Arpeggios for Guitar

To fully understand how arpeggios work on the guitar. It’s important to keep in mind the basic mechanics of both the guitar and arpeggios.

With seventh chords, excluding any extensions, arpeggios contain four unique notes: the root, the third, the fifth and the seventh.

On a six string guitar, there are a number of different options when it comes to playing these four notes.

Using C major 7 as an arpeggio of reference, this page will go into detail about the many different possibilities for playing seventh chord arpeggios.

For additional guitar arpeggio  related lessons, check out the link here!

 

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Single String Arpeggios

 Firstly,  the entire C major 7th arpeggio can be played on a single string. Playing an arpeggio beginning on the root and ending on the seventh would look like this:

 

 

 

 

 

arpeggio-Single-String-Maj7

 

 

Two Adjacent Strings Arpeggios

Next, the C major 7th arpeggio is played on 2 adjacent strings. You may notice that once you attempt seventh chord arpeggios on adjacent strings, the number of possibilities for note locations triples.

For example, the first three notes of the major 7th chord arpeggio can be played on one string (root, third and fifth), followed by the last note of the arpeggio (seventh) on the adjacent string. The figure below shows all possible adjacent string combinations of playing arpeggios in a 3 and 1 note sequence.

 

 

 

 

 

arpeggio-3,1,2string

 

 

2 notes of the seventh chord arpeggio can be played on either string. The figure below shows all possible adjacent string combinations of playing arpeggios in a 2 and 2 note sequence.

 

 

 

 

arpeggio-2,2,2string

 

 

Lastly, one note on the first string can be played followed by three notes on the third string. The figure below shows all possible adjacent string combinations of playing arpeggios in a 1  and 3 note sequence

 

 

 

 

arpeggio-1,3,2string

 

 

Three Adjacent Strings Arpeggios

If we add another string into the mix, for a total of 3 adjacent strings, we get 3 additional ways of playing a four-note seventh chord arpeggio.

The first option is to play the arpeggiate with 2 notes on the first string, followed by 1 note on second and 1 note on the third. This is abbreviated as a 2-1-1 arpeggio.

 

 

 

 

arpeggio-2,1,1,3string

 

 

The second option is to arpeggiate with 1 note on the first string, followed by 2 notes on second and 1 note on the third. This is abbreviated as a 1-2-1 arpeggio.

 

 

 

 

arpeggio-1,2,1,3string

 

 

The third option is to play the arpeggiate with 1 note on the first string, followed by 1 note on second and 2 notes on the third. This is abbreviated as a 1-1-2 arpeggio.

 

 

 

 

arpeggio-1,1,2,3string

 

 

Four Adjacent Strings Arpeggios

Finally, we could play a seventh chord arpeggio over four strings. Playing a seventh chord arpeggio over four strings leaves us with only one possible approach, and that is to play one note per string.

 

 

 

 

arpeggio-4-strings-maj7

 


 

 

Position Shifting

Arpeggios larger than an octave

 In order to play arpeggios larger than an octave, in all areas of the fretboard, we need to repeat or combine the single octave arpeggios from the previous section.

The two most versatile and practical single octave arpeggio forms for use as multiple octave arpeggios are 1-2-1, and 2-1-1 arpeggios. These arpeggio approaches continuously repeat the same shapes at every octave for a given arpeggio. The hand is required to shift position each time the octave is reached. Shifting positions allows for a larger arpeggiated run.

1-2-1 arpeggios are created with 3 adjacent strings. In the example of C major 7, the root note is played on the low E-string, followed by the third and fifth on the A-string, and finally the seventh on the D-string. In order to continue the arpeggio, play the root an octave higher from the previously played root, on the same string you played the seventh of the C major arpeggio (D-string), and repeat the 1-2-1 pattern. Playing this results in having the root an octave higher on the D-string, followed by the third and fifth on the B-string and the seventh on the high E-string. The figure below illustrates the 1-2-1 arpeggio.

 

 

 

 

maj7121intro

 

 

2-1-1 arpeggios follow the exact same principle as 1-2-1 arpeggios. The difference is that with 2-1-1 arpeggios, using the example of C major seventh and beginning on the low E-string, the root and third are both played on the low E-string followed by the fifth on and seventh. The pattern then continues on the string that you ended on, just as in the 1-2-1 arpeggio. The figure below illustrates the 2-1-1 arpeggio.

 

 

 

 

maj7211intro

 

 

Maintaining Position 

Arpeggios larger than an octave

 Another way of playing arpeggios greater than an octave is to play them directly across the fretboard. This approach requires little-to-no shifting of the position of the hand, and can lead to some interesting possibilities for legato playing.

The two main approaches in this style of arpeggiation are 1-2 arpeggios and 2-1 arpeggios. With the 1-2-1 and 2-1-1 arpeggios, the abbreviation represents the notes played for the entire seventh chord arpeggio, meaning every note of a given seventh chord arpeggio is accounted for by indicating either 1-2-1 or 2-1-1:

1-2-1 = {root}-{third, fifth}-{seventh}
or
2-1-1 = {root, third}-{fifth}-{seventh}

With 1-2 arpeggios and 2-1 arpeggios, the abbreviation strictly accounts for how many notes will be played per string.

In the example of C major 7th beginning on the low E-string and using a 1-2 arpeggio, C and E would be played on the low E-string, G on the A-string, B and C on the D-string, E on the G-string, G and B on the B-string and C on the high E-string. The figure below displays this relationship between the abbreviation and the arpeggio.

 

 

 

 

intro12maj7

 

 

2-1 arpeggios operate in the same way as the previously described 1-2 arpeggio but, the first two notes of the seventh chord arpeggio would be played on the low-E followed by 1 note on that A-string, etc…The figure below displays the relationship between the 2-1 abbreviation and the arpeggio.

 

 

 

 

intro21maj7

 

 


Arpeggio List

 Below is a list of links to all of the basic seventh chord structures and their greater than an octave arpeggios. After reading through this lesson, be sure to go through each arpeggio type!