Arpeggios. Those things that we have all heard of at one point in our life, but we still don’t know what they are.
You may even have even had a conversation with someone who passionately loves arpeggios, and felt a little threatened by their aggressiveness.
But they really are the way forward when it comes to soloing.
Arpeggios will make your solos sound 50x better if you learn and apply them correctly.
Today, I’ll go over all the different kinds of guitar arpeggio shapes, how you should learn them, and how to use them in your improvisation.
Major Arpeggio Shapes
An arpeggio is basically a chord, but in note form.
For example, an A major chord is built from the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of its scale. You strum these three notes at once and you get an A major chord, right?
Well, to play an A major arpeggio, you still take the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of the scale. You just play the notes individually all over the neck, meaning you can slide between them and do some funky melodies and bends and stuff.
So with that in mind, here is the first of the A major guitar arpeggio shapes:
Yeah, not the nicest. But it’s vital that you get used to these awkward fingerings and barring notes on the fly with arpeggios.
And when we look at adding notes to them later, they’ll get easier.
But for now, spend some time getting used to these standard major shapes and then we can customize them a bit.
Let’s roll on to the second one:
This time you start from the major 3rd of the arpeggio on the 9th fret. I’ll give you some advice on how to connect this one with the first position a wee bit later.
Are all guitar arpeggio shapes annoyingly fiddly, Sam?
Yup, and there’s nothing you can do about it muhaha…
Here’s the fourth shape for ya:
How the frick am I supposed to play two notes on the same string with the same finger??
My answer to that is to slide, ladies and gentlemen, slide…
Arpeggio notes are often quite far apart, so you’ll find yourself often sliding between them to keep transitions smooth.
It’ll make getting stuck in one position harder, playing shapes easier and your playing more slipperyer.
Finally, here’s a shape that allows you to connect the last shape and the first shape nicely:
Again, you’re gonna wanna get that slide going on the B string, and make sure you practice this one an octave lower too with the root note on the 5th fret.
Oh yeah, you can also choose to barre those top three notes with your first finger.
I just find it’s easier to stop them overlapping each other by playing each one individually, which is particularly important with high gain tones.
Your choice though dude.
*How To Practice Arpeggio Shapes For Fast Progress
Before you go and try to learn the rest of the arpeggios in this post straight away and forget the ones I’ve just shown you, this is how you can really embed these into your muscle memory…
I call it The Glue Method:
- First, start by going up and down the first two shapes separately until you feel like you know them.
- Then practice going up Position 1, sliding up a note to the highest note of Position 2 on the high E string and coming back down Position 2.
You can then flip this by going up Position 2, sliding down to Position 1 and then descending again.
- Then practice going up Position 1 and sliding up on each string to the other note in Position 2.
You can then repeat this by descending down Position 2 and sliding down each time to the lower note in position 1.
- Finally, combine everything and have a bash improvising whilst bouncing between the two positions. It doesn’t have to sound good – just play something and slide up, then back down again.
- Do the same again, this time gluing Position 3 onto the end of Position 2.
Then you can carry on until you’ve glued all the shapes together and have one massive chain of notes hardwired into your brain.
And bish bash bosh, just like that you’re a major arpeggio pro.
You can thank me later 🙂
Minor Arpeggio Charts
Alrighty, it’s time for the Ying to the major arpeggio Yang.
These shapes will be very similar to the major shapes, except with a minor 3rd instead.
So here’s numero uno:
A hell of a lot of barring going on there so it’ll be difficult to keep this one clean.
But hey, as soon as we add a minor 7th in later it’ll be as easy as stubbing a toe.
Anyway, here’s the next one:
Nice and straight forward, use The Glue Method with some Pritt Stick and this will connect nicely with the first position.
Here’s numero tres:
Nice and easy… sort of.
And finally, numero fünf:
And voila! That’s minor done.
(There’s no need to feel daunted by my foreign linguistic proficiency)
Remember to practice both the major and minor variants in a bunch of different keys first before you move on so you’re ready to solo at any time.
And to use The Glue Method for minor too!
Then after that you’ll have the power to make these guitar arpeggio shapes as colourful and interesting as you like.
Funnily enough, that’s exactly what we’re going to look at next…
Colouring Arpeggios – Dominant 7th
You’ve done the boring and hard bit…
So here’s an even boringer and harder bit! Whoop, whoop!
Just joking, this is the easy part where you get to make these things sound good.
Adding notes like 2nds, 4ths, 6ths and 7ths to arpeggios is like colouring a blank canvas; you can begin to make them sound interesting.
Plus, they’re easier to play which is nice.
To create an A7 arpeggio, all we have to do is take our regular A major guitar arpeggio shapes, and add the note two frets behind the root note.
And now we can start getting some cool sounds.
You don’t even really have to learn any more shapes, if you know where the A root note is, you know where the 7th is.
Either way, I’ve left all the other positions down below for you:
You already know the standard major shapes well so all you’ve gotta do is memorise where those 7th notes are.
Now when an A7 comes up in a chord progression, you know exactly what to play.
Major 7th Arpeggios
What’s the dominant 7th’s younger brother?
The major seve-
That’s right! The non-dominant 7th!
Uhhh what? Is that even a thing?
Maybe, somewhere in the world…
I’ll take that as a no.
Moving on, to turn an A major arpeggio into an Amaj7 arpeggio, all you gotta do is add the the note one fret behind the root note:
And boom! There’s your friendly-neighbourhood A major 7 arpeggio.
