Exploring Moveable Arpeggios

We’ve tinkered with arpeggios in a previous lesson (“How to Fingerpick Arpeggios,” Nov. ’04), but back then, the emphasis was on the picking hand. This time around, we’ll focus on the fretting hand as we explore arpeggios as a means of playing melodically up and down the neck. As you may recall, an arpeggio is simply a chord played as a sequence of individual notes, rather than as a block of harmony. With this technique, we can emulate the rippling sound of a harpist plucking a succession of rising or falling chord tones.

We’ll start our journey by arpeggiating major chords on the top four strings. Ex. 1 contains one of the most useful arpeggio fingerings you’ll encounter on the guitar. In this instance, we’re stepping through the notes of a D major chord—D, F#, A—starting and ending with F#. In addition to lying handily on the fretboard, this pattern proves a point: When playing arpeggios, you can start and end on any chord tone—it doesn’t have to be the root. It’s possible to simultaneously grip all the notes in this particular arpeggio pattern, but for now, play each note independently, fretting just one string at a time.

Ex. 2 offers another crucial arpeggio pattern. Here, we’re stepping through an F major—F, A, C—starting and ending with the root. Again, move through the arpeggio fretting one string at a time. Notice how your 1st finger frets two notes—C and F—on the second and first strings. The trick here is to roll the tip of your 1st finger back and forth between the strings.

In Ex. 3, we put our two arpeggio fingerings to work, playing through an A, E, D, E progression one note at a time. Watch the slides, and keep a steady tempo. For a Memphis soul flavor, add a little amp tremolo. When it feels comfortable as written, transpose the two-bar phrase to the key of C by sliding the whole package three frets higher. Now, you’re arpeggiating a C, G, F, G progression.

Next time: Moveable minor arpeggios.