Left hand arpeggios: Using the 9th

Every time I give tips about writing/arranging, I pinch myself. I still can’t believe anybody wants to read what I have to say about the topic. I sincerely feel unqualified to run a blog dedicated to music.

Regardless of what I think about it, a lot of people do come here for help. I am humbled but I also acknowledge there is significance to that. I apparently do some things fairly well. There are a few key people that have taught me a lot and helped me establish a philosophy of writing that sort of follows these two simple rules:

  1. Never forget the big picture of a piece, understanding that the overall shape and form determines the emotional impact. I don’t string together ideas to “fill time.” The song/arrangement needs to go somewhere.
  2. Every note, chord, pattern, articulation, etc. that I use should be intentional even though such things may seem like small decisions. One small decision does not make or break a song on its own; but collectively, small decisions add up to an awful lot.

From a pragmatic standpoint, I am not going to say that I bat close to 100% on that second point. There simply isn’t enough time for anyone to agonize over every possible decision in a piece of music unless it it is a big commission for a royal wedding or something. However, I focus on a lot of those little things. In fact, you would be surprised at how much effort I put into little things.

I want to give you a quick example of one of those little things today. It is a twist on an idea of open left hand arpeggios that I talked about in this video a year ago.

The general idea of open left hand arpeggios is that you should spread out the notes so you create larger intervals than just thirds. Play 1 – 5 – 3 rather than 1 – 3 – 5 for example. But today, we are going to put a little twist on that with this example from an arrangement that will be released in the next week or so.

Note the two notes that I circled in the left hand. Rather than playing a 1 – 5 – 3 pattern in the left hand, I am playing 1 – 5 – 9/2 (9 and 2 are the same thing). Play those two bars using 3 rather than 9/2 and you will hear that the 9/2 gives a bit of complexity to the chord. It is not a big thing; it is actually a little thing, but it makes a big difference.

I do this little pattern a lot. Obviously I don’t do it on every arpeggio but it is a common little trick in my bag. You can use it, too; and it becomes instinctive after a bit of practice. You might wonder if the third needs to be in the right hand since it is being excluded from the left hand. That answer is no. You can get away without a third a lot of the time but as always, let your ear be your guide.