Guitar Arpeggios

As with most aspects of learning the guitar, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about guitar arpeggios and how to play them. 

  • It is often stated that arpeggios are something you learn once you’re an intermediate or advanced player.  That doesn’t have to be the case.
  • Arpeggios are necessarily big and complicated and there are lots of shapes to learn.  Actually the shapes are small and easy to learn.

What you need to know first

If you have learnt scales somewhere else then this material won’t make much sense to you.  You need to have an understanding of the Express Guitar system of learning and understanding scales.  So, whether you have no experience of scales or whether you are ripping through all the modes already go and check out THE SIX NOTE SHAPES.  If you’re one of our students then you’ll already have covered this so just carry on.

What is an arpeggio?

Put most simply an arpeggio occurs whenever you play a scale but miss some of the notes out.  So you could play one note, then miss two notes out from the scale and play the fourth note, then the 7th note and so on.  But that sounds weird and is hard to play and doesn’t fit with our 6 note shapes.  So the most common way of doing things is to play a note, then miss one out, then play one, then miss one out.  This gives you the first, third and fifth notes from the scale.

 

Let’s play some arpeggios

Type 1 arpeggios

 

On the right are two diagrams.  The first shows six note shape no. 1 and then to the right there is another diagram showing just the first, 3rd and 5th note in that shape.  Notice that the numbers are counting the notes in the six note shape, they’re not the fingering, just stick to the normal fingering for each shape.

This little arpeggio shape will fit in six note shapes 1, 4, and 5.

These notes can be described as a major arpeggio, to understand that more have a look on here for the information about building chords.

On the left are two more diagrams.  The first shows six note shape no. 2 and then another diagram showing just the first, 3rd and 5th note in that shape.

This arpeggio shape will fit in six note shapes 2, 3 and 6.

These notes can be described as a minor arpeggio, again, have a look on here for the information about building chords.

So that just leaves shape 7.  This is one all on it’s own.  These notes can be described as a diminished arpeggio.

I call these shapes type 1 shapes because they start from the first note of each 6 note shapes.

Now practice those shapes!

Just move around the guitar neck as you’ve been doing using the 6 note shapes, but now incorporate these type 1 arpeggios all over the place.  It’ll add some real sophistication to your sound if you’ve been stuck playing scales all the time.

Type 2 arpeggios

 

Type 2 arpeggios start from the second note in a 6 note shape.  So we use notes 2, 4 and 6.

Here’s the example using shape 1.

This little arpeggio shape will fit in six note shapes 1, 2, 5.

These notes can be described as a major arpeggio.

Here’s shape 4.  I’ve just skipped to 4 because it’s easier to draw the diagrams that way.

This arpeggio shape will fit in six note shapes 3, 4, and 7.

These form minor arpeggios.

The wacky loner type 2 shape occurs in shape 6.  Again this is a diminished arpeggio.
I call these shapes type 2 shapes because they start from the second note of each 6 note shapes.

Now practice those shapes!

Just move around the guitar neck as you’ve been doing using the 6 note shapes, but now incorporate these type 2 arpeggios all over the place.  Don’t mix up type 1 and type 2 shapes until you’re really comfortable seeing these arpeggio shapes in within the 6 note shapes.

Lastly, combine the two types of arpeggios and go nuts!