then you know you’ve got it down.
Week Two: Creating Patterns and Sequences
This week, we focus on creating sequences and patterns using augmented arpeggios. Example 4 is a pattern reminiscent of how Debussy would use an augmented arpeggio in his compositions like “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” (from the Children’s Corner piano suite). Slightly more difficult with its descending eighth-note triplets, Example 5 shows yet another way of exercising on the G augmented triad.
The next two examples switch to a C augmented triad. Example 6 is a descending pattern starting on the chord’s third (E), up at fret 12. Also descending, Example 7 uses four-note sequences to create a cascading effect. Again, look ahead and plan for the large interval jumps. If a transition feels awkward, practice slowly until it feels effortless and natural.
Beginners’ Tip #2
Play the arpeggios in this lesson at varying dynamic levels. For example, start at a soft volume and end loudly, or vice versa. This will help make the exercises musical, rather than mechanical.
Week Three: Combine Augmented Arpeggios and Whole Tone Scale
This week’s exercise creates patterns combining augmented arpeggios with lines from the whole tone scale. [For a Weekly Workout on this symmetrical scale, see the December 2017 issue. —ed.]. Example 8 emphasizes the G augmented arpeggio, along with the G whole tone scale (G A B C# D# E F). The pattern starts on the root (G) and descends using a G augmented ninth arpeggio with the addition of the raised fourth (C#).
Example 9 outlines all augmented arpeggios within the F whole tone scale (F G A B Db Eb). The pattern starts by descending through an F augmented triad (F A C#), then climbs a Gaug arpeggio in bar 2, moves down to Aaug (A C# E#), and so on. Finish this week off with Example 10, which is based on an A augmented arpeggio with the raised fourth (D#) played in descending, then ascending, order.
Beginners’ Tip #3
There are only two whole tone scales, and Example 9 contains all of the augmented arpeggios in the F whole tone scale. Similar to this exercise, try playing these arpeggios in the other whole tone scale, starting on C (Caug, Daug, Eaug, F#aug, G#aug, A#aug). You will then have played the augmented arpeggios in all 12 keys.
Week Four: Using Augmented Arpeggios in Jazz
This week, let’s apply the augmented arpeggios in a jazz context. Example 11 is based on a ii–V–I progression (Dm7–Gaug7–Cmaj7) in the key of C major. Over the V chord, a descending G augmented triad (G B D#) is used starting on the raised fifth (D#). The tension provided by the Gaug chord resolves nicely on the root (C) of the Cmaj7 chord in the following measure. Moving to the key of F, Example 12 is another ii–V–I progression (Gm7–Caug7–Fmaj7). The V chord is negotiated with a C augmented seventh chord (C E G# Bb), resolved by the Fmaj7 chord’s fifth (C).
Example 13 is a ii–V–I in the key of D with what is known in jazz as a tritone substitution. The usual V chord (Aaug7) is replaced with one whose root is three whole steps away (Eb aug 7). The Eb augmented triad (Eb G B) here includes the raised fourth (A#), and the triad resolves on the Dmaj7 chord’s third (F#).
At first, practice slowly with a metronome. Once the line feels comfortable to play, try playing it with a backing track of the chords. To really incorporate and master the line, play it in all 12 keys. Notice how the line changes in timbre and how it feels different to play in various locations on the neck.
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Beginners’ Tip #4
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the exercises in this lesson, try creating your own augmented patterns and moving them around on the neck in major thirds (four frets up or down). Add the raised fourth or ninth of any chord for color and variation.
Take It To the Next Level
For an extra challenge, try this sequence based on a G augmented arpeggio. It’s a four-note pattern that also includes notes within the G whole tone scale.
Lisa Liu is a guitarist and composer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her music is available on all major streaming platforms and at her website, lisaliuguitar.com.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.