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St.

James Infirmary Arpeggio Study


by Dix Bruce

There are a wide variety of different ways to approach improvising. And, since it's an
artistic endeavor, many of the elements are unexplainable and mysterious, often
dependent on mood, inspiration, and motivation. Aside from that, there are exercises we
can work through to help familiarize ourselves with the rudiments we need to improvise.
I always liken the process to speech or writing. Both music and verbal communication
need vocabulary, phrases, syntax, etc.

It's always important to know the melody to the song we want to improvise on. The
melody is the song, after all and without it there's no definition of what a specific song is.
You don't necessarily have to ONLY play the melody in your improvisation, but you
should be familiar with it and be able to use it as a basis for your soloing.

Let's look at "St. James Infirmary." This arrangement is excerpted from my "Gypsy
Swing & Hot Club Rhythm Vol. 2," book/CD set. (No home should be without a copy!)
The melody is shown in two octaves. Learn them both. You can then use either as a
starting point for your solos. One exercise is to play through the melody, keep the pitches
basically the same, but vary the rhythms. My friend Jeremy Cohen, the great jazz
violinist, calls this "rhythmizing" a melody. If you get stalled for inspiration, try singing
the melody, "jazz" it up and change the rhythms, then try transferring what you sing to
the mandolin.

It's also important to know the song's chord progression. "St. James Infirmary" uses some
pretty simple chords which are shown below in closed position, moveable forms. Practice
the chords until you can hear them in your head before you play them. Try moving the
entire progression around the fingerboard to different keys.

Arpeggios are the individual notes of each chord. Knowing chord arpeggios and being
able to deftly move through them as the chord progression unfolds can be a great aid in
improvising. Below are two chord arpeggio exercises for "St. James infirmary." Pay
particular attention to the tablature and fretting finger suggestions. That will help you
define a region of the fingerboard for each chord. Once you're comfortable with that,
you'll be able to move and change these arpeggios and make them sound more like a solo
and less like an exercise.

The first half of the exercise ascends on one arpeggio and then descends on the next. The
second half of the exercise does the opposite. If you repeat part one several times, and I
hope you will, use the six eighth notes in measure eight to bring you back to measure
one. Otherwise end the exercise on the first beat quarter note D of measure eight.

When you can play the exercise as written, change the Dm and Gm chords to major by
raising the F natural to F#, the Bb to B natural. Try moving the exercises up and down the
fingerboard changing any open strings notes as you go. Try also moving the shapes, both
the original minor and the majors you create, "across" the fingerboard. For example, the
original first measure Dm arpeggio starts on the fourth string. Move to over so your first
note is on the third string and then play the rest of the pattern. As you move things
around, be sure to identify the name of the new chord.

I mentioned that "St. James Infirmary" is from my "Gypsy Swing & Hot Club Rhythm
Vol. 2," book/CD set. The CD has a recorded Hot Club-style band playing "St. James
Infirmary," as well as the other eleven songs, several times through so you can practice
and perfect the melodies, chords, chord arpeggios, and your solos. Each song also has the
back up recorded at a slow speed so you can work up to the full band, regular speed
version. We'll jam all night long!

Dix's books, CDs, and DVDs are available on his website: www.musixnow.com
.
St. James Infirmary

4 œ œ œ œ
Dm A7 Dm Gm A7

& b 4 œ œ œ #œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
3 1 3 2 1 3 2 1 3 2 1 3 2 1 2 3 1 3 2 3 1 3 3 2 1 1

T 5 4 5 3 5 1 5 1
A 3 7 7 5 3 7 5 3 3 7 5 7 5 3 2
B
7 7 7 5 7

œ œ
& b œ œ œ #œ œ œ œ œ œ œ bœ nœ œ œ œ œ œ œ #œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
5 Dm A7 Dm Gm Dm A7 Dm use to repeat

œ
3 1 2 3 1 1 2 1 3 1 1 3 2 1 3 3 3 1 2

5 4 1 5 3 4
3 7 7 5 3 3 4 5 5 3 7 5 7 5 3 7 7 7 5 3
7 7 7 7 5

œ œ
Dm A7 Dm Gm A7

&b œœœ œœœ œœ œœœœœ œœœ œœ œ œœœœœœ


9

#œ œ œœ #œ
2 3 1 3 3 1 3 4 1 3 2 3 2 3 1 3 1 3 2 1 3 1 3 4 3 2 1

5 5
7 3 2 5 7 3 3 3 7 7 3 5 2 2 5 7 5 3 2
7 6 7 5 7 7 7 0 3 7 6

œ # œ œ
œ œœ
œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ #œ œ œ œ
Dm Dm A7
Gm Dm A7 Dm
b
& œœœ œ
13

œ œ œ ˙
3 1 3 1 4 2 3 1 2 1 3 1 3 1 1 3 2 1 3
3
5 4 7 8 5 3 4
3 7 7 7 3 5 5 5 3 3 7 7 5 3
7 7 7 7 7

Arrangement copyright © 2010 by Dix Bruce (BMI) • www.musixnow.com


St. James Infirmary
Trad.

& b 44 œ œ œ œ œ œ . œ œ œ œ ˙ œ œ œ œ œ œ œ
Dm A7 Dm Gm A7
˙. œ œ
lower octave

1. It was down in oldJoeʼs bar - room, On the cor - ner by the square. The

.
left stood bigJoe Mc - Kennedy, And his eyes were blood-shot red. He

.
2 3 2 3 1
T 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 1 0
A 0 3 5 5 3 0 0 0 3 0 3
B

& b œ œ œ œ . œ œ œj œ . j œ œ
5 Dm A7 Dm Gm Dm A7 Dm

œ œ œ œ. œ œ œ œ ˙.
drinks were servedas usu - al, And the usu - al crowd was there. 2. On my
looked at the ganga - round him, And these were the words he said. 1 3

. . . .
J J
0 0 0 0 5 8
5 5 3 0 0 0 2 3 0 3 3 0 0

œ œ
upper octave

œ œ œ œ. œ œ œ œ ˙ œ œ œ œ ˙. œœ
Gm A7

&b œ
9 Dm A7 Dm

5
1
5 5
4

. 5
3 1
5 5 5 10
4
6
2 1
5
.
10 10 8 5 5 5 8 5 8

Arrangement copyright © 2008 by Dix Bruce (BMI) • www.musixnow.com

œ œ œ Aœ7. œ œ Dœm œ . Gœm œ œ Dœm. œAœ7 œ œ D˙m.


Dm

&b J Œ
13

J
. . . .
Œ
5 5 5 5

J J
10 10 8 5 5 5 7 8 5 8 8 5 5
St. James Infirmary chords

1 1 1 1 1 1
1 2 2 2 2
2 2 3 3 2 3
4
4 3

1 1
2
2
4
3