Break free from tired old patterns by rethinking your approach to shred.
• Understand how to build arpeggios from the ground up.
• Create long flowing lines that follow the changes.
• Develop a more fluid legato technique.
My students often ask, "Exactly what is an arpeggio?" They've likely heard or read the term used by some of their favorite guitarists, but are still trying to figure out what it means. In this lesson, I want to address this question. We'll explore ways to incorporate arpeggios in our lead playing, and also discover how arpeggios can generate creative ideas that lie outside a scale-only approach to improvisation.
Simply put, you create an arpeggio when you play the notes of a chord individually. This can be a useful tool for soloing, as it allows you to easily target the chord tones of a progression and create musical lines that work well over the harmony.
We'll begin with arpeggios for major and minor triads, and also try some examples based around major 7, minor 7 and dominant 7 arpeggios. These arpeggios can be expressed as formulas, using numbers to indicate degrees of a major scale:
Major triad: 1–3–5
Major 7: 1–3–5–7
Dominant 7: 1–3–5–b7
Minor Triad: 1–b3–5
Minor 7: 1–b3–5–b7
These formulas will be important when we discuss some of the single-string arpeggios.
One way many guitarists learn arpeggios is by playing some of the sweep-picking shapes made popular by shredders. Ex. 1 and Ex. 2 show two of these: A minor and A major patterns, respectively. The problem with these patterns is that they tend to sound predictable and lack musicality—similar to running straight up and down a scale. So why are players attracted to them? Well, once a guitarist develops an ability to sweep pick, these patterns allow a convenient way to play some very fast and "impressive" ideas.
Instead of relying on these typical patterns, let's instead look at some more creative ways to employ arpeggios in our soloing. To do this, I'll examine concepts embraced by a few of my favorite players through the years. The first idea was popularized by the great Guthrie Govan, but has also been used by Shawn Lane and Glenn Proudfoot, both of whom frequently apply it to diminished 7 arpeggios (1–b3–b5–bb7).
This concept involves playing arpeggios along one string, sometimes with the help of tapping. This technique can be simple to execute, once you understand how the intervals of each arpeggio are distributed along the string in relation to a given root note.
Let's say our root note is E at the 12th fret of the 6th string. We can easily locate our other needed intervals to complete the arpeggio by knowing a few simple relationships. Here's a handy list:
One fret below the root: 7
Four frets above the root: 3
Seven frets above the root: 5
Those four intervals create a nice major 7 arpeggio along a single string. You'll notice in Ex. 3 that to play the 5 at the 19th fret, I use right-hand tapping as Guthrie often does. The great thing about this way of viewing these arpeggios is that regardless of what string or fret our root note is on, these interval relationships remain the same relative to it.
The wonderful thing about visualizing the intervals this way is that it's simple to alter the major 7 intervals to create other arpeggios ... a minor 7 arpeggio, for instance. If you look at the formulas above, you'll notice that the only difference is the 3 and 7 are lowered by a half-step—one fret—in a minor 7 arpeggio. In Ex. 4, we take the major 7 shape from Ex. 3 and lower the 3 and 7 by a single fret.
Ex. 5 shows how we can use the same concept to create dominant 7 arpeggios by simply using a combination of the major 7 and minor 7 patterns we've already discussed. The dominant 7 chord and its arpeggio consist of the root, 3, 5, and b7. If we arrange these intervals along the string the way we did before, we get the pattern below.
Once you have these patterns under your fingers, you'll find ways to move them around into longer sequences. One way to do this is by using a simple octave-up concept. Move the pattern you've just played on the 6th string to the 4th string and shift it up two frets to produce the identical notes an octave higher. Ex. 6 is a fun little musical line that includes a "hammer-on from nowhere" when crossing over to the 4th string. Try to play that first note on the 4th string at the same volume as the other notes. After mastering this, you'll have a very fluid (and fast) way to perform some less-typical arpeggio patterns.
For those brave souls who like to push the boundaries, Ex. 7 shows how we can take this even further. Because our original arpeggio line started out on the 6th string, it allows us the unique ability to simply repeat the same notes on the same frets up on the 1st string. This gives us a fluid three-octave arpeggio pattern. Again, make sure you're keeping the volume of the hammered notes even and consistent. This example is reminiscent of the line played by Guthrie Govan in his incredible tune, "Wonderful Slippery Thing."
The Guitar Gods - Guthrie Govan: "Wonderful Slippery Thing"
So there you have it—a compelling and somewhat different concept for playing arpeggios that you can apply to your solos. Start by slowly playing these patterns until they're effortless. At that point, you'll be surprised how easy it is to weave these sounds into your lead lines at will. Good luck with them!
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Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.