Understanding Arpeggios on Guitar (How, Why, When)

Arpeggios (along with scales) are another way to navigate the fretboard when writing a composed melody line or for your next guitar solo. 

If you get to know them well, they can be a tremendous help to you as you compose or improvise music on guitar...

Arpeggios use chord tones, (that's it). When using them, there's very little risk of treading "outside" the notes of a harmony, and walking into dissonance. This makes them incredibly useful for creating targeted melodic lines. You can perform a line directly into the chord tones of a chord being performed without wandering off into any other unrelated sounds.

Before you begin your studies of arpeggios, let's take a short introduction to them on guitar. Their function is based upon notes of chords. If we have a "D major" chord, then our notes would be "D, F#, A." This also means that a "D Major" arpeggio only uses the notes of "D, F#, A." The connection is direct. Which is also what allows arpeggios to function so perfectly over any chord.

Learning some essential arpeggio patterns and how to use them in solos can have a huge impact upon your guitar playing. When used in a solo, they highlight the chord tones of a chord in use perfectly. If you want to learn more about this process, watch my lesson on, "Using Arpeggios in Guitar Solos." It will help clarify the way arpeggios are applied during improvisation.

Arpeggios are chords played one note at a time. In other words, each note of the chord is cleanly separated, one after the other, rather than letting them ring out together. It's therefore often referred to as a broken chord.

The diagram below shows a standard "C Major 7" arpeggio in the 2nd fingering position on the neck. The notes indicated with "diamonds" are the "Root" (naming), notes.The pattern below would be performed from the "diamond" indicated on the 5th string's third fret.

Practice the pattern from 5th string up to the highest note on 1st string, (the "G" at the 1st string third fret). Then, descend all the way back through the arpeggio to the 6th string third fret "G." Then, ascend back up into the "Root" (C), again at the 5th string, third fret to complete the play-through of this arpeggio.

"C Major 7" arpeggio (notes: C, E, G, B)

Study the arpeggio pattern outlined above. As time goes on, learn the basic patterns /shapes for arpeggios all over the entire fingerboard. Spend time learning the basic melodic function of using arpeggios for creating melody parts.

If arpeggios are still very new to you, learn more about their basic function by watching my video lesson on YouTube, "Beginners Guide to Arpeggios." That lesson will clear up a lot of the issues guitar players tend to encounter when first trying to develop arpeggios.

Since a chord is technically an arpeggio, this means if you already know some chord forms on the fret-board, you can start to plot out their arpeggio shapes. Also, since chords come from scales, if you know some scale patterns, you'll be able to pull arpeggios out of those scales. The process is easy, since an arpeggio is simply every second note of a chord.

Where there's a chord or a scale, there's an opportunity for an arpeggio. However, there are more economical fingerings that we can use for arpeggios. This involves plotting  more than one note per string, (something we do not do with our chord patterns).

Just as we have major and minor chords, we also have major and minor arpeggios. There are also 7th arpeggios just as there are 7th chords. So, it makes sense that learning arpeggios would go hand in hand with learning how chords are constructed. And, the study of scales should be practiced along side of arpeggios to more fully comprehend the complete scope of the scale and arpeggio patterns for both of them on the neck.

When used in solos, arpeggios create phrases just like standard scale runs. The only difference is that with arpeggios we're being more selective of the key tones that make up a particular chord color (major, minor, major 7th, minor 7th etc.).

Regular scale phrases tend to float over any non-chord tones (often referred to as passing tones) in a linear movement. But, arpeggios move in a more harmonically defined way, as you only touch on those key chord intervals within the scale.

Playing arpeggios is like "connecting the dots" to build up the picture and really focus in on a chord. The arpeggio can lead into, or out of a scale phrase and it can connect phrases within the solo. It can span just one string or all 6 strings. You can sweep pick them, tap them or alternate pick them in a more traditional fashion.

Arpeggios can also be a massive benefit in helping to negotiate more complex chord changes, (as would be found in jazz music). For example, if the chord changes from C major to F minor, you could play a C major arpeggio followed by an F minor arpeggio.

The Advanced Guitar Program at Creative Guitar Studio covers the use of arpeggios in great detail. Guitar students need to spend time studying all of the various ways that arpeggios can be used to weave melodic ideas around chord progressions. Their use not only helps a guitarist use melody in more solid ways, the fretting layout of arpeggios makes for an excellent technical development of both the left and right hands.



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