‘Arpeggios’. You’ve probably heard this intriguing word thrown about on some online guitar lessons and thought “What are arpeggios on guitar?”. It was one of those things that I knew existed but didn’t understand until someone showed me. 

Today we’re going through the basic elements, looking at how they are made, why you should even learn about them, and how to use them in our guitar playing. 

What Are Arpeggios On Guitar?  

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘arpeggio’? Something Italian maybe? 

You’d be correct in this instance. Arpeggio (ah-peh-jee-oh) comes from the Italian word ‘arpeggiare’, which means ‘to play a harp’. Think of how harpists play one note at a time – this is what arpeggios do.

Put simply, arpeggios are a series of notes from a chord played one at a time. We take a chord and play each of its chord tones individually. Let’s try this out: 

D Major guitar arpeggio

Guitar arpeggio tabs

what are arpeggios on guitar tab

See how the notes of the chord are still there, they’re just played individually rather than together? We can do this for any chord we like. 

For as many guitar chords there are, there is a guitar arpeggio equivalent. All you do is identify the notes, then play them one by one. 

7th chords are very common in arpeggio guitar practise – let’s look at one now for another example;

major 7 arpeggio
guitar arpeggios tab

Using Different Chords

A lot of the time you get chords which order the notes differently. See the Major 7th chord below:

arpeggios on guitar

In the chord the notes are arranged as they are according to the voicing, but in the arpeggio we are going through each note sequentially:

guitar arpeggio shapes
arpeggio guitar voicing

You could also play an arpeggio according to the voicing:

guitar arpeggio chord
guitar arpeggio scale

So now we’ve gone through various arpeggio guitar shapes to and looked at what are arpeggios on guitar…

That’s Cool… But How Do We USE Them?

Great question fellow traveller!

Arpeggios have many patterns, and each one is a melody in it’s own right. It’s a lick, and it’s how you use it, how you connect it with what you know that matters. And intending to have fun in the process.

Here are the three most common approaches to playing arpeggios:

  1. Ascending
  2. Descending
  3. Loop approach

For all 3 approaches, the main things to keep in mind are: 

  1. We’re playing with a rhythm. Its very popular to play straight eighth notes in a bar of 4/4 (having 4 quarter notes) when playing arpeggios, so for each exercise we have 8 notes in total. This is the approach we’ll use today. 
  2. Play with the box concept in mind, where we stick to 4-5 frets at a time (one fret per finger +1 fret extra)

Also, we are only looking at minor and major 7th arpeggios.

minor 7th arpeggio

 Ascending

The most common way of playing an arpeggio is simply playing it up the neck. Because we’re playing 8 notes at a time, we simply keep going up until we can’t go any further. 

ascending major 7th arpeggio

If you get to the last note in your box shape and there’s still beats left in the bar you can just repeat from the beginning.

Descending

This is just the reverse of ascending, where we start on the highest note and play towards the lowest note. 

descending major 7th arpeggio

Again, if you get to the last note in your box shape and there’s still beats left in the bar just repeat from the start.

Loop Approach

Another common approach is to have a repeating loop, where you ascend up the arpeggio then come back down to repeat the cycle. The way we do this is by using the number of beats per bar as guidelines of when we ascend and descend. 

You may have noticed… This is what we have been doing for the first half of this lesson 😉 

The key thing we want to have in mind is to travel away from the root for the 1st half of the bar, then come back on ourselves for the 2nd half, to end where we started, so we have a seamless loop. 

In a 4/4 time signature, it would look something like this:

loop approach

So by going up the neck for the first 4 notes, then coming back down for the next 4, we have created a loop. 

I hope you enjoyed this post on arpeggios! If you’ve got any questions feel free to ask me, I am happy to help 🙂

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