Unusual Arpeggios

  • 04/2/2016
  • JamPlay, LLC
In this article I want to explore the use of sweep picking in arpeggios. In the first part of this series, I mainly want to focus on the traditional 1 note per string type arpeggio that most of us are used to - we will pick these using 1 consecutive down stroke for ascending (going up) and 1 consecutive upstroke for descending (coming down). I want to show you some unusual arpeggios that really give us more flavor when using the sweep picking technique.

Most of the time, especially in rock, players tend to favor the major or minor arpeggios for the sweep picking technique, this is not only stylistic but also practical as the major and minor arpeggios are relatively easy to execute on the guitar with the sweep picking technique and these chord types (major and minor) are the most commonly used chords for that type of music. Major and minor arpeggios are what we refer to as "Triad arpeggios" as they consist of 3 notes usually repeated in two or more octaves. For example, a major arpeggio is the root, 3rd and 5th note from a major scale, so in the key of C, a C major arpeggio would be the notes of C, E and G.

Check out the major arpeggio example:

Major Arpeggio
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Although it may seem as though there are more than 3 notes, what you are in fact seeing are the same notes repeated in a new octave.

Also check out the minor arpeggio example:

Minor Arpeggio
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The minor arpeggio is almost the same as the major arpeggio only the 3rd is flattened, giving it the following formula: R b3 5.

I now wish to stick to triad arpeggios and show you some slight variants - first of all here is a Diminished arpeggio (R b3 b5).

Diminished Arpeggio
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Up next is an Augmented arpeggio (R 3 #5), due to the nature of this arpeggio, this is a hard one to find an easy fingering for, this creates a slight hurdle to overcome in the left hand, but its nothing that practice won't solve.

Augmented Arpeggio
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In order to work out these arpeggio shapes, I simply made sure I knew where each interval was in the Major or minor arpeggio and adjusted the shape accordingly - for example, to get the Augmented arpeggio, I simply played the major arpeggio but wherever the 5th occurred, I raised it by 1 fret thus making it a #5. And for the diminished arpeggio I simply took the minor arpeggio but lowered the 5th by 1 fret thus rendering it a b5 interval.

There are other kinds of triad arpeggios also, for example the Major b5:

Major b5 Arpeggio
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We can also play a minor #5 but this is simply an inversion of a major triad, so its really not worth learning as a separate entity. Cminor#5 arpeggio consists of the following notes - C Eb Ab. The Ab major chord shares the exact same notes - Ab C Eb, therefore Minor#5 is simply a 1st inversion major chord.

Minor #5
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We also have SUS arpeggios which are also triad arpeggios - Sus4 (R, 4, 5) and Sus2 (R, 2, 5) check out the following examples:

Sus 4
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Sus 2
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Finally here we have the major6 and minor6 arpeggios:

Major 6
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Minor 6
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Using These Arpeggios
The most common usage for these arpeggios would be to play them over their relevant chord - for example, C major arpeggio would go over a C chord, C minor arpeggio over a Cm chord and so on. However, this is only the beginning. The art of superimposing arpeggios over other chords is a fine art and there is a lot of background theory behind it, but it is very common especially in Jazz and fusion and can be used in other styles as well.

Take an Am7 chord for example, it is made up of the notes A C E G. The Cmajor arpeggio contains the notes C E G so that is most of the Am7 chord. Whenever we see any minor or minor 7 chord, it is possible to play a major triad from the minor 3rd of the chord (3 frets up from the root of the chord). For example, if the chord was Fminor or F minor 7, we could play Ab major triad.

Let's take a look at Abmajor7 chord next. The notes in this chord are Ab C Eb G. The Cminor arpeggio contains the notes C Eb G,. so the rule here is, whenever you see any major7 chord, you can play a minor arpeggio from the major 3rd of the chord (up 4 frets from the root).

This only goes to show just how far these triad arpeggios can go - there are also examples of how we can use these triad arpeggios to make extensions on top of the chord. For example, if you play a G major triad over a C chord, we give the illusion that the chord is in fact Cmajor9. The C chord has C as the root, E as the 3rd and G as the 5th. A Gmajor triad contains the notes G B and D - when played over a C chord the note of G acts as the 5th, the B notes acts as the 7th and the D note as the 9th, thus extending the intervals of the C chord to R 3 5 7 9 (C E G B D) - which makes a Cmajor 9 chord.

We are really only scratching the surface here and I really intended this article to be an introduction to the concept - I hope you will try out some of the arpeggios and concepts. Remember to always try and apply these arpeggios into your playing and do not treat them purely as a technical exercise (although they do make good ones). It is all to easy to get trapped into learning tons of scales and arpeggios yet never really bringing them into ones playing in a natural way. You must try to improvise with them and make sequences and licks out of them. This way they will not sound so "thrown in" while you are improvising.