• Prepare yourself for when you
get a flat tire.
• Learn how to turn your favorite
chords into solos.
• Investigate the subtleties of the
“Wait! Look over there … in the
dark. Is that an abandoned car?”
I am always amazed how bad luck and
good luck can occur simultaneously. It was
my 20th birthday, and I was with my bandmates
from Racer X. We were recording our
second album in a remodeled chicken ranch
north of San Francisco. We had taken the
night off to see Poison play at a club in the
city. Poison’s catchy tunes and choreography
hadn’t had time to work their magic on
the masses yet, so C.C. and the boys were
still slogging it out in the clubs. After the
show, my bandmates and I piled back into
my newly purchased—but very previously
owned—Oldsmobile and headed back into
farm country where the chickens and our
guitars awaited us.
It was about an hour drive into rural
darkness before we would reach our destination.
The city lights had faded from the
rearview mirror. We were tired and traffic
lesson > SHRED YOUR ENTHUSIASM
was sparse. The night was peaceful and …
... yek … yek … yek … yubbbb.
One of my tires had blown out. I slowed
down and pulled off the highway, and onto
the gravelly berm. I had never changed a
tire before, but I was not without help. Jeff
Martin, Racer X’s lead singer, has a heroic
reputation for being able to repair, build,
or modify just about anything. My car, and
our ride home, was in good hands.
Of course, the first piece of equipment
that is needed to change a blown-out tire is
a spare tire. I opened my trunk. It contained
no such thing. That’s when we saw it, a
ghostly image just barely visible in the distance—
an abandoned car. My car may not
have had a spare tire, but it did have a lug
wrench, so off we went to see if we could
salvage a replacement tire. It turns out that
we could. Jeff was able to remove a healthy
tire and roll it back to my crippled car.
Things were going well. My car had a
functioning jack and Jeff was able to prop
up my car, so that the new tire could be
installed. That’s when Jeff discovered that
the lug holes on the new wheel did not line
up with the lug posts on my axle. Things
were not going so well.
Here is where the important part of the
story comes in. Let me frame it first as a
mathematical equation: 2 + 2 = 5 if you
take a big piece of metal and pound that 5
until it pretty much looks like a 4.
And that’s what Jeff did. He looked at
the lugs on my car and saw where they
needed to go in order for the replacement
wheel to fit.
This principle can be applied to playing
arpeggios on a guitar. First, let’s pause
to take a look at the dictionary definition
of arpeggio: The notes of a chord played in
succession, either ascending or descending.
That’s just fine, but I’m going try an
experiment. I’m going to discard the second
half of the definition (ascending or
descending), and focus entirely on the first
half. Let me show you what I mean. In
order to play the notes of a chord in succession,
we’ll begin by choosing a chord.
I’m going to pick my #1 favorite chord in
the world. It’s a dominant 7sus4 chord. Why
is it my favorite? Because my eyebrows rise
up and my forehead gets all crinkly whenever
I hear it. It’s also in these awesome songs:
“What a Fool Believes” — The Doobie
Brothers (first chord)
“Real Man” — Todd Rundgren (“got
my head in the sky”)
“A Hard Day’s Night” — The Beatles
(the legendary opening chord, arguably)
Enough chord promotion. It’s time to
grab you guitar and play it in the key of D
as shown in Fig. 1. As you play the chord,
please notice that the voicing is 1–5–7–4–
5. In contrast to this chord, the corresponding
arpeggio, according to the strict dictionary
definition, should voice these notes in
purely ascending order: 1–4–5–7.
Can you see the difference? Go back and
look at the chord voicing again. The 7 is
not placed at the end, but in the middle.
The 4th is closer to the end, and there are
two 5ths that are spread way apart. I think
this chord voicing actually sounds better,
is easier to play, and projects the character
of the sus4 with more clarity. There isn’t a
musical reason why the chord voicing has
to ascend strictly in order. It’s my favorite
chord and the voicing sounds good, so I’m
sticking to it.
So here is the big moment. I want to
disregard the rule of “ascension,” and create
an arpeggio using the same voicing as my
favorite chord. For that, I need to invent a
completely new fingering. When you play
Fig. 2, I think you’ll immediately feel why.
The key to the fingering in Fig. 3 is
that there isn’t any barring, so the notes are
separate from each other and have more
potential for vibrato. Plus, in some areas we
use a “two-notes-per-string” arrangement,
which is very useful for speeding up the
line and making new phrasing patterns. My
favorite chord has become a SOLO. I can
now simulate “A Hard Day’s Night,” but at
or download here
This will also work for other chords.
In Fig. 4 you can see an A9 chord—also
known as the “James Brown” chord. I tried
to find a fingering that would allow me to
play this chord voicing as an arpeggio. I
couldn’t do it exactly, but I could use my
lug wrench to pound a note off of it and
then it worked just fine. Fig. 5 is the arpeggio,
but without the root.
But we’re not done with our lug wrench
yet. I want to play these same notes again,
but with a new rhythmic phrasing pattern.
Some of the notes in Fig. 6 will “line-up”
perfectly with nice rhythmic accents. Others
will be squeezed in between. My ear doesn’t
mind this. In fact, it gives the lick a certain
appealing, earthy feel. The car is riding a
little lopsided, but she still rolls stylishly
down the road.
or download here
If you’re willing to learn the pattern
above, then you deserve to be rewarded
with Fig. 7
or download here
So now, I ask you: Do you also have
a favorite chord? If you do, then please
waste no time in pounding it into an
arpeggio. The fingerings will surprise you,
and some new musical doors will appear
for you to explore.
If you don’t have a favorite chord here
are some ways to look for one:
- Take some lessons from a piano teacher.
- Take some lessons from a jazz guitar player.
- Learn 20 Beatles songs—learning 25 or
30 is even better.
- Learn 10 songs where piano is the
- Listen to your favorite music and when
your eyebrows jump up, go back and
learn that chord.
Finally, I would like to thank Jeff
Martin for saving the day and getting my
car back on the road. I suppose there’s the
possibility that the abandoned car had an
owner who returned to a very nasty surprise.
If that owner was you, then I send
my apologies for the missing tire and my
warmest gratitude for helping the band
and me finish a face-melting heavy metal
album. It’s called Second Heat if you want
to have a listen.
purposefully began playing guitar
at age 9, formed the guitar-driven bands Racer
X and Mr. Big, and then accidentally had a No.
1 hit with an acoustic song called “To Be with
You.” Paul began teaching at GIT at the age of
18, has released countless albums and guitar
instructional DVDs, and will be remembered as
“the guy who got the drill stuck in his hair.” For
more information, visit paulgilbert.com