• Learn how to incorporate simple arpeggios into your solos.
• Understand how to combine arpeggios.
• Develop phrases to play over challenging chord progressions.
Arpeggios are one of my favorite musical elements and one of my favorite topics to teach. For many guitarists, arpeggios fall into the bucket of concepts that are simple to understand but extremely difficult to implement in a solo or arrangement. In truth, they don’t have to be difficult. This lesson will focus on ways to practice arpeggios and apply them to your playing. We’re going to cover a few different scenarios here, including simple ways to incorporate arpeggios into chord progressions, different ways to voice the arpeggios, and finally how to apply arpeggios to challenging chord progressions.
In this lesson I’m going to try to be as light on theory as possible and focus on applications, but a little theory will help ground us in a common language. The examples are designed a little less as licks and more as guides to help you generate your own material and create your own music.
What’s an arpeggio? It’s the notes of a chord played one at a time. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. And don’t read too much into this. An arpeggio doesn’t have to ascend. It doesn’t have to descend. The notes don’t have to start from the root or be in a particular order, and so on. Don’t overanalyze the concept.
When I think about arpeggios, I always come back to one of my favorite guitar solos, the epic duet from “Hotel California,” which is 100-percent based on arpeggios and sounds amazing. Check out 5:35 in this clip (or watch the whole thing because it’s great):
The concept is so simple it’s shocking. It’s a three-note pattern based on the chords in the song. There’s not a single note in either guitar part that’s not being played in the chord progression the guitarists are soloing over ... and that’s why it sounds so good. There’s a powerful connection here: Play the notes of the chord progression in your solo and it’ll be great.
The Four-Chord Thing
Let’s start this lesson in a similar way to “Hotel California” and begin with a chord progression. Not just any chord progression, but one of the most famous chord progressions in popular music, the mighty I-V-VIm-IV. To reinforce just how ubiquitous this progression is, all you have to do is watch this clip:
It’s funny and it’s true! This is a great chord progression to start with because you can apply this lesson and play over a ton of great songs to practice. Let’s start in the key of C major, where our chord progression will be C-G-Am-F. (We can totally transpose this progression into any key we need to, but let’s just start in C.)
Let’s start with what we’re not going to do (Fig. 1).
Why aren’t we going to do that? Well, because I don’t think it sounds very good unless you can play it really, really fast, and then it starts to sound amazing … check out Jason Becker absolutely tearing up a bunch of arpeggios: