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Musical Major Arpeggio Exercises

In the first part on major arpeggios, we learned some basic patterns and how to connect them across the guitar neck (the roadmap).

We're now going to look at different ways in which we can navigate these arpeggio patterns musically. You'll be surprised at how much melodic colour you can squeeze out of just three notes.

These exercises will also develop your fret and pick-hand co-ordination and fluidity of movement across the neck. This translates to ear-grabbing solos that connect to the chords you're playing over.

Watch the presentation below for the big picture and then scroll down for more detailed help...

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The Basic Concept

Before, we were simply playing the arpeggio in its natural sequence - 1 3 5 1 3 5 1 3 5 etc.

The exercises in this lesson are about creating alternative sequences, such as 1 5 3 1 5 3 1 5 3 etc.

The result is a more dynamic, less linear expression of the arpeggio. It's about squeezing the most possible melodic colour from these three simple notes, simply by changing the order in which we play them.

This not only sounds great, but it also gets you practicing key lead skills such as string skipping, sequential repetition and larger fret jumps.

The video showed us a few examples, but let's explore the full potential of our major arpeggios using the exercises below.

Try to devote at least 20 minutes per day to these and you'll be surprised at how quickly you progress.

As always, use a metronome to speed up gradually, using increments of 5-10 BPM, only increasing the metronome tempo when you're 100% confident with playing at the current tempo.

1. "Staggered" Major Arpeggio Exercises

Staggered sequences can best be described as "interrupting" the straight sequence with a repetition of certain notes along the way.

For example, here we play the arpeggio sequence as normal - 1 3 5 - but we interrupt it with a step back. So what we end up with is - 3 < 1 > 3 > 5 < 3 > 5 > 1 < 5 > 1 > 3 < 1 > 3 > 5 etc.

You could describe this as "one step back, two forward".

In A major (suggested fingering in blue)...

staggered A major arpeggio sequence

Although I've marked on the full, 6-string sequence, you can break these up into 5, 4, 3 and even 2-string arpeggios. For example, you could just play the top 3 strings of the sequence.

Coming down the pattern...

descending major arpeggio exercise

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Remember, you can apply this sequence to any pattern from the first part, so refer back to the patterns as you plan your practice. You can also start on any position in the pattern - you don't always have to start on the lowest string and play through the entire pattern.

For example, we could isolate a particular part of the pattern for a short staggered phrase...

isolated staggered A major arpeggio starting on the 5
isolated staggered A major arpeggio starting on the 3

Tip: be sure to practice these sequences in other keys. If you've learned the patterns from the 1st part, simply move the root of the pattern to the appropriate note - e.g. D for D major, E for E major, F# for F# major etc.

To really challenge yourself, try this sequence across one of the wide patterns from the first part. I recommend breaking it down into small segments (e.g. 6 note segments) and gradually piecing it together...

wide staggered major arpeggio exercise


descending wide major arpeggio exercise

2. Note/String Skipping Exercises

String skipping is a powerful skill to have as a lead guitarist. It enables us to create even more dynamic arpeggio sequences. Plus, practicing these exercises will help to develop the muscle memory required to negotiate those more awkward scale movements.

Before, we were simply playing from one note to the next (or previous) in the 1 3 5 sequence. This time, we're going to periodically skip notes in the sequence...

skipped note major arpeggio exercise

Coming back down...

descending skipped note major arpeggio exercise

If you feel overwhelmed by any of these exercises, just remember as little as 20 minutes per day (on whatever days you can do) will be enough to see decent progress.

Here we play a more prolonged skipped note sequence in 4-note groupings...

prolonged skipped major arpeggio sequence


prolonged skipped major arpeggio descending sequence

3. Fret Jumping Exercises

Taking just the top 3 strings of the guitar, we can create repeating sequences up and down the entire neck. Great if you want to move smoothly and musically into a certain position on the neck for the next part of your solo.

The challenge with these exercises is that we need to make large, clean fret jumps between each "segment". So start slow with these ones. Take a look (I've marked the segments with a vertical line)...

fret jump arpeggio exercises using top 3 strings

Notice how the first and last segments in that sequence are the same pattern, but an octave apart. So we've connected the neck-wide pattern.

As mentioned before, you don't always have to play the entire neck like this. You can isolate and repeat any segments you want.

Let's now incorporate a "skipped note" sequence from earlier, combining it with the fret jumping...

major arpeggio exercise combining fret jumps and note skipping

How These Exercises Will Benefit You

By practicing these 3 types of arpeggio exercise - staggered, note skipping and fret jumping - you'll find that you become more skillful in moving across the neck and between strings fluidly.

As well as resulting in great sounding arpeggio lines, the muscle memory you gain from these exercises will transfer over to other phrases and sequences you'll encounter, such as with scales.

The ultimate aim is to get to the stage where you can confidently play anywhere on the neck, musically and smoothly.

Given enough practice time, these exercises will prove a solid foundation for your lead playing for many years to come!

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Where Next?

Major Arpeggio Changes (coming soon)