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Applying Arpeggios to Guitar Solos and Fills

Arpeggios are a great tool to use when soloing over chord changes or adding fills to rhythm sections. However, when and how to apply them can be a little confusing. So in this lesson we take a look at a few song examples of applying arpeggios to guitar solos and fills to see how to use them effectively.

If you’re not familiar with arpeggios, I recommend learning the guitar arpeggio shapes before reading on.

Quick note on applying arpeggios

When applying arpeggios to the guitar, it’s important to note that they don’t need to be applied in full. More commonly, you see arpeggios applied using only a 3- or 4-note portion of a pattern, which is the case for the majority of the examples in this lesson.

Song 1: Hotel California

The first song we’re going to look at is Hotel California by The Eagles. It has one of the most iconic guitar solos of all time. And it just so happens that the most recognizable section is played using arpeggios.

Note that there are two guitars harmonizing on this part of the solo, but we’re just going to look at one.

Ex. 1 – Bm arpeggio

In the first part of this section of the solo is using a three note Bm arpeggio played over a Bm chord.

Hotel California Bm arpeggio lick tab

In the diagram below, you can see that this arpeggio pattern is derived from the Em shaped Bm chord (see CAGED system if you’re not familiar with the different chord shapes). I’ve outlined the Bm chord, the full arpeggio pattern, and the three note arpeggio pattern used for this part of the solo.

Hotel California Bm chord and arpeggio shape

Ex. 2 – F# arpeggio

The second part of this section again uses a three note arpeggio pattern. This time the F# major arpeggio is played over an F# chord.

Hotel California F sharp arpeggio lick tab

Again, in the diagram I’ve outlined the C-shape F# chord, the full arpeggio pattern, and the three note arpeggio pattern of F# used for this part of the solo.

Hotel California F# chord and arpeggio shape

If you map out the rest of the guitar solo from this point you will see that it’s applying similar three note arpeggio patterns for each chord. It then returns to the Bm and repeats.

You can listen to both examples of these arpeggios here: Hotel California arpeggios

Song 2: Sultans of Swing

The next song we’re going to look at is Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. This is a guitar player’s song and Mark Knopfler provides some great examples of arpeggio use in fills and his solos.

Ex. 1 – Dm7 arpeggio fill

In the beginning of the song there is a series of fills that accompanies the rhythm. One of those fills is a four-note Dm7 arpeggio played over a Dm chord. The first three notes are played with more of a sweep picking style.

Sultans of Swing Dm7 arpeggio tab

The Dm chord, full Dm7 arpeggio pattern, and the four-note pattern used in the fill are shown in the diagram below. Again, note that this is a minor 7th arpeggio being played over a minor chord.

Sultans of Swing Dm7 arpeggio

You can listen to this first arpeggio here: Sultans of Swing arpeggio fill

Ex. 2 – A major arpeggio into D minor arpeggio

This example from the first guitar solo one of my favorites. The lick starts with an A major arpeggio and transitions to an D minor arpeggio. The licks are played over an A major/D minor chord change.

What I like most about this lick is the use of harmonics for the first two notes of the A major arpeggio. It’s also a great example of when using a full arpeggio pattern (well, almost full pattern) works well within a musical context.

Sultans of Swing A major arpeggio lick tab

The A major chord, full arpeggios shape, and the arpeggio used in this lick are outline below.

Sultans of Swing A major arpeggio

The second part of the lick is a descending D minor arpeggio using the E minor CAGED shape.

Sultans of Swing D minor arpeggio lick tab

Outlined below are the Dm chord, full arpeggio, and the arpeggio notes in this lick.

Sultans of Swing D minor chord and arpeggio

Listen to these arpeggios: Sultans of Swing guitar solo arpeggios

Song 3: Touch of Grey

Jerry Garcia was a master of arpeggios. His riffs and guitar solos are littered with them.

You can literally pick almost any Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia song and find tons of examples of applying arpeggios, but I’m going with Touch of Grey for two reasons.

One, it’s a highly recognizable song and most of us can easily hear the guitar solo in our head. Two, it’s a great example of a solo based almost entirely on arpeggios.

So let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Ex. 1 – B major arpeggio into F# major arpeggio

The opening lick to the guitar solo starts with a three note B major arpeggio and switches to an F# major arpeggio on the chord change. The tab below outlines the B major arpeggio.

Touch of Grey - applying arpeggios with a  B major arpeggio lick

This B major arpeggio is derived from the C shape voicing of the B major chord. The B major chord, full arpeggio pattern, and the arpeggio notes used in the lick are shown in the following diagram.

Applying arpeggios - Touch of Gray B major arpeggio

The second part of the lick plays down the F# major arpeggio and ends up back on the B note on the chord change back to the B major chord.

Touch of Grey - applying F# arpeggio tab
Touch of Grey - F# major arpeggio

You hear the first sequence of arpeggios here: Touch of Grey solo arpeggios

Ex. 2 – B major arpeggio

This second example is from the same C-shape B major arpeggio pattern used in the opening to the solo, but it’s using a different part of the pattern.

Also note on this lick that he’s leading into the B major arpeggio with the F# major arpeggio used previously. The same F# arpeggio is used in other parts of the solo as well.

Touch of Grey B major arpeggio lick

This lick is again derived from the A-shape B major arpeggio as used previously. The chord and arpeggio are outlined in the diagram.

Touch of Grey - applying B major arpeggio

Listen to the arpeggio: Touch of Grey solo arpeggio

Wrap up

These examples should give you an idea of how arpeggios can be applied in different ways. More often than not you see 3- and 4-note versions of arpeggios being applied. However, in some cases you may see more full arpeggios be played, particularly sweep style arpeggios which are popular in metal music.

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