A New Approach to the Horizontal Realm of Arpeggios

Add a "vertical" element to your arpeggios to generate striking new lines.
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damian cindy alligator guitar

In Western cultures, harmony is conveyed in two basic ways: the vertical, as in chords [Ex. 1a], and the horizontal, as in arpeggios [Ex. 1b]. Because the guitar, unlike brass and woodwind instruments, is capable of playing both chords and arpeggios, we spend countless hours learning the vertical and horizontal dimensions via chord and arpeggio exercises and etudes. This includes everything from jazz chord melodies to blindingly fast sweeppicking solos. Lately, I’ve been approaching arpeggios with a slightly different mindset by adding a simple vertical element to them and then using that information to generate striking new lines. Like the lesson last month, I’ll be using one chord, Dmaj7, for all examples. This will help you “hear” the examples clearly. Also, for all the examples, the notes of the Dmaj7 arpeggio will always be in the lower voice and the harmonized interval will be above (although it certainly doesn’t have to be this way). For this lesson, I’ll limit the harmonized intervals to thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths.

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Let’s begin with Ex. 2a, a simple Dmaj7 arpeggio in the lower voice starting on A, the 5 of the chord, and harmonizing this in diatonic thirds. Ex. 2b takes this information and parses it out into a sweet-sounding single-note line complete with unison doubling on adjacent strings. Ex. 3a uses diatonic fourths, beginning this time on C#. In Ex. 3b, the notes are put into another single-note line and I break the contour of the pattern on beat three to keep it from sounding too predictable. Ex. 4a uses parallel fifths. Notice that in this example, the lower arpeggio is simply a D major triad. I chose to omit the 7, C#, because using diatonic fifths, the C# would be paired with a G, and this tritone, or b5, takes away from the character of the example. Ex. 4b features a 5/8 groove and resolves to a G6/9 chord, the IV chord in the key of D major. Ex. 5a uses the full Dmaj7 arpeggio again, beginning on C#, and has a diatonic six above. I use this to generate the single notes in Ex. 5b. For variety, I added the pitches G and E during beat one.

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Taking this idea several steps further, what happens if the same Dmaj7 arpeggio is kept on the lower voice but the harmonized intervals above alternate? Magic! Ex. 6a switches “harmonized” intervals in groups of two while still keeping the Dmaj7 arpeggio in the lower voice. Finally, we put it all together in Ex. 6b for a super-cool line. Try this concept with harmonized seconds and sevenths, and over different types of arpeggios (minor, augmented, etc). Keep experimenting!