What’s the deal with arpeggios?

Alright, kids. It’s time for another lesson with TheBuddha. We’re going to talk about arpeggios.

What are arpeggios and why should you care?

Well, if you’ve been playing guitar for any length of time, you’ve already come across them. Chances are, you already play them – and may not even know what they are. They are basically component parts of a chord.

Play a chord. Now, play the notes that make up that chord, one by one. That’s a basic arpeggio. No, a scale isn’t an arpeggio. A scale is a sequence of notes in a certain key. An arpeggio is a sequence of notes within a chord. Another name for the arpeggio is “broken chord.”

The word arpeggio comes from Italian. It means to play a harp. Yup, imagine a harpist playing one string at a time in succession, and you’ve got an arpeggio. The same theory applies. If it doesn’t sound right, you’re doing it wrong and you should try again. (We’re not big on formalities at this here establishment!)

Seriously, make a D chord and play the 3 2 1 strings, one at a time. There, you just played an arpeggio.

So, why should you know this?

They sound good – really. You’ll hear them in all sorts of music and you’ve been playing them for years without even knowing. I suppose they probably come from classical but they are found in rock, bluegrass, jazz, and probably a bunch of other genres.

They are much handier than just the subset of chords you might know. Learn a few basic arpeggio shapes and you’re good to go – you can play them in any key. I am not going to get into all the shapes and the progressions, ‘cause there are all sorts of resources for you to use just from searching. My goal is just to get you started.

To get started the rest of the way, this site has a really good write-up about arpeggios:

Click to read very good introduction to arpeggios.

(I recommend learning the major and minor triad first. They’re the most approachable.)

If you’re in doubt, start with the root note and go from there. If you’re playing in G, start with a G. Try a few different ways to pick and try a few different styles – do a hammer on and a string bend. Trust me, just keep poking at it and it will eventually come to you. You’ll find your own little style inside the arpeggio world and you’ll be able to accompany anybody, especially another guitarist who’s doing chordal rhythms.

One final thing – don’t let the notes sustain. Lift as soon as you pick or in time with the duration. You don’t want them to run into each other and make a mess of things. That means you’re making a chord and not playing an arpeggio.

So, don’t let them scare you away. Don’t worry about the theory. Find a technique that sounds good to you and practice it until you’re happy. Find a few more techniques and truly enjoy yourself. The goal is to have fun. If you wanted mastery, you’d go to a good music school and not listen to some weirdo named TheBuddha.

This will be archived over at the forum when I get a minute.

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