Let’s check out major arpeggios for guitar. For this post, I’m assuming basic music theory knowledge. You should understand scale degrees, the difference between major and minor chords and keys, and have an idea of what the CAGED system is.
We’ll use C Major as our example chord and arpeggio, but you can apply the following to any chord on the guitar.
What is an arpeggio?
An arpeggio is essentially a chord. The only real difference between arpeggios and chords is that a chord is a collection of notes played together, while an arpeggio can be the same collection of notes but with each note being played separately.
As an example, fret an open C Major chord, and strum it. In that case it is a chord. Now, fretting the same chord, start on the lowest (or highest) fretted note and simply pick each note of the chord individually while ascending, descending, or jumping around strings randomly. In this case, you’re playing the C Major arpeggio.
What does a major triad arpeggio refer to?
A major triad arpeggio, or simply major arpeggio, is based off the basic triad chords that are built with the 1st, 3rd, and 5th of the scale. We’ll continue using the C Major chord for now. If we look at the C Major scale:
We can see that the 1st note is ‘C’, the 3rd note is ‘E’, and the 5th note is ‘G’. This gives us C-E-G, which is the C Major triad. These are also the only notes being played when you play an open-C chord on the guitar, though some notes are duplicates.
How to practice these arpeggios?
For this example we’ll start in position 3 of the CAGED system, or the ‘G’ shape.
Make sure to keep your hand in one place as you play through this arpeggio and start on the lowest string. In this case your 4th finger will play the first note, which is a ‘C’ on the 8th fret. Keep one finger per fret going and play through the whole shape one note at a time. Play it slowly and cleanly and work on silencing the previous note when you play the next so the two aren’t ringing together.
Speed is not important here, just focus on what your left hand is doing. It’s also a great idea to say the note names out loud as you play them. This will greatly help you visualize the fretboard and build a map of it in your mind.
How to apply these arpeggios?
The best way to really put a new technique into your playing is to apply it, so let’s get started!
Begin simple. You want to reinforce what you’re learning, not overwhelm yourself. Pick a chord, in our case C Major, and get a loop of that chord playing at an easy tempo. While it’s playing, pick one movable chord shape, which in our case is position 3 or the ‘G’ shape of C Major, and play through the arpeggio. To make it sound more musical, don’t just play it like an exercise running up and down the whole shape. Play smaller sections of the arpeggio, say the top 3 or 4 notes, and try them out in different combinations. Don’t be afraid to use repetition.
A next step could be approaching the notes of the arpeggio from notes below or above them that are in the same key. Again, don’t be afraid to repeat a pattern a few times, it can help catch a listeners ear and sound more melodic.
Arpeggios are a great way to increase your understanding of the fretboard and build your comfort with moving around and getting you unstuck from those same old, familiar patterns. They’re also a great tool for improvising and can really add flavor to a solo.
Another fun idea is to play different arpeggios over the same backing chord. For example, over that C Major loop, try a G Major arpeggio and see how it sounds. Never be afraid to experiment and always trust your ear. If it sounds good to you, chances are it sounds good to others.