Learning Major & Minor Guitar Arpeggios

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Guitar arpeggios are when the notes of a chord are played individually one after the other. Arpeggios provide a framework for targeting chord tones and can be used to add a bit of color to guitar solos and fills. They are also quite popular in metal and neoclassical styles of music when played with a sweeping technique.

In this lesson we’ll learn the major and minor arpeggio patterns, the intervals from which they are built, and how to play them.

But first, let’s start by understanding what an arpeggio is.

What is an arpeggio?

An arpeggio is when you take the notes of a chord and play them one after the other instead of strumming all the notes at the same time. The notes are played either ascending or descending.

Guitar tab showing difference between a chord and arpeggio

In a sense, you can think of an arpeggio as playing a scale made up only of the notes of a chord. However, because of the lack of notes, arpeggios can be a little awkward to play at first. Let’s go over a few techniques you can use to play them.

Arpeggio Technique

There are various techniques that we can use when playing arpeggios. The style you use will largely depend on the type of music you play. Below are links to a few examples:

As a beginner, you’ll definitely be sticking to straight picking and alternate picking. Sweep picking shouldn’t be attempted until you’re able to play through the arpeggios cleanly and smoothly.

One of the trickiest aspects of playing guitar arpeggios is fingering notes that are side by side on the same fret. For these notes, you’ll need to use a rolling technique in order to play them fluidly.

So now that you know what an arpeggio is, let’s take a look at how guitar arpeggios are constructed. We’ll start with major arpeggios.

Building Major Arpeggios

Major arpeggios are built from the notes of the major chord. Major chords are made up of the 1st (root), 3rd, and 5th degrees of the major scale.

In the diagram below, you see the intervals of the major scale with the root 3rd, and 5th highlighted.

Major chord intervals - 1st, major 3rd, 5th

If we take these scale intervals and apply them to the guitar fretboard, we can create a scale pattern like the following:

Fretboard diagram showing intervals of G major scale

If we isolate just the root, 3rd, and 5th from this scale pattern, we can create a major barre chord.

G major chord from G major scale

From this chord shape, we can build a major arpeggio. Since arpeggios are played one note at a time, we can complete this arpeggio by grabbing the major 3rd on the 5th string and adding it to the barre chord.

G major arpeggio shape
Guitar tab for E shape major arpeggio pattern

Similar to scales, we can utilize the CAGED system to outline the common major arpeggio patterns on the guitar.

CAGED Major Arpeggio Shapes

The diagrams below give you the CAGED major arpeggio shapes, the chord shapes from which they are derived, and the suggested fingering for playing each shape. Use the fingerings as a guide and feel free to adjust as necessary.

When playing through the guitar arpeggios, start with the lowest root note and play ascending and descending, finishing on the same root note in which you started. Each arpeggio includes a tab to follow.

C Shape Arpeggio

The C shape arpeggio is derived from the C chord form, but also includes the 3rd and 5th on the 6th string and the 5th on the 1st string. This shape is used quite frequently is music.

Major arpeggios - C shape
Guitar tab for C major arpeggio pattern

C Major Shape Variations

Guitar arpeggio shapes can be broken down into smaller 3- and 4-note variations. These smaller versions typically are more applicable and easier to apply musically.

4 Note Variations

C major arpeggio, 4 note variations

3 Note Variations

C major arpeggio, 3 note variations

A Shape Arpeggio

The A shape arpeggio comes from the A form chord. It also includes the 5th on the 6th string as well as the 3rd on the 4th string.

Major arpeggios - A shape
Guitar tab for A major arpeggio pattern

A Major Shape Variations

Below are the 3- and 4- note arpeggio variations for the A major shape.

4-Note Variations

4 note variations of the A major guitar arpeggio

3-Note Variations

3 note variations of the A major guitar arpeggio

G Shape Arpeggio

The G shape arpeggio is built from the G form barre chord and includes the 5th on the 2nd string.

G major arpeggio diagram
Guitar tab for G major arpeggio pattern

G Major Shape Variations

Below are the 3- and 4- note arpeggio variations for the G major arpeggio shape.

4-Note Variations

G major guitar arpeggios, 4 note variations

3-Note Variations

3 note variations of G major arpeggio

E Shape Arpeggio

The E shape arpeggio is derived from the E form barre chord and also includes the 3rd on the 5th string. This shape, or a portion of it, is also frequently used in music.

Major arpeggios - E shape
Guitar tab for E major arpeggio pattern

E Major Shape Variations

Below are the 3- and 4- note arpeggio variations for the E major arpeggio shape.

