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August Issue
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Style Guide: All About Arpeggios


How far can you take this? You can run with it—literally. Check out this lick in Fig. 5: It uses the same basic arpeggio shape, but runs it down the top two strings. It’s the same material we were using before, but we’re putting the arpeggios into different inversions and playing them in a few locations down the neck. Variety really helps us sound unique, and brings us full circle with the “Hotel California” example that started the lesson. This is a similar concept to what they did, just applied to C-G-Am-F.

What better way to close this section off than with a video of Paul Gilbert? He is one of my favorite players and this is such an amazing clip:

Now, before you decide to quit forever, please keep this in mind: Not only does Paul has someone else helping to move the virtual capo around, but the guitar has three strings, tuned to the same pitch in different octaves. The effect is riveting. This performance consists of simple arpeggios played so fast they melt together and sound like full chords in their own right.

Next, let’s take a look at how to spread out and open up our sound.

Spread Out
Another way you can use arpeggios to generate new ideas is to mix up the order of the notes within the arpeggio. If you always play sequentially up the arpeggio, it’s all going to start sounding the same. Check out this basic example (Fig. 6) that Eric Johnson loves to play:

This simple idea just takes your basic 1-3-5 arpeggio and moves the third up an octave. You end up with 1-5-10, where the 10 is just the 3 played up an octave. Move this recipe through a few different chords and you have something unique. In the example, I only use chords in the key of C, but I throw in some chord inversions as well to keep things interesting.

I can’t think of a better example than Eric’s masterpiece, “Cliffs of Dover.” There are so many amazing things about this video, but you can hear him use the spread-out arpeggios at 4:17, where he really starts to explore some different harmonies.

Let’s try to combine the original C-G-Am-F chord progression with our new spread arpeggio shapes. In addition, we can use some scale tones to connect the arpeggios across the neck. The result is Fig. 7.

We can do more. Yes, there’s more to explore.