Arpeggio Theory for Guitar

Considering the many tools available formusicians arpeggios are among the strongest, most creative, difficult, and the most fun to play. They are also one of the most misunderstood in purpose and application.

   Characteristics of Arpeggios

In general, arpeggios outline the scale-wisecomponents of a specific chord structure. This is true for simple triads, the1st - 3rd - 5th degrees of a major or minor scale and for the most complicatedchord forms. Adding additional scale tones (say the 6th degree) changes theoutline to a Major 6th or Minor 6th chord outline.

To complicate matters, one of the most effective techniques associated with arpeggios is to play the arpeggio over alike but not exact chord structure. For example, playing a Dm7 arpeggio over a G7 chord is very effective. So, understanding the concepts of substitution is also a very important requirement to effective utilization of arpeggios.

Let’s take this train of thought a little bit further. Traditional techniques (such as Lower Neighbors) can effectively be utilized with arpeggios. Indeed, almost every accomplished musician utilizes this technique. Remember that we are discussing the theory of arpeggios. This theory is as valid for piano players, sax players, and what have you as it is for guitar and bass players. We all follow the same logic and theory. The material we are covering here is a form of music theory

Basic Logic and Construction of Arpeggios

Arpeggios are a sequential array ofscale-wise components that outline a given chord structure. Although arpeggios can, and do, start on any given note of the sequence they usually begin and endon the tonic (1st degree of the scale). What happens in-between the start andend can vary significantly, as you will see. 

Components of an Arpeggio

The diagram below illustrates a two octave C Major arpeggio. It is built on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th tones of the C Major scale (C, E, and G). Together they would produce a C Major chord. But arpeggios are played one note at a time

 - Notes of a C Major scale
 - Degrees of the scale

Notice that the notes (C E G) were selected sequentially from the C major scale. The first C Major arpeggio starts and ends with the note C. The second C Major arpeggio starts with the note G. G is the 5th degree of the C Major scale. Arpeggios seldom start with the 3rd degree of the scale. Both the root (C) and the 5th (G) tone provide a strong start to arpeggios.

 Introducing Variation

A basis two octave C Major arpeggio was illustrated on the previous page. The notes were all listed sequentially 
(C E G C E G C). The diagram below illustrates two variations on the basic C Major arpeggio


Both examples only contain the notes (C E G). The arrangement of the notes however, is significantly different. In the first variation the notes do not go in the traditional sequence. In fact, the sequence rather involved.
Original C Major arpeggio: 
Variation One: 

Variation Two:
C  E  G  C  E  G  C
E  C  G  E  C  G  E   C  G  E  C  G  C
C  E  G  E  G  C  G   C  E  C  E  G  C 

Both Variation One and Variation Two are standard substitutions for the basic Major arpeggio.
First we analyzed two variations of a C Major arpeggio. The first two-octave arpeggio started and ended with the root note "C". The other arpeggio started with the 5th degree of the C Major scale "G" and ended with the root note "C". Thus we were introduced to a small amount of variation in the construction of arpeggios. 
Then we reviewed two additional variations of the basic arpeggio. They were much more complex but utilized only the C E G framework for a C Major arpeggio. We can then conclude that a given arpeggio must contain a specific set of scale tones, but the sequence of playing these selective tones does not necessarily have to be consecutive. 

The specific tones for C Major are: 
But they can be played:
C  E  G  C  E  G   C  E  G  C
E  C  G  E  C  G   E  C  G  C 

©2009  Fred Russell Publishing, All Rights Reserved. This article can not be used without permission from the Author. To Contact the Author email curt@RockHouseMethod.com

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Shane said...

Great information on arpeggios, this technique creates classical like, rapid fast sound, and looks awesome to see.
pretty hard to master at first but after a while it becomes quite easy to perform.

Ryan said...

ha ha ha, sweepings the best. most brutal tecnique by far. hard to learn but worth the looks of awe.

sarge1875 said...

Yep, yep...tough but fun when you start to get the technique down.