Most guitarists learn arpeggios after having learned scales. Few guitarists however, actually see the link between arpeggios and chord tone soloing. Arpeggios by definition, are the notes of a chord played sequentially, one note at a time. When we figure out arpeggios, we tend to play the chord structures one note at a time. That is exactly the problem why most guitarists are unable to unlock the true potential of arpeggios. We need to change our perception of how arpeggios work because if arpeggios contain chord tones, then essentially arpeggios give us ready access to the world of chord tone soloing. 

The Trouble with Arpeggios

There are 2 basic types of arpeggios;

  1. Triadic Arpeggios and
  2. 7th Chord Arpeggios

We derive Triadic Arpeggios from basic chords such as the major and minor triads. Triads are 3 note chords. They contain the root, 3rd and 5th. 

7th Chord Arpeggios are derived from the 7th Chords. 7th Chords contain the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th degrees thus making it a 4 note chord and consequently a 4-note arpeggio.

The Arpeggio Barrier to Chord Tone Soloing

Most guitarists rarely move beyond the triads when it comes to chords. Since most popular music, be it rock or pop, only requires triads, many guitar players do not feel the need to learn 7th chords. Generally, guitar players do not want or have to learn 7th chords unless they want to get into jazz or have to learn musical formally at college level. 

There is also a stigma of 7th chords being associated with only jazz music which contributes to the aversion from learning 7th chords. Rightly or wrongly, this perception is a major hindrance to mastering of chord tone soloing. In short, if you only know triads, chances are you’ll only know triad arpeggios. 

The Scales-Arpeggios Disconnect

Scales generally have 2 or more notes on each string which makes picking them easier. We alternate the picking direction with every pick stroke (i.e. alternate picking).  Every string usually begins with the same picking stroke and this repeats for the next string. Hence, this repeatability of motion makes learning and mastering alternate picking easier. 

Alternate picking is harder when it comes to arpeggios. Triad Barre chords can span 6 strings on the fretboard and since chords are one-note-per-string structures on the guitar, every string will require a different picking direction if we apply alternate picking. 


Sweep Picking and Arpeggios

Many guitarists incorporate sweep picking on arpeggios to address this problem. This is a more advanced technique that uses the same picking motion across 2 more more strings. It differs from alternate picking which changes direction with each pick strike. We sometimes need to ‘roll’ our fingers across strings to prevent both strings from ringing simultaneously. Since we have one note on each string for chords, we can ‘arpeggiate’ the chord by using one pick stroke for all 6 strings so long as we ensure only one string rings at any one time.

While it does improve efficiency, sweep picking restricts the notes of the arpeggios to being played sequentially. It creates the impression that sweep picking is a completely different technique which can only be used one way. Lastly, guitarists will also need to use different techniques when switching between arpeggios and scales. which further widens the disconnect for a lot of players.

The Way Forward

In order to develop mastery in using arpeggios for chord tone soloing, we will need to do the following: 

  1. Reconcile the different techniques required between arpeggios and scales
  2. Connect arpeggios with the scales to develop proficiency in the picking mechanics
  3. Adjust mindset as to how arpeggios are traditionally used in improvisation. 

This video will explain the issues raised above and will expound in more detail some of the solutions.

The next video in the series introduces the use of “Pentatonic Interchange” for chord tone soloing.

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