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Home > Theory / Scales > Major Arpeggios

Major Arpeggios on Guitar

When soloing, major arpeggios can provide you with a number of phrasing options, along side standard scale movements.

Elmore 50 Ways

This lesson is about understanding how major arpeggios are formed on the guitar fretboard and how they work over major chords.

We'll look at breaking down arpeggio patterns in different positions across the fretboard and tying them all together into one large pattern across the entire fretboard.

Remember, where there's a chord shape or scale pattern, there's an arpeggio!

Seeing it in this way will help you pull arpeggios right out of the chords and scales you already know, wherever you might be playing them on the fretboard.

Basic theory behind major arpeggios

Starting with the basic theory, major arpeggios consist of what is known as the major triad. These are three intervals as follows...

Root (1) - Major 3rd (3) - 5th (5)

All major scales (e.g. Ionian, Mixolydian, Phrygian Dominant etc.) use these triad tones, so when learning any major scale pattern, all you have to do is pick out the root, 3rd and 5th and you have your major arpeggio.

For example, take the 1st position pattern of the major scale and see if you can identify the major triad...

major scale pattern

So this would be our first major arpeggio pattern...

major arpeggio pulled from major scale pattern

Bear in mind the arpeggio doesn't have to be played in that order, from low to high or high to low, nor do all 6 strings have to be played, but this is just one pattern we can visualise around a fuller scale pattern we know.

For example, if we were just playing 3 note arpeggios, we could play the following combinations...

R 3 5   R 5 3   3 R 5   3 5 R   5 3 R   5 R 3

We could repeat these patterns or just use them once to link to other soloing phrases.

Or we could move up and down in a repeating pattern, most commonly used with sweep picking...

R 3 5 3 R 3 5 3 R 3 5 3

Or we could play more complex arpeggio phrases as follows...

R 5 3 5 R 5 3 5

R 3 R 5 3 5 3 R

5 3 R 5 3 R 3 5

It's really down to your experimentation, but try to apply different combinations to the patterns you're about to learn. This also makes a great warmup exercise!

Major arpeggio patterns

Now we know what makes up a major arpeggio, we can use the scale patterns we learned in the major scale lesson to build arpeggios right across the fretboard, based on those 3 root note positions on the E A and D strings.

Once you know the root note of the chord you're playing over, you can find that note in several positions across the fretboard. These will become the reference points for our arpeggio patterns...

For example, if our root note was G, we should know all the positions for G across the fretboard (however, in this lesson we'll only be focussing on the E A and D strings):

G root notes positions

We can now build our arpeggio patterns around each of these positions. Remember, these patterns can be split up into 2 or 3 string arpeggios - you don't have to play all 6 strings in the pattern.

E string root major arpeggio patterns

E string root major arpeggio pattern

alternate major arpeggio pattern rooted on low E string

You'll find there is more than one position to play the same note in, e.g. the 5th in the above pattern can be played on the G or B string. Learn both fingerings so you have both options.

For more interactive learning I highly recommend Guitar Notes Master

A string root major arpeggio patterns

A string root major arpeggio pattern

major arpeggio pattern with an A string root

Alternate A string root major arpeggio

D string root major arpeggio patterns

D string root major arpeggio pattern

alternate major arpeggio with D string root

It's important to be able to visualise these patterns in any key. They're movable patterns, so when the root note changes, the interval relationships remain intact and move with it.

Try breaking them down into 3 string groupings. A lot of the time that's all you need, as smaller arpeggios are great for leading in to a larger soloing phrase as we'll look at in a later lesson.

Back in the key of G again, here's what we've built (R 3 5)...

G major arpeggio across the entire fretboard

Remember, you don't have to start on the root note when playing an arpeggio phrase, but just knowing where it is gives you that reference point to help you find your bearings.

Spend some time studying the positions and then how they all string together. A good tip for helping you with this is to break it down in different ways.
Even with just 10 minutes study time every day you'll soon see progress!

Major arpeggio guitar backing tracks

The tracks below are based around one single chord, allowing you to test your knowledge of the above patterns and get an ear for how the major triad tones interact with major backing chords.

The first track is in the key of C, the second in the key of G (which is the example we used earlier) and the third in the key of C#, just to make things a little trickier! Find the root notes and make use of the patterns in this lesson.

Right click and "save as" to download these tracks. Enjoy!

Download the C major backing track

Download the G major backing track

Download the C# major backing track

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