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How To Play BeBop

Exploring the Arpeggios in Bebop

Bebop jazz is a genre that emerged in the 1940s and is characterized by fast tempos, complex harmonies, and intricate melodies. It is known for its improvisation and virtuosity, and it has had a significant influence on the development of jazz music. 

One of the fundamental elements of Bebop jazz is arpeggios. Arpeggios are the notes of a chord played in sequence, and they are the building blocks of most jazz improvisation. In this article, we will explore the arpeggios in Bebop jazz and see how they are used in improvisation. We will also discuss the importance of chord tones in Bebop jazz and how they can be used to create melodic lines. 

Arpeggios in Bebop

One of the things about Bebop is that it is based on a specific time and place. When studying Bebop jazz, it can be confusing to learn from generic lead sheets or real books because they do not capture the essence of the genre. Therefore, it is best to learn from recordings of Bebop jazz performances. 

Bebop jazz emerged in the mid 1940s, and at that time, the whole scale-chord concept did not exist. Therefore, most Bebop improvisation is based on arpeggios and chord tones. The musicians spent a lot of time working on playing arpeggios of chords. 

Chord Tones in Bebop 

Chord tones are the notes of a chord. In Bebop, chord tones are essential because they are the target notes that the improviser aims to hit. The improviser uses the arpeggios to navigate through the chord changes, and the chord tones are the notes that give the improvisation its harmonic structure. 

Charlie Parker, one of the most influential Bebop musicians, discovered that he could play the extensions of the arpeggios. Instead of playing just the root, third, fifth, and seventh notes of the arpeggio, he could play the ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth notes, which gave him more melodic options. 

Embellishing Arpeggios

To make the improvisation sound more complex and sophisticated, Bebop musicians embellished the arpeggios with chromaticism. Chromaticism is the use of notes that are not part of the scale or chord. The musicians used approach notes and enclosures to join the notes of the arpeggios, creating more tension and release in the improvisation. 

Practice Exercises

To practice playing arpeggios in the Bebop style, you can use backing tracks that play the chord changes of popular Bebop jazz tunes. You can start by playing just the root, third, fifth, and seventh notes of the arpeggio and then gradually add the extensions. You can also practice embellishing the arpeggios with chromaticism, using approach notes and enclosures. See my series of books "Rhythm Changes Soloing" for more at... 


Arpeggios are an essential element of Bebop jazz, and they are used to create melodic lines in improvisation. Chord tones are the target notes that the improviser aims to hit, and embellishing the arpeggios with chromaticism adds complexity and sophistication to the improvisation. To play Bebop , it is best to learn from recordings of performances rather than generic lead sheets or real books. By practicing arpeggios and chord tones, you can improve your Bebop improvisation skills and create more sophisticated and interesting lines.

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