4-Note Variations

4 note variations of E major guitar arpeggio

3-Note Variations

E major guitar arpeggio, 3 note variations

D Shape Arpeggio

The D shape arpeggio is built from the D form chord, but also includes three additional notes; the 3rd on the 6th string, 5th on the 5th string, and 3rd on the 3rd string. This shape is very awkward to play in its full form and frequently you see just the 5th, root, and 3rd played on strings 1-3.

Major arpeggios - D shape
Guitar tab for D major arpeggio pattern

D Major Shape Variations

Below are the 3- and 4- note arpeggio variations for the D major arpeggio shape.

4-Note Variations

G major guitar arpeggios, 4 note variations

3-Note Variations

3 note variations of G major arpeggio

Building Minor Arpeggios

Minor arpeggios are formed from the notes of the minor chord, which are built from the root, ♭3rd, and 5th intervals of minor scale. The minor arpeggio differs from the major arpeggio in that the 3rd interval is a minor 3rd (1/2 step lower) as opposed to a major 3rd.

In the tab/audio below, the whole scale is played first, followed by just the root, 3rd, and 5th of each scale. Listen to the examples to hear the difference the 3rd scale degree makes between major and minor.

Major Scale

Major chord intervals - 1st, major 3rd, 5th
Major scale and root, 3rd, 5th triad guitar tab
Major Scale & Root, 3rd, 5th

Minor Scale

Minor arpeggio scale intervals
Minor scale and root, 3rd, 5th triad guitar tab
Minor Scale & Root, ♭3rd, 5th

C Shape Minor Arpeggio

In the Cm shape arpeggio, the lowest root note is found on the 5th string. You’ll use this note as the starting point and play across the fretboard and back, making sure to pass the root note on the way back to play the full arpeggio, including the notes on the 6th string.

CAGED C shape minor arpeggio
Guitar tab for c shape minor arpeggio

Cm Shape Variations

Like the major arpeggio, the full minor guitar arpeggio shape shown above can be broken down into smaller 3- and 4-note variations.

3-Note Variations

3 note C shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

4-Note Variations

4-note C shape arpeggio variations diagram

Am Shape

The Am shape arpeggio begins with the same root note as the C shape, the root on the 5th string. However, instead of playing it with the pinky finger, you use your index finger. This moves your positioning down and creates the A shape instead of the C shape.

A shape minor arpeggio fretboard diagram
Guitar tab for CAGED Am arpeggio

Am Shape Variations

Below are the 3- and 4- note variations for the Am shape arpeggio

3-Note Variations

3 note A shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

4-Note Variations

4 note A shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

Gm Shape

The root of the Gm shape arpeggio is found on the 6th string and again starts with the pinky finger.

CAGED G shape fretboard diagram, minor chord and arpeggio
Guitar tab for minor G shape arpeggio

Gm Shape Variations

Below are the 3- and 4- note arpeggio variations for the Gm shape.

3-Note Variations

3 note G shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

4-Note Variations

4 note G shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

Em Shape

The root of the Em shape is shared with the root of the Gm shape. Similar to the Am & Cm shapes, the root of the Em is played with the index finger, shifting the position down the fretboard and creating a new arpeggio shape.

CAGED E shape, minor chord and arpeggio fretboard diagram
Guitar tab for CAGED E shape minor chord and arpeggio

Em Shape Variations

The 3- and 4- note variations for the E shape arpeggio are below.

3-Note Variations

3 note E shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

4-Note Variations

4 note E shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

Dm Shape

The last CAGED minor arpeggio shape is the D shape. It’s lowest root is found on the 4th string. It is the only complete arpeggio shape with the lowest root found on this string.

CAGED D shape minor chord and arpeggio diagram
Guitar tab for d shape minor chord and arpeggio

Dm Shape Variations

The 3- and 4- note D shape arpeggio variations are below.

3-Note Variations

3 note D shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

4-Note Variations

4 note D shape minor arpeggio variations diagram

Wrap Up

In this lesson we looked at the major arpeggios, which are comprised of the root, 3rd, and 5th intervals of the major scale and minor arpeggios, build from the root, minor 3rd, and 5th intervals.

Guitar arpeggios can be used to target chord tones in guitar solos and fills and help add a little color to your playing. You’ll probably find the 3- and 4- note variations a little easier to incorporate into your playing. Overall, learning arpeggios can take a bit of effort, so be prepared to put in some time with them.

AGT book of scales cover

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