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Fretboard Workshop: Flipping Arpeggios - Creating New Sounds with Old Shapes

Bored with those same old arpeggio shapes? In this lesson we will breathe new life into some familiar patterns by simply changing the context.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn new ways to use major 7 and minor 7 arpeggios.
• Understand how superimposed chords create new tensions.
• Develop ways to incorporate arpeggios into your solos.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Often when guitarists see a minor 7 chord or a minor tonal center, they’ll jump to the obvious, time-tested and ever-so-powerful corresponding minor pentatonic scale. But with some more theory under the hood, you’ll find the corresponding minor 7 arpeggio is another option. The same reflex applies to a major 7 chord or a major tonal center, associated with a major pentatonic and a major 7 arpeggio. With some basic theory, we can mix and match both chord types, incorporate them into minor or major pentatonic scales, and create some unconventional sounds to use in melody writing or soloing.

Let’s break down the theory first: A beautiful Cmaj7 chord (C–E–G–B or 1–3–5–7 of the C major scale) is your frame of reference. Now let’s flip things around and take a minor 7 chord, but have the root start on the 3 of the original major 7 chord. In other words, Em7 (E–G–B–D) will translate to 3–5–7–9 in the key of C.

If we keep flipping things around, we can create a major 7 chord starting on the 5 of Cmaj7. We now have Gmaj7 (G–B–D–F#). Its chord tones are 5–7–9–#11 in the context of the key of C.

One final flip: A minor 7th chord with the root starting on the 7 of Cmaj7 creates a Bmin7 (B–D–F#–A) which translates into 7–9–#11–13 in the key of C.

See a pattern here? For every new chord superimposed onto the original chord, one additional tension appears, and we end up with a 9, #11, and 13 on top of the original root, 3, 5, and 7. This spells out a Lydian mode, although the way the notes are organized—or rather, disorganized—makes it seem less obvious than a regular suite of numbers, such as root, 2, 3, #4, and so on.

Let’s apply this concept by using those superimposed four-part chords as arpeggios. A very interesting fingering for any four-part chord is having your root on the 5th string and following a 2–1 pattern. This creates the fingerings in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2. Check out how you have two notes played on the 5th string, one on the 4th, and so on. This creates the 2–1 pattern.

You can approach those fingerings with different picking techniques, but one that I favor is combining sweep picking with hammer-ons and pull-offs. That said, there is no one right way to do it. One tip that helped me is to start with an upstroke and then continue with downstrokes. From high to low, do the opposite (think upstroke first). It feels like giving your whole run a kick-start.

In Fig. 3, all four arpeggios associated with Cmaj7 (Cmaj7, Em7, Gmaj7, and Bm7) are played over a Cmaj7 tonal center. The first arpeggio goes up, the second goes down, third up, fourth down. This is a great exercise to learn how to efficiently move around the fretboard.

Fig. 4 is a bit of a speed-freak moment as we chop those arpeggios in half and only keep the top part, each starting on their own 7th degree.

We mix and match different sections of arpeggios in Fig. 5. In order to keep things interesting as we wind our way up the neck I threw in some triplets while changing the direction in a few spots for good measure.

Fig. 6 is a way to force your mind to think of a superimposed chord as a starting point, rather than starting on Cmaj7 and working your way into different chords. Here, we start on the Emin7 arpeggio. I’m purposely avoiding matching downbeats with the start of a new arpeggio. The last sweeping Cmaj7 arpeggio resolves all the tension created by starting on an offbeat. We then end on the 9 (D) of the chord.

You can also apply the same theory to a minor tonal center and come up with new and interesting sounds. If we were in the key of D minor, the order of arpeggios would be Dm7, Fmaj7, Am7, and Cmaj7. Each arpeggio roughly follows the same pattern as before, but this time the extensions (9, 11, and 13) remain unaltered. If we combine all of these arpeggios into a scale, the result is D Dorian (D–E–F–G–A–B–C). Check out Fig. 7 for a “minor-ized” version of Fig. 2.

We start out in D minor pentatonic (D–F–G–A–C) in Fig. 8 before breaking into bits of an Fmaj7 arpeggio. Fig. 9 turns things around, starting on a Cmaj7 arpeggio before coming back into a minor pentatonic run.

Finally, Fig. 10 illustrates how to move in and out of both pentatonic positions and arpeggios, while navigating through chord changes reflecting different tonal centers. We start with a C major tonal center, with C major pentatonic going into an Em7 arpeggio. The tonal center then switches to Eb minor. We approach it with a Gbmaj7 arpeggio before finishing with Eb minor pentatonic and ending on a bend from the 9 to the 3 of the new C major tonal center.

The possibilities for exploring this concept are virtually limitless. While we played around with soloistic/melodic examples, chordal substitutions are also interesting, and of course feel free to use your own favorite arpeggio or chord fingerings. Just like many melodic and harmonic devices, you can choose to use it sparingly, as a spice to enhance an already existing flavor, or you can choose to go over the top, as an effect. Sometimes it is interesting to overload a dish with hot pepper sauce just for the experience of the heat itself. Explore your tastes, experiment with textures and find which sounds you like best.

Aurelien Budynek
In addition to being a regular sub on the Broadway shows Rock of Ages and Book of Mormon, Aurelien Budynek is an in-demand sideman based in NYC. He also performs around the world with Cindy Blackman-Santana, DareDevil Squadron, and The Dan Band. For more information, visit or follow him on Twitter @abguitar.