The Often Overlooked Art Of Arpeggios

Arpeggios are defined as a chord whose notes are played in order from the lowest pitched note to the highest pitched note as opposed to playing the notes of the chord simultaneously. Arpeggios give your solo playing a very melodic and professional sound and enable you to think and hear differently than the majority of players who are only thinking of scales and scales passages.

In recent years players have begun to refer to longer and extended arpeggios as "sweeps". Jazz players have always heavily based their beautiful and bouncy melodies on the use of arpeggios. Arpeggios rock. Arpeggios are exciting.

If your playing is beginning to sound predictable or sleepy, or if you feel you are at a creative standstill, stuck in a rut or at a loss for fresh ideas a quick study in the art of arpeggios is certain to revitalize your playing, hearing and thinking.

The Theory Of Arpeggios

Every arpeggio has a numeric formula, the formula tells you the place each one of the notes in the arpeggio occupies in the major scale. The formula for a C major arpeggio (1 - 3 - 5 of the C scale) is the exact same formula for a D major arpeggio(1 - 3 - 5 of the D scale). All major arpeggios share the same formula.

The spelling of an arpeggio is unique to that chord. A C major arpeggio is spelled C - E - G (1 - 3 - 5 of the C scale). A D major arpeggio has the spelling D - F# - A (1 - 3 - 5 of the D scale). Each and every arpeggio has its own unique spelling.

Practice in Hearing Arpeggios

Major Arpeggios

Use these musical visualizations regularly and often. As they play thing of the notes you are hearing numerically, saying "1 -3 - 5" in your head as they play. If you were in a top notch music school you would be taught to sing these notes in pitch as part of your ear training and sight singing requirements. The sound of major chords, scales and arpeggios can be thought of as bright, bouncy, cheerful, strong, melodic or happy.

Since all 3 arpeggios are in the C major family, we can use them to create a great sounding lick to play over any C major chord. It is a big mistake to just start mindlessly playing arpeggios and expect the to sound like a solo. that would be like opening up a dictionary and reading words one right after the other and expect them to sound like a a poem.

In the lick to follow we'll employ two techniques that will give arpeggio playing that professional and tuneful sound.


Creating Licks Based On Arpeggios

Major Arpeggios

Any musical concept, idea or device, although interesting to you as a musician means nothing to you as a guitarist unless you have an actual real world playing situation to apply it to.

Let's examine 3 arpeggios in the C major family, these arpeggios are based on forms appearing on your copy of THE ULTIMATE GUITAR POSTER. By simply playing the TAB below with a beat you will hear a nice sounding series of notes, wouldn't you agree?

These are simplifications of the arpeggios (the slang is "arps") found on THE ULTIMATE GUITAR POSTER. But you can certainly apply this thinking to any of the arps you may know or learn to play in the future.

Combining Arpeggios

As stated before, we'll be using several different arpeggios in the C Major family to cover one single C Major chord sound.

String Skipping or Note Skipping

On the guitar string and note skipping usually amount to the same thing. Once again this means that you must be inventive and imaginative with the notes in the arpeggios, don't recite the chord tones in order unless that is what you want to hear, otherwise arpeggios can sound boring. Listen to the beautiful and sparkling quality of the lick to the right.

Minor Arpeggios

This practice of singing matching a pitch (in key) for each note your are hearing and seeing is incredibly beneficial to your sustained growth as a musician. The sound of minor chords, scales and arpeggios is often described as sad, mysterious, mournful, gloomy or mysterious. In a jazz, latin or rhythm and blues setting minor chords sound cool and hip.


Here we'll look at part of the arpeggio for just one of the minor chords on THE ULTIMATE GUITAR POSTER.

You may recognize this shape as being the the notes found on the 3 thin strings of the basic C minor barre chord found on fret VIII.

Approach Notes

A very interesting, and often exciting and new concept to improvisors is chromatic approach notes. Simply stated, this means approaching a note the arpeggio (or chord shape) by one or two of the notes right next to the note in the arpeggio, which can now be called a target note. The solo to the left employs chromatic approach notes arriving at their target notes.


Dominant 7 Arpeggios

As you study this musical visualizations say the numeric names and try singing pitches matching the the notes you are hearing "1 -3 - 5 -b7". The sound of dominant chords, scales and arpeggios is often called bluesy or funky. All styles of music however are deeply dependant on the use of dominant chords to create strong chord to chord movement.


Diminished 7 Arpeggio

Diminished 7th dominant chords can sound alarming, arresting and slightly dissonant. If you ever have to play something which sounds frightening or scary a diminished 7th chord is always a safe bet. Often thought of as "passing chords" a well placed diminished arpeggio can provide a real knockout of a sound. Don't save them exclusively for diminished chord situations, you could (and should) use the diminished 7ht arpeggio against dominant 7th chords for exciting and unexpected melodic effects in your solos.


Augmented 7 Arpeggio

The sound of augmented dominant chords provides a lifting effect and a very strong sense of movement to the next chord. The Augmented 7th arpeggio is of course the right choice for an augmented dominant chord but you could (and should) use the augmented dominant arpeggio against a plain old dominant 7th chord sound for a cool, professional sound.


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