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Practicing Dominant Cycles to Become a Better Jazz Guitarist

When I was a student at McGill University, we had to complete three major juries in order to graduate with our degrees in jazz performance. All of these juries had the usual tunes, scales, transcriptions and studies, but they also had one section that at the time I hated, but later was glad that I practiced, Dominant Cycles. Dominant Cycles are when we take Dominant 7th chords and practice them through the Cycle of 5ths. This helps us learn our 7th chords and their related scales and arpeggios, a very common and important sound in jazz, but it also introduces us to the Cycle, which is also found in many standard jazz chord progressions, and therefore are a must know progression when learning how to play jazz guitar. For those who are unfamiliar with the Cycle of 5ths, here is how it would like starting on C with each note in the cycle being a 7th chord. C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7 B7 E7 A7 D7 G7 C7 So, each new chord is a 4th higher, or 5th lower (hence the name), than the previous chord, allowing us to practice any concept in all 12 keys and forcing us to jump around the neck of the guitar rather than just move our hands up chromatically to the next key. We can use this cycle to practice anything, but today we will use it to work on Dominant 7th chords. Well do this in two ways, using Dominant 7th Arpeggios and improvising. When practicing arpeggios in the Cycle of 5ths, we have several options to approach each chord, here are some of my favorites, each is done with one, two and/or three-octave arpeggios.

All Ascending All Descending One Ascending the next Descending One Descending the next Ascending

Not a lot of variety, but enough to get you seeing the arpeggios for the bottom up and the top down. For today, pick one of these and then play through each chord in the Dominant Cycle. Start slowing and then increase the tempo until it is too fast. If you have time, run two or more of these approaches through the cycle. Its a great way to build technique, get Dominant 7th chords in our ears and learn the cycle at the same time. You can also use improvisation to work on Dominant Cycles. Instead of running up and down arpeggios for each chord, you can solo over them using one or more techniques. For today, since were focusing on arpeggios, try soloing over each chord using only its related arpeggios. But, for future practice you could use Bebop Scales, licks, Mixolydian Scales, Altered Scales etc. Anything that you can think of that can be used over a 7th chord, you can run through Dominant Cycles. Here are the different chord lengths that I had to demonstrate, and hence practiced, at McGill. Check them out, each offers a different challenge and each brings out a different approach from your playing.
8 Bars Per Chord 4 Bars Per Chord 2 Bars Per Chord 1 Bar Per Chord 2 Beats Per Chord

Practicing Dominant Cycles is a great way to learn the neck, becoming familiar with an important chord progression found in many tunes such as

Rhythm Changes and Jordu, and get the sound of 7th chords in our ears. After youve working through these in our 30 Day Series, come back to these once in a while for a refresher. This is a great addition to any jazz guitarists practice routine. Purchase the 30 Days to Better Jazz Guitar Ebook with 20 pages of extra material and 5 never before published bonus lessons! Return to the Play Better Jazz Guitar in 30 Days Homepage