iBreatheMusic.com Online Music Lessons
  The Pulse - iBreatheMusic's official newsletter
Online Articles: 188
Article Browser
Forum Members 26,151
Join Us - Take Part
Pulse Subscribers 2046
The Pulse Archive


Arpeggios are one of the most useful tools for the modern rock improviser. They became popular in the Eighties, as guitarists as Yngwie Malmsteen, Marty Friedman and Joe Satriani popped on the scene. They made a huge impact on guitarists and became a trademark of what we call the Shred Era, not only because they sounded really impressive to the average guitarist, but because they really looked impressive too!!

Even when the Shred era has gone away, and all the virtuoso, flashy guitarists have stepped into shadows, arpeggios have proven to be one great tool for improvising over chord changes, not only because they're pretty simple harmonically talking (You can get away with basic theory knowledge); you can add a lot of "harmonic color" to your solos by using arpeggios to spice up your leads, creating zillions of different harmonic situations using just a bunch of basic arpeggios.

In this article we're going to cover the commonly used techniques that guitarists use to play arpeggios, as well as some harmonic concepts as chord substitution and triad stacking, to finally come with a deep study of the possibilities that arpeggios offer to the modern guitar improviser.

What is an arpeggio?

Basically, an arpeggio is the notes of ANY chord played separately in any order. For instance, if we take the C chord, for example, a C major arpeggio is just the notes of that specific chord played in any order (C, E, and G). You can play C E G, G E C, C G E, and you'll be still playing the same arpeggio, because you'll be hitting the C triad tones.

Of course, if you want to play the arpeggio for any specific chord, you must know the construction of that specific chord. For example, if you want to play an F arpeggio, you should know that F has the notes F, A, and C; if you want to play the Cm7 arpeggio you should know that it has C, Eb, G and Bb.

Besides having in mind the notes you should play to nail a specific arpeggio, the next obvious step is being able to find those notes on the fretboard: Try to memorize all the notes on the fretboard. That way it will be a lot easier to play arpeggios, as well as other things you may want to play at a certain moment.

Getting Started

To start tackling the techniques, I would suggest you to practice the following picking patterns. Don't worry, they're still basic arpeggio patterns, and we'll use them just to warm up before taking the real challenge, and to get a basic idea of how arpeggios sound; practice the examples slowly at first, and make sure the notes ring clearly as you pick them. Gradually increase the tempo as you get used to the fingerings and the picking motion.

(Note: a powertab and pdf version of all the examples is available at the end of the article)

Midi file

As you saw in the examples, they are pretty simple, easy sequences that I offer you to get used to the sound of the arpeggios. There are many types of arpeggio sounds, but at this moment I just want you to get a picture of the idea and I also want to prepare you for the real challenge. As you get used to the given examples, maybe you'll want to mix them up and come with your own patterns. As a part of the warm-up workout, I'll show a few more examples for you to practice.

Arpeggio Techniques: A whole horizon of different possibilities.

To begin with this section, let me tell you that there are a whole bunch of different techniques that the modern guitarist uses to play arpeggios in this "era", as I call it. Guitar technique has gone way too far, and let me tell you: The limit is the sky as far as arpeggio techniques is concerned. From simple two-string arpeggio ideas to 6 string sweep picking, tapping, string skipping and anything you can imagine.

Sweep picking >>