The Empowered Musician The Infinite Guitar

Published December 4th, 2009. © Chris Juergensen/ All Rights Reserved.


As you’ve hopefully discovered from the other arpeggio lessons, arpeggios are practical tools to help you outline the harmony of the chord progression you are soloing over. But they are exceptionally useful when a chord shows up that is not diatonic to the key you are playing over. They have saved me from humiliation countless times when I couldn’t figure out what exactly I should be playing on a seemingly random chord floating in a sea of diatonic harmony. In the previous arpeggio lesson, we hopefully learned to see the triad arpeggios as part of the diatonic scale, but next we have to learn to see them as separate entities and be able to play them from their root on every string. By being able to do this, you can use them to play the proper notes over chords that are to some extent unrelated to the inherent harmony of the progression you are playing over. First take some time practicing playing arpeggios from various roots. For example, let’s practice playing an A major arpeggio from every possible A note on the guitar:

 major arpeggios (A)

minor arpeggios (A)

There are of course other type triad arpeggios as well, one, you have hopefully already learned, the diminished triad, others you have yet to learn, like the sus4 arpeggio (1-4-5) and the augmented triad (1-3-#5). The sus4 triad obviously comes in handy when playing over a sus4 chord and the augmented triad is something you will learn to appreciate with time for its special applications (for example: Eb, G and B augmented superimposed over a Cmin7 chord).

diminished arpeggios (A)

sus4 arpeggios (A)

The augmented triad can be found in the both the harmonic and melodic minor scale and when you start to use these scales, you will find that the augmented triad can be superimposed over certain chords to create dramatic effects. Whether or not you learn it at this time, I will leave up to you. It may be a little early if you are in the beginning stages but it isn’t a bad idea if you can handle all the information at this time. The augmented arpeggio is interesting because of its symmetry; all three notes are the same interval apart, a major 3rd. This means that any of the notes in the form could be a root and its shape will repeat up and down the fretboard in major 3rds:

augmented arpeggios (A)

It may be difficult for you to see why the augmented arpeggio is interesting, but look what happens when you combine them. Remember, any of the notes could be a root. The following combination is made up of all A augmented arpeggios (although any of them could just as easily be C# augmented and/or E# augmented as well). Pay close attention to the roots:

The exact same patterns played a major third below (or above for that matter), is the same thing:

Putting arpeggios into practice

Arpeggios will save you from impending disaster if you know how and when to use them correctly. A great example is when a chord pops up that you don’t know how to deal with. In the following progression the second to last chord is not diatonic to the key of A major, the seventh diatonic chord is G#dim but the chord we have to play over is a G major chord. This chord, the bVII is very common and it is simply getting borrowed from the parallel minor key, A minor (The Infinite Guitar pg. 220), but a handy arpeggio will save you as most of the notes from the A major scale will not work on this chord (a B or D note are OK, but a G# is a calamity waiting to happen). Play an A major scale, targeting the proper chord tones over the following progression (chord tones are gray). When it is time to play over the G chord, play a G arpeggio:

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