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Home > Theory / Scales > Arpeggios and Solos

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Using Arpeggios in Guitar Solos

Throughout the guitar arpeggios series, we've been introduced to the basic theory behind building arpeggios on guitar and how we can pull the intervals/tones right out of a scale pattern, in a similar way to how we would if we were building a chord.

In a nutshell, that's how you should to see it. The arpeggio represents a chord type (e.g. you can have an Asus4 arpeggio, just like the Asus4 chord itself) so it's just a case of selecting the tones that would make up this chord from the appropriate scale/mode, and playing those notes separately in a sequence.

This lesson, we'll look at how to weave arpeggios into solos effectively. This is important for being able to solo in a fluid and musical way.


Using arpeggios as lead-ins to your guitar solos

A lead-in phrase is a sequence of notes that flows into a larger soloing phrase. It introduces the soloing phrase by... leading in to it! In this case, we're going to try using simple arpeggios as lead-in phrases, which can then be followed by a larger soloing phrase in that same key/scale. This is a very common, if subtle way of using arpeggios.

Let's look at a couple of examples.

If we were playing a solo from the major scale, we could lead in to a phrase in that solo by playing a major arpeggio from that same major scale. For example...

major arpeggio from the major scale

By using that major arpeggio from the mid-top part of the major scale pattern (which you should know from part 1!), we are able to lead in nicely to a fuller solo from that same scale.

major arpeggio leading in to a major scale phrase

The major arpeggio, consisting of those key major triad tones - root, 3rd and 5th, sets the scene for a larger major scale expression.

This is why it's useful to know what tones make up chords, because...

Where there's a chord, there's an arpeggio!

There's also the matter of what rhythm and timing you use to apply that lead-in, but we'll look at those elements another time! Too much to cover in a single lesson.

We could also lead-out or resolve a soloing phrase using an arpeggio:

Arpeggio lead-out tab

The lead-in/out can be as long or short as you like. They can often involve a quick sweep pick (more on this technique another time!).

Remember, there are also minor arpeggio lead-ins. If you're leading into a minor scale solo (e.g. Dorian, Aeolian, minor pentatonic etc.) then it's just a case of finding an appropriate minor triad pattern (several of which we looked at in one of the earlier lessons). For example:

natural minor scale pattern

minor arpeggio lead in phrase
 Minor triad:  Root - minor 3rd - 5th

Ok, let's now look at some other ways to incorporate arpeggios into your guitar solos.


More advanced guitar arpeggio techniques

Inversions

Just as with chord inversions, where you mix up the order of chord tones from low to high (e.g. the bass note in the chord is no longer the root note, but the 5th, 3rd or other), we can also apply this to arpeggios.

e.g. rather than playing the regular major triad as:  R 3 5

Play it as:  5 R 3

...from low to high. Again, as you learn your scales right across the fretboard, you'll know how to form sequences like this one, just as you would a chord.

Highlighting chord changes with arpeggios

During a chord progression, your solo often has to work through several chord changes. We can use arpeggios to highlight particular chord changes (especially unusual ones) and put them into context.

For example, take a listen to the chord progression below:

Bm | D7sus4 | Gadd9 | F#aug7 - click to hear

So Bm (B minor) and F# (F sharp major or F#aug in this case) are the chords I'm going to highlight with B minor and F# major arpeggios respectively. Of course, it's down to your personal judgement which chords you choose to highlight with arpeggios. This is just an example! The arpeggios are highlighted in red below.

using arpeggios to highlight chord changes
Click here for an audio example

Hear the lead guitar alone

Notice how, during the solo, I get into position ready for the arpeggios each time. This is why knowing your scale tones across the fretboard is important. The regular soloing flows out of and into the arpeggios seamlessly.

Notice also how the final arpeggio (over F#7aug) builds up to that resolution of returning back to B minor in the progression.

Arpeggio runs

There's a separate lesson on runs as a soloing technique, but for now, you can try and apply "staggered" patterns to your arpeggio sequences. For example, instead of just playing the arpeggio from low to high (e.g. R, 3, 5, R, 3, 5, R... etc.), you can take 4 tones forward and 2 back, 4 more forward, 2 back etc.

Starting with a simple step pattern using a C# major 7th arpeggio (similar to a regular major arpeggio with an added 7th from the major scale: R, 3, 5, 7)

Major 7th guitar arpeggio run

Remember, the key in which we're playing these particular exercises isn't important, as the patterns and shapes we use are movable. So if we wanted the above to be in the key of D, we'd simply align those root note positions with... D! Again, if you know your scales, you'll know where you can position your arpeggios.

Let's take a look at a wider run, using a B minor arpeggio...

B minor arpeggio run

Now, the fingering for this kind of playing requires a lot of practice, so don't expect to be able to play at a blistering speed right off the bat!

Break it down into sections (use the vertical lines to help with this) Use a metronome to start slow and speed up gradually as you get more physically comfortable with the finger movements.

Tip: Once you're up to speed, try ending that run above by sliiiiiding the high E string up to fret 19 (which is the note B - the root and key of the arpeggio!). See if you can end the quick slide accurately at that 19th fret.

Thanks for your time and patience.

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