What are arpeggios?
When you play a chord on your guitar, the idea is to make all the notes ring out together
. With an arpeggio, the idea is to play the notes of the chord separately
, in sequence.
Take a listen - same notes played in different formats... > Click to hear CHORD > Click to hear ARPEGGIO
That's what makes arpeggios a lead guitar technique
- only one note at any one time is being played, but in a sequence it builds up the picture
of a chord. So how is an arpeggio different from a regular scale?
When playing an arpeggio, you only play the notes that build up the chord you want. Scales tend to include "passing" tensions that wouldn't necessarily appear in a chord. This will become clear in a bit...
Think of building an arpeggio as taking only the notes of a chord from a scale and playing them in a sequence as part of a solo. It doesn't have to be played in any particular order.
OK, so now we know the basic concept behind arpeggios - let's see how they work on your guitar! Beginner guitar arpeggios - getting started
It might be useful, at the very least, to look over the first chord theory lesson over in the theory section. This will show you how we select tones from a scale to build chords and, ultimately, arpeggios. Major arpeggios
Let's first look at a simple scale we can work from. Below is a diagram of the major scale
in its "boxed" position starting on the low E string...
The numbers represent the tones
of that scale. It's these tones that build up our chord/arpeggio.Example:
from the diagram above, let's select the tones that make up a major triad
- that's the Root (1), 3rd (3) and 5th (5)
Quite simply, the above is a basic major arpeggio
mapped out across 2 octaves.
To make the fingering less cramped though, especially when higher up the fretboard with the tighter fret spacings, I prefer to play the scale using a wider scale shape. This gives the fingers a bit more room to negotiate the sequence and include slides and other techniques more freely...
So, same arpeggio, same notes... just a different pattern shape. There are always several shapes you can use that ascend and descend over the fretboard (e.g. here are several for the major scale), but that ultimately goes back to learning your scales
. Fingering is up to you - find what's most comfortable for you. At first your fingers will get tangled up, but there is an element of physical exercise with this and eventually the "muscle memory" will set in.
You should use a metronome to start slow and gradually build up speed, although speed isn't the most important thing... application
is! More on this in part 2.
What you need to work on mentally
is mapping arpeggios out like this in your mind and see the key note positions on the guitar fretboard.
The easiest way to visualise an arpeggio is to first find a place on the fretboard the related chord
could sit, then build the arpeggio around that same chord shape.Try some major arpeggios over the backing tracks below...
Other basic arpeggios on guitar
|Download/Play||Key||E string root note ||A string root note|
|Click here >||A||Fret 5, Fret 17||Fret 12|
|Click here >||C||Fret 8, Fret 20||Fret 3, Fret 15|
|Click here >||C||Fret 8, Fret 20||Fret 3, Fret 15|
|Click here >||F||Fret 1, Fret 13||Fret 8, Fret 20|
|Click here >||G||Fret 3, Fret 15||Fret 10|
So above we looked at a basic major triad arpeggio. Now let's take a look at minor.Minor arpeggios
Using exactly the same technique as above we can draw the key minor tones from a minor scale. For example, below is the "natural minor scale", also the 6th mode, Aeolian, in its "boxed" position:
The minor triad is made up of the root (1)
, minor/flat 3rd (b3)
and 5th (5)
. Just as with the tones of major we looked at above, the minor triad tones make up a basic minor chord. Therefore, they can also be separated out and played as an arpeggio...
Just like before, we could also make this fingering a little less cramped by playing across a wider scale pattern:
All we've really done there is moved the fingering for the 5th away from being sandwiched between the root
and b3 on the high e
strings. This allows us to separate the tones much more clearly.
Of course, you won't always want/need to play the arpeggio across 2 octaves (across all 6 strings) in a single phrase. In part 2, we'll look at how even just using short arpeggio phrases can "lead in" to a fuller soloing phrase nicely.
The easiest way to locate the position of an arpeggio is to simply play around the associated chord shape. For example, if you wanted to play around an A-shape barre/movable chord, the lowest root note
would be on the A string, so we can build an arpeggio pattern from this:
As long as you are able to build patterns from the bottom 3 root notes (E, A and D strings), you will have 3 main chord shape positions to build arpeggios from (E-shape, A-shape and D-shape chords).
Hopefully you now have a good idea of how arpeggios are formed from scales, and how they can draw from the same positions as chord shapes.
With this knowledge, see if you can also build arpeggios that involve additional chord tones. For example, you could build a minor 7th arpeggio by selecting the tones of a minor 7th chord from the minor scale...
Minor 7th tones: Root (1)
, flat 3rd (b3)
, 5th (5)
, flat 7th (b7)
So we'd simply be adding that extra 7th tone from the minor scale to the basic minor triad we've been looking at.
Remember - where there's a chord, there's an arpeggio. An arpeggio uses the same tones as chords. The only difference is how they're played