And just because y’all asked for it, here are the rest of the shapes:
So they’re the major ones for today.
I’ve just got the minor 7th guitar arpeggio shapes left to show you and then I’ll give you some tips on how to actually use these things in your playing.
Minor 7th Arpeggios
It’s minor time!
We add the minor 7th in the same way that we add the dominant 7th, just throw in the note two frets behind the root note and there you have it.
Wow! That looks remarkably like the minor pentatonic!
Well, it’s because it is, just without the 4th note of the scale added. These should be easy enough if you know all your pentatonic shapes already.
As always, practice all these different types of arpeggio with the glue method for a bit, just so you can get a grip of where those extra notes are.
What’s the Point of Learning Arpeggios?
Now, why the heck would you want to learn all those guitar arpeggio shapes when you have scales instead?
Well, it’s because it lets you connect to chords as you solo over them like the pros do.
Picture this… You’re having a groovy time with your band at a gig, and your guitarist buddy is playing a simple chord progression to allow you to have some fun improvising.
You start using a scale because that’s what you’ve been told you’re “supposed to do”. And after a bit off a dilly dally, you then pull out a hot and spicy lick and everyone loves you for a few seconds.
But, oh no… what’s this on the horizon… is that the V chord? Watch out, watch out, watch out, NOOOO!
Just as the V chord hits, you finish the epic lick on the 6th note of the scale, creating a disgustingly dissonant V add b9 duuudun Jaws chord.
Everyone starts screaming and running in circles in a mad frenzy because it sounds so bad and people pour beer all over your equipment because they don’t want another sound to come out of you again.
And – worst of all – you drop your pick and can’t figure out where it’s gone.
However, if you were playing arpeggios, you would’ve paid attention to the chords as they came, finished the spicy lick on a note that makes everyone drool as a pose to throw up, and most importantly, not lost your pick.
How to Actually Use Arpeggios in Your Soloing
Now’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…
The entire reason you learnt all those guitar arpeggio shapes in the first place.
Well, the most fundamental way to use them would be to play the arpeggio notes of the chords you’re soloing over.
E.g. If E7, A7, B7 was your chord progression, you would choose to play the dominant 7th arpeggio of each chord as it comes.
And whilst this works fine and you are nicely linking to what’s being played behind you, it doesn’t really add much.
All the notes you’re playing are already there in the chords.
So there’s a couple of different ways you can approach this which can make your playing sound both connected and stylish…
1. Add Marty Friedman-style half step bends
Let’s face it, bending with arpeggios is normally kinda hard because all the notes are so far apart.
But if you add a small, half a step bend up to an arpeggio note now and again, you add a new dimension to your playing.
It also captures the audience’s attention as you’re playing a wrong note for a millisecond before bringing it back.
In this example, I play an E major arpeggio, but I bend up to the major 3rd from the minor 3rd, which shouldn’t work but sounds really cool:
And you can do that up to any arpeggio note, such as from the b5th/blues note up to the 5th:
And it doesn’t have to be a bend, you could even make it a slide up/down to that note by a half step too.
Like in this example where I slide up and down to the E note by a half step.
I don’t normally use quotes but I really like this one by Picasso:
“Learn the rules like a pro, and then break them like an artist.”
Just break the rules a bit, add in non-arpeggio notes as passing notes here and there to shake things up…
2. Using Scales With Arpeggios
Building on from that last point, another great way to add flare yet stay connected with the band is to use the notes of a specific scale as passing notes towards each of the chord arpeggios.
Using the same E7, A7, B7 example from earlier, we could choose to use the E Mixolydian scale. (Basically the major scale with a dominant 7th instead of a major 7th)
And navigate towards the notes of the E7, A7 and B7 chords as they come using this scale. (Steven Stine has a really great video on using arpeggio notes with scales)
This is a great one if you happen to know all the scale shapes already.
We can use arpeggio notes we already know as targets in those shapes as these are fundamentally the notes we want to linger on.
Or are they…
3. Using Suspended Arpeggios to Avoid Normal Chord Notes
I first got this idea in from a video Joe Satriani did for Guitar World. He basically argues that if you land on chord tones too early, you are finishing the story too soon.
Whereas, if you choose to finish your phrase on a suspended 4th, 2nd or 6th note, the listener is kept hanging as to where the phrase can go next.
It prolongs interest in what you are playing, and stops things becoming monotonous.
You could play a melody in Am with your minor 7th arpeggio, maybe add a quick passing note somewhere and then finish the phrase on the suspended 2nd note – for instance.
This would create an Am9 arpeggio, which sounds awesome and leaves everyone hanging on for the next phrase.
Here’s one I made earlier:
Have a play around and see which notes you like the sound of the most and practice finishing phrases on them.
For me, 2nds and 4ths are my favourite for minor, and 2nds and 6ths my favourite for major.
Implement this with guitar arpeggio shapes and you’ll find your improvising becomes as smooth as The Rock’s cleanly-shaven head.
And that’s pretty darn smooth!
Wrapping It Up
Phew! That one took a while. Props to you for making it all the way to the end.
Arpeggios are well worth the time and effort because your soloing is gonna sound 32x more melodic from now on, and the guy next door is gonna in tears because he doesn’t know why you sound so much better than him.
#Arpeggios > Scales
It’ll take a wee bit of time getting used to switching between different chord arpeggios mid-solo, but soon enough your crush will be asking you out on a date because you sound so darn good.
Worked for me, anyway.
Have fun soloing!