Major & Minor Arpeggios on Guitar

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Arpeggios on guitar are when the notes of a chord are played individually one after the other. Arpeggios provide a framework for targeting chord tones and can be used to add a bit of color to guitar solos and fills. They are also quite popular in metal and neoclassical styles of music when played with a sweeping technique.

In this lesson we’ll learn the major and minor arpeggio patterns, the intervals from which they are built, and how to play them.

But first, let’s start by better understanding what an arpeggio is.

What is an Arpeggio?

An arpeggio is when you take the notes of a chord and play them one after the other instead of strumming all the notes at the same time. The notes are played either ascending or descending.

Arpeggios are useful for lead guitar playing, in so far as they emphasise the notes that harmonise best with their parent scale – using arpeggios exclusively for soloing would all but guarantee very note you hit sounded as sweet as you like alongside the backing instruments, though some dissonance and the resolution of it in phrasing is where the fun of lead guitar comes from!

A Major Arpeggio

A major arpeggio is constructed from the first (root), major third and fifth notes of the scale – the same notes used to build a major chord. You can play a major arpeggio in many different positions, and in many different ways, but these two patterns are the fundamental building blocks. You may also notice a similarity with the parent Major Scale. For example, A major (root on the 6th) and D major (root on the 5th).

A Minor Arpeggio

A minor arpeggio is constructed from the first (root), minor (or flattened) third and fifth notes of the scale – the same notes used to build a minor chord. You can play a minor arpeggio in many different positions, and in many different ways, but these two patterns are the fundamental building blocks. You may also notice a similarity with the parent Minor Scale. These examples are A Minor (Root on the 6th), and D Minor (Root on the 5th):

These are movable shapes that you can position yourself to get the arpeggio you need. All you need is the patterns shown and the fretboard diagram from the theory tab of Guitar Grade 3, and you’ll be able to play any major or minor arpeggio in any key!

Let’s go over a few techniques you can use to play them.

Arpeggio Technique

There are various techniques that we can use when playing arpeggios. The style you use will largely depend on the type of music you play. Below are links to a few examples:

  • Straight picking – using all up/down strokes
  • Alternate picking – alternating up/down strokes
  • Sweep picking – advanced technique using a “sweeping” motion

As a beginner, you’ll definitely be sticking to straight picking and alternate picking. Sweep picking shouldn’t be attempted until you’re able to play through the arpeggios cleanly and smoothly.

One of the trickiest aspects of playing guitar arpeggios is fingering notes that are side by side on the same fret. For these notes, you’ll need to use a rolling technique in order to play them fluidly.

So now that you know what an arpeggio is, let’s take a look at how guitar arpeggios are constructed. We’ll start with major arpeggios.

Building Major Arpeggios on Guitar

Major arpeggios are constructed from the notes of a major chord. Major chords consist of the 1st (root), 3rd and 5th degrees of the major scale.

Let’s consider the intervals of the major scale with the 3rd and 5th roots highlighted. If we select only the root, 3rd and 5th of this scale, we can create a major chord bar.

From this chord form we can build a major arpeggio. Since arpeggios are played one note at a time, we can complete this arpeggio by taking the 3rd major note on the 5th string and adding it to the barre chord.

Like scales, we can use the CAGED system to identify common basic arpeggio patterns on the guitar.

CAGED Major Arpeggio Shapes

The diagrams below give you the CAGED major arpeggio shapes, the chord shapes from which they are derived, and the suggested fingering for playing each shape. Use the fingerings as a guide and feel free to adjust as necessary.

When playing through the guitar arpeggios, start with the lowest root note and play ascending and descending, finishing on the same root note in which you started. Each arpeggio includes a tab to follow.

1. C Shape Arpeggio

The C shape arpeggio is derived from the C chord form, but also includes the 3rd and 5th on the 6th string and the 5th on the 1st string. This shape is used quite frequently is music.

C Major Shape Variations

Guitar arpeggio shapes can be broken down into smaller 3- and 4-note variations. These smaller versions typically are more applicable and easier to apply musically.

2. A Shape Arpeggio

The A shape arpeggio comes from the A form chord. It also includes the 5th on the 6th string as well as the 3rd on the 4th string.

A Major Shape Variations

Variations of arpeggios of 3 and 4 notes for the form of A major.

3. G Shape Arpeggio

The G shape arpeggio is built from the G form barre chord and includes the 5th on the 2nd string.

G Major Shape Variations

Arpeggio variations of 3 and 4 notes for the arpeggio form in G major.

4. E Shape Arpeggio

The E shape arpeggio is derived from the E form barre chord and also includes the 3rd on the 5th string. This shape, or a portion of it, is also frequently used in music.

E Major Shape Variations

Variations of arpeggios of 3 and 4 notes for the form of arpeggios in E major.

5. D Shape Arpeggio

The D shape arpeggio is built from the D form chord, but also includes three additional notes; the 3rd on the 6th string, 5th on the 5th string, and 3rd on the 3rd string. This shape is very awkward to play in its full form and frequently you see just the 5th, root, and 3rd played on strings 1-3.

D Major Shape Variations

Arpeggio variations of 3 and 4 notes for the arpeggio form in D major.

