An arpeggio on the guitar is very similar, but also very different from a chord. When you strum a chord, you are making the individual notes of the chord ring together at the same time. When you play an arpeggio, you are still using the notes of a chord, just not all at once, since you pick the individual notes of the chord separately.
You might pick a note that’s not in the chord at times, but it will still be based around a single chord on the given scale. You can use arpeggios to play really great chord melodies, you hear them in really famous songs all the time.
TIP: Check out this video guitar lesson on fingerpicking and arpeggios if you haven’t already.
Guitar Arpeggios and Scales
A guitar arpeggio is played on a given scale, on a given chord. As you know, a chord consists of only a few notes of a scale, since the scale has other passing notes, that are not included in the chord.
Let's take any major chord as an example. You’ll already know that a major chord is made up of 3 tones from its given scale, the root, the third, and the fifth note. You also know that each scale has 7 degrees, or 7 tones. When you play a major arpeggio, you will mostly be picking the root, the third, and the fifth degree.
You will, at times, pick at other notes in the scale, for example, a suspended note, but those will all be passing notes, and you will always arrive back on a note of your original chord. A good example is the D major chord, where adding an occasional Dsus4 chord note on the high E string at fret 3. It sounds great, try it yourself.
Arpeggios on the Major Scale
To explain arpeggios a bit more thoroughly, let's have a look at the A major scale, using major scale position 1 (root A is on the low E string, fret 5). As you know, the numbers represent the degrees of the scale, in other words, the tones used in the scale.
When you play an A major chord arpeggio, you will play the 1st, 3rd, and 5th tones of the A major scale.
Example: from the diagram above, let's select the tones that make up a major triad - that's the Root (1), 3rd (3) and 5th (5)...
So to pick the notes of a major chord, you would be picking the above notes of the major scale. As I mentioned, this scale, in particular, is an A major scale, since its roots at fret 5 of the low E string.
Now you could play the notes of the A major arpeggio all over the fretboard, here is what that would look like.
Arpeggios on the Minor Scale
Since we covered the major scale and the major chord arpeggio, its only fair to look at the minor scale and the minor chord arpeggio as well, right 🙂
As you know, this is the standard minor scale shape (A minor to be more exact):
The A minor chord is made up of the root, flat 3rd, and 5th degree of the scale. This means you would be plucking the following tones if you were arpeggiating the A minor chord on your guitar:
And of course, if you were to look at the entire fretboard, here is where you would find the 1st, the flat 3rd, and the 5th in the key of A.
Integrating Guitar Arpeggios Into Songs
- Arpeggios are great when you use them as a lead-in into a solo. The key is that you have to continue the solo in the same key your lead-in arpeggio was in.
- You can end strumming patterns with an arpeggio, by plucking a couple of notes from your ending chord.
- You can also play arpeggios during the strumming pattern itself, just take care that it does not offset the rhythm of your strums.
- Using hammer-ons and pull-offs to sound passing notes in arpeggios is very common as well.