Arpeggios level 2

In L109 we took a first look at playing arpeggios and we kept them in one position. We played those arpeggios by holding down a chord in the left hand and playing each note in that chord separately in the right hand. This type of arpeggio can be varied in many ways. It can have a variety of rhythms and play the notes of each chord in a variety of ways.

What we are going to look at in this lesson, is adding in notes that may not be present in the static left hand chord, but still belong to the major or minor triad we are playing.

To make this clear, have a look at this A minor chord in first position:

A Minor Block Chord 1

This chord has an A in the bass then the next note is and E on the fourth string. This is an interval of a fifth, and this interval occurs a lot in guitar chords. It is part of what gives guitar chords their distinctive sound, their voicing.

What is voicing? It refers to the arrangement of notes within a chord. For instance the chord of C major has the pitches C E and G in the triad. One possible “voicing” of this C major triad is to play the C as the lowest note, followed by E, then G. If you change the order of the notes, we could put the E as the lowest note, then it creates a different voicing. This makes the chord sound different, even though it has the same pitches. Just think of the Belgian and German flags. Same colors, different arrangement, different countries…

So, back to the A minor chord. This chord has a fifth between A and E. But, as the A minor triad has a C in the chord we could add in the C on the third fret, fifth string, and it would still be an A minor arpeggio. To add in this C, we are going to involve the left hand in the Arpeggio process. Even while holding down the A minor chord in first position, we have the 4th finger free and available to help. Use the 4th finger to play the C on the third fret then continue up the arpeggio, like this:

A Minor Arp 1st pos 2

This way, the arpeggio gets two full triads A C E, A C E giving it a different sound to the triad played just with the right hand. Look at them side by side:

A minor arp triad 3

Let’s now look at this idea, applied to some other chords:

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 6.17.35 PM


Great, so now we have found a way to add in all the notes of a triad with some of these chords. Before we move on, let me point out that there are actually some chords which give you the entire triad just by holding down the chord.

Arpeggios C and G 5

G Major here, has the notes nicely stacked up until the second string GBD GB

then, however, it goes to the G on the first string.

So, in a similar manner, we can add in the missing D on the second string. There are a couple of ways to finger the G major chord in first position, but to play the D with a free finger, you will need to play it like this:

G maj arpeggio 6

The right hand.

As you may have noticed, the addition of these notes raises the question of what right hand fingering to use. In level one we simply used the right hand fingers in sequence PIMA for example. But when we get two or more notes per string we need to do something different.

The first option, and a very practical one to use in repertoire, is to play the second note with a left hand slur. So for A minor we could play:

Slur arp 7

This works well as it makes the arpeggio smooth and easy on the right hand.

If you would like to make the C a little more articulated and play with the right hand we have several options.

The arpeggio could be played with strict alternation:

Arpeggio alternation

The fifth string could be played with double thumb

Triple thumb 8

Or a mix of fingerings

Pi arpeggio 9

As you can see, there are going to be several options for each arpeggio, and it will be up to your own choice and technique as to what you choose.

Get outta town…

OK, fantastico, we are doing well to expand our arpeggios, but we are still in first position and this will limit our notes because we are not going further up the fretboard. So, let’s go on a little excursion.

Going back to our A minor chord, we can add the next note in the triad if we leave first position and play the note A on the fifth fret of the first string. The finger you play this note with will depend on where you are going afterwards. In this case, let’s go back down the arpeggio, so play the A with your fourth finger, which is not used in the left hand and makes it easy to come back down.

A minor arp 10

As we are now moving the left hand out of first position, holding down a static chord in the first position doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. If we were playing a block chord, then we would need all the fingers in place exactly on time. However, with an arpeggio, the notes are played sequentially, giving your left hand a little extra time to place fingers.

If you were ever taught to strum chords then you were probably asked to move all of your fingers at the same to hold down the chord. When I teach beginner guitarists, they start out playing chords by placing one finger down at a time, because they have not developed the finger independence to move fingers into position at the same time. Here, however, we are approaching the movement differently. You can, and should aim to place the fingers in sequence. This will make your left hand movement smooth and relaxed.

As you progress in your playing, you will find ways to make movements smoother and more economical, using only the effort that you need and nothing more. This is one of those occasions where you can make your technique more fluent by using the least amount of energy and movement possible. It seems necessary to have all the fingers down and ready together, but when you think about it, they do not need to be, as they are played in sequence, not together. It is easier for the hand to get one finger in place, as opposed to three, therefore your movement will be smoother and more relaxed.