Arpeggio Exercises for Guitar
Arpeggios are great tools to be used in music, but they can take a little time to get under your fingers. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have some focused arpeggio exercises to help build your technique. In this lesson, we’ll take a look at a few approaches to practicing arpeggios that not only build technique, but also improve musicality and overall knowledge of the fretboard.
Major & Minor Arpeggio Shapes
In this lesson we’re going to be working with the CAGED major and minor arpeggio shapes. If you’re not familiar with the CAGED arpeggios, you should review Major & Minor Arpeggios on Guitar first before proceeding through the exercises in this lesson. For easy reference, I’ve included both the major CAGED and minor CAGED arpeggio patterns below.
For the first exercise, we’re just going to play straight through the arpeggio from root to root, making sure to play each note of the arpeggio in a given shape. Once you have the ten CAGED shapes down (5 major/5 minor), you can begin to apply variations to increase the difficulty and get more of the exercises.
If you find the full arpeggio too difficult to play, you can start with 3- or 4-note versions first, then work up to the full arpeggio. You can find the 3- and 4-note variations in the previously mentioned arpeggios lesson.
For the exercises in this section we’ll be using the E form G major arpeggio as the example. Since tabs for all CAGED major and minor shapes are available in the major/minor arpeggios lesson, I won’t repeat all of them here. However, the exercises in this section should be applied to all arpeggio shapes.
Be sure to practice with a metronome to keep your timing consistent. Start slow enough to play through the arpeggios without making any mistakes and increase the tempo a few beats per minute as you get more comfortable.
For this exercise we’re simply playing through each note of the arpeggio from root to root.
E Major Shape
Apply this exercise to all major and minor arpeggio shapes. Once you have these patterns down, there are a few variations we can utilize to further improve both picking and fretting hand technique.
Arpeggio Exercise Variations
There are several variations that can be easily applied to arpeggios to make the exercises more challenging and further develop technique. For each variation, we’ll use just one arpeggio as the example, but again, the variations should be applied to all major and minor arpeggio forms.
Variation 1 – Alternate Picking
For this arpeggio exercise, you’ll play straight through the arpeggio as before, but you’ll use alternate picking for each note. This sounds simple, but it can be surprisingly challenging at first. Refer to the notation in the tab below for the picking pattern.
Variation 2 – Staggered
In this variation, we’re taking a staggered approach to playing through the arpeggio. This type of exercise is really useful for working through and cleaning up any difficult to play sections in the arpeggio. The example below is for E Major CAGED shape, but the technique should be applied to all major and minor arpeggio shapes.
Variation 3 – Triplets
With this variation, we’re playing arpeggios in triplets. This will create an entirely different rhythmic feel as you play through each of the arpeggio shapes.
While the exercises in the section will improve technique and fretboard knowledge, we can take it up a notch by working through some diatonic arpeggio exercises.
Practicing Diatonic Arpeggios
Diatonic arpeggios are those arpeggios that are found within a given major or minor scale. You can find the arpeggios that belong to a scale by harmonizing the scale to build the diatonic chords. If you’re not familiar with this process, check out my Major Scale Chords lesson to see how it’s done.
A great way to practice arpeggios is by playing the arpeggio for each degree of a given scale. Along with helping to improve technique, it builds musical and fretboard knowledge in the process.
Let’s take a look at a couple of ways we can go about this.
With the horizontal arpeggio exercises, we’re taking each note of the scale horizontally up the neck and playing the associated arpeggio for each degree of the scale.
For the examples in this lesson we’re using the G major scale, which when harmonized gives us the following arpeggios:
- G major
- A minor
- B minor
- C major
- D major
- E minor
- F# diminished
Applied to the fretboard, this gives us the following arpeggios:
Note that the staggered and triplet techniques from the previous section can also be applied to these exercises once you have the routine down.
Horizontal Arpeggio Exercise 1
For this first exercise, we’re just going to play straight through each note of the arpeggio from root to root. As you work through each arpeggio, note that there are only three different shapes being utilized…one for the major arpeggios (G, C, D), one for the minor arpeggios (Am, Bm, Em), and one for the diminished arpeggio (F#dim).
G Major (octave)
Putting it all together, we get the following:
With this routine, you’re not limited to using just the sixth string as your starting point. This exercise can be applied to any string.
For the positional arpeggios, we’re taking a scale position approach to playing through the arpeggios. What this means is that instead of moving horizontally up the fretboard, we’ll stay in one position and play vertically through the scale.
The scale position used for this exercise will be position 1 of the major scale, or the E shape CAGED scale. In the diagram below, we have the starting root note highlighted for each arpeggio.
Using these seven notes as the root, we get the following arpeggios:
Let’s go through each arpeggio, then we’ll put it all together in a full tab.
Putting it all together we get the following positional arpeggio exercise:
This routine should be applied using all CAGED G major arpeggio positions.
Extended Arpeggio Exercises
The arpeggio exercises we’ve played so far span only one position on the fretboard. However, if you’ve read the lesson on visualizing the fretboard with arpeggios, you know that these arpeggios can be “extended” up the fretboard to span multiple positions. The exercises in this section will keep the same approach of playing through horizontal and positional diatonic arpeggios, but we’ll extend the arpeggios across two positions.
Horizontal Extended Arpeggios
We’ll stick with G major and work our way up the fretboard. With these exercises, keep in mind that there’s more than one way to play across two positions. Experiment with different variations and different ascending/descending patterns (ie. play one pattern ascending and a different pattern descending).
G Major (Octave)
Putting it all together you get the following:
Positional Extended Arpeggios
We can take this same concept of extended arpeggios and apply it positionally as well. Again, let’s go through each arpeggio individually before putting it all together.
Putting it together we have the full exercise:
Like all of the exercises in this section, these, too, should be practiced for each CAGED G major arpeggio form.
In this lesson we took a look at some ways to get more out of your arpeggio exercise routine. With any type of guitar exercise, it’s good to have a mix of technique focused and musically focused routines to develop your playing and knowledge of the fretboard. The exercises in this lesson will do just that.
Also, the exercises in this lesson aren’t limited to just major and minor arpeggios. They can be adapted to other arpeggios as well, such as seventh arpeggios.
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