Building Minor Arpeggios on Guitar

Minor arpeggios are formed from the notes of the minor chord, which are built from the root, ?3rd, and 5th intervals of minor scale. The minor arpeggio differs from the major arpeggio in that the 3rd interval is a minor 3rd (1/2 step lower) as opposed to a major 3rd.

In the tab/audio below, the whole scale is played first, followed by just the root, 3rd, and 5th of each scale. Listen to the examples to hear the difference the 3rd scale degree makes between major and minor.

1. Cm Shape Minor Arpeggio

In the Cm shape arpeggio, the lowest root note is found on the 5th string. You’ll use this note as the starting point and play across the fretboard and back, making sure to pass the root note on the way back to play the full arpeggio, including the notes on the 6th string.

Cm Shape Variations

Like a major arpeggio, the full form of a minor guitar arpeggio can be broken down into smaller variations of 3 and 4 notes.

2. Am Shape

The Am shape arpeggio begins with the same root note as the C shape, the root on the 5th string. However, instead of playing it with the pinky finger, you use your index finger. This moves your positioning down and creates the A shape instead of the C shape.

Am Shape Variations

Variations on 3 and 4 notes for arpeggios Am shape.

3. Gm Shape

The root of the Gm shape arpeggio is found on the 6th string and again starts with the pinky finger.

Gm Shape Variations

Variations of arpeggios of 3 and 4 notes for the Gm form.

4. Em Shape

The root of the Em shape is shared with the root of the Gm shape. Similar to the Am & Cm shapes, the root of the Em is played with the index finger, shifting the position down the fretboard and creating a new arpeggio shape.

Em Shape Variations

Variations on 3 and 4 notes for Escape arpeggios.

5. Dm Shape

The last CAGED minor arpeggio shape is the D shape. It’s lowest root is found on the 4th string. It is the only complete arpeggio shape with the lowest root found on this string.

Dm Shape Variations

Variations of arpeggios in the form of Re from 3 and 4 notes.

Conclusion

In this lesson we looked at the major arpeggios, which are comprised of the root, 3rd, and 5th intervals of the major scale and minor arpeggios, built from the root, minor 3rd, and 5th intervals.

Arpeggios on guitar can be used to target chord tones in guitar solos and fills and help add a little color to your playing. You’ll probably find the 3- and 4- note variations a little easier to incorporate into your playing. Overall, learning arpeggios can take a bit of effort, so be prepared to put in some time with them.

FAQ for Major & Minor Arpeggios on Guitar

What are the major arpeggios on guitar?

In music, an arpeggio is a group of notes that are played one after another. They are often played in a rhythmic pattern.

The major arpeggios on guitar are:

1) E Major Arpeggio

2) A Major Arpeggio

3) B Major Arpeggio

4) C Major Arpeggio

5) D Major Arpeggio

What are the minor arpeggios on guitar?

Minor arpeggios are a set of three notes that form a musical pattern. They are often used in the lead guitar to create more tension and drama.

There are six minor arpeggios:

1) E minor

2) A minor

3) D minor

4) G minor

5) C# minor and finally

6) F# minor

What are major and minor arpeggios?

Arpeggios are a type of broken chord that is played in a quick and ascending or descending manner. The word arpeggio is derived from the Italian word “arpeggiare” which means to play on the harp.

A major arpeggio is when the notes of an arpeggio are all from one major scale. For example, C major, D major, E major etc. A minor arpeggio is when the notes of an arpeggio are all from one minor scale. For example, A minor, B minor, C minor etc.

What is the difference between the are major and minor arpeggios?

An arpeggio is a group of notes that are played one after the other. It is often used in popular music to give a sense of motion and for the listener to hear the chord changes.

The major arpeggio contains only notes from the major scale and it has a happy, uplifting sound. A minor arpeggio contains only notes from the minor scale and it has a sad, depressing sound.

How do play a major arpeggio on guitar?

A guitar arpeggio is a chord broken up into its individual notes. It’s a way of playing chords that can be used to create interesting melodies and lead-ins.

To play an arpeggio on guitar, you should start with your first finger on the lowest string and then move up to the next string, then the next and so on until you reach your highest note.

How do play a minor arpeggio on guitar?

This is a very simple and easy exercise to help you learn how to play a minor arpeggio on guitar.

1. Place your fingers on the first fret of the fifth, fourth, and third strings.

2. Play these strings in order from low to high with your index finger, then repeat with your middle finger, then with your ring finger and finally with your pinkie.

3. Now play the same string pattern but in reverse order: fifth string first, fourth string second and third string last (high to low).

4. Repeat this pattern until it feels natural and you can do it without looking at your fingers!

Which arpeggios major or minor should I learn first?

This is a difficult question to answer. There are many factors to consider, such as your skill level, the style of music you want to play, and the instruments you play.

If you’re just starting out with arpeggios, it’s best to start with major arpeggios first. If you already have a handle on major and minor arpeggios, then it’s time for some more complex chords!

Some people prefer learning minor arpeggios first because it is easier for beginners to learn. But if you’re more of an advanced player and want something more challenging, then go ahead and learn some major arpeggios.

How are arpeggios used in music composition?

In music, an arpeggio is a musical chord consisting of at least three notes of different pitch, played one after the other. The term is short for “arpeggiare” which means “to play on a harp.”

There are two types of arpeggios: major and minor. Major arpeggios sound bright and happy while minor arpeggios sound sad or dark.

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