Photo by Xavier Badosa

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Develop a systematic method for mapping out arpeggios all over the fretboard.
• Learn to develop your own practice material.
• Understand how world-class musicians seem to never run out of ideas to practice. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Do you want to play like Pat Metheny? Me too. But truth be told, I have no idea how to do so, though I’ve really tried. It was very difficult to wrap my head around writing a lesson on Pat because the elements that make up his style are so varied and complex—the result of decades of investment on his part. Since he’s one of my very favorite musicians, the thought of writing a lesson about him seemed even more daunting. Of course, if it was easy, we’d all sound like our heroes.

So, where do we start? When studying great artists, it’s usually a good idea to study their process—not necessarily their final products. I’ve found that when you study the creative process, you can apply it to your own music and come up with your own individual style, rather than just resorting to mimicry and copying licks. Pat has a few signature licks, but mastering those don’t really get you that close to sounding like Pat. One thing we can say about Pat Metheny with confidence is that the man knows his guitar, music theory, and fretboard at a higher level than 99.9 percent of guitarists. I recently stumbled upon a video that proves this. It’s a rare glimpse into how Pat practices that will serve as the creative spark for this lesson. Maybe we can learn to practice like Pat.

The story goes that Pat was doing a clinic in Italy and had just answered a question from the audience. While the interpreter was translating Pat’s response for the audience, Pat started to practice. (Why not practice when you get a few spare minutes?) What an amazing glimpse we get into his mind during this time. The audience knew it was something special as they sat in stunned silence and let Pat play for nearly eight minutes. And the resulting music is incredible in its own right. I mean, who on earth practices this musically? There’s a lot of music in those eight minutes and we could study it for years at a time, but let’s focus on one aspect. It’s striking that what Pat is practicing sounds nothing like how he plays when he is improvising. And this is the central concept to our lesson and the key question to answer. What building blocks do great players study and practice that allow them to create? We’re going to focus on just the first element that Pat played: major 7 arpeggios.

You can and should study the rest of the video—it’s full of amazing ideas you can spin out into amazing things to practice. A great companion to this lesson would be Pat’s book, Guitar Etudes: Warmup Exercises for Guitar.

If you’re an improvising guitarist, major 7 arpeggios are one of the central building blocks you’ll need to improvise. Learn these really, really well. Jazz is largely made up of three arpeggios that serve as building blocks: major 7, minor 7, and dominant 7. Let’s tackle just part of the arpeggio puzzle here. In Ex. 1 you can see a simple Gmaj7 arpeggio (G–B–D–F#).

Click here for Ex. 1

We’re lucky that not only do major 7 arpeggios sound good, but we can easily take this particular fingering pattern and move it up the 6th string to transpose it. For example, shift Ex. 1 up three frets and you have a Bbmaj7 arpeggio (Bb–D–F–A), as shown in Ex. 2.

Click here for Ex. 2

Now, to make this much more interesting, we’re going to link the arpeggios together and follow the cycle of fourths to keep jumping from key to key. The pattern is going to go as follows: Ascend two octaves in 16th-notes and then descend until reaching the end of the measure. You’ll end up playing 16 notes and at the end of the measure, you stop on the 3 (B) of the Gmaj7 arpeggio (Ex. 3).

Click here for Ex. 3

Ending on the B is awesome, because the next arpeggio in the cycle is Cmaj7. And wouldn’t you know it that C is just one fret higher than B. We can now elegantly jump from the Gmaj7 arpeggio to the Cmaj7 by moving only one fret. Let’s do the same thing we did before: ascend and then descend, again stopping on the 3 (Ex. 4).

Click here for Ex. 4

We end the example on the 3 of Cmaj7 (E), which is yet again one fret below our next arpeggio of Fmaj7. We now have a quick little pattern that we can loop around the neck (Ex. 5).

Click here for Ex. 5

At this point, we have traversed from the 2nd position to the 10th position. We are not only learning about arpeggios, but we’re also getting a chance to explore the upper regions of the fretboard.