How to Play Arpeggios on Guitar

Learning how to play arpeggios on guitar is important as a lead guitar player. In this series of video guitar lessons you will learn the basics of how to read guitar arpeggio charts, and apply them to the neck of the guitar.

What is a Guitar Arpeggio?

(Video Guitar Lesson 1 of 4)


A guitar arpeggio is just the notes of a chord played individually. If you were to play a basic C major chord on the guitar and pick out each note one at a time, you have a C major arpeggio.

C Chord and C Arpeggio

Often when talking about an arpeggio on the guitar, there is more involved than just taking a basic chord form and picking out the individual notes. First let’s look at a basic D major chord.

D Chord

Sure, I could just play those notes one at a time, and that is done all of the time in thousands of songs. But if I look at the notes that make up a D major chord, and put them in order starting with D…..I have the notes D, F#, and A.

But if I was to just play the notes of that basic D major chord, they are not in order. Starting with the 4th string I have a D, then an A, D, F#. Often when playing an arpeggio on the guitar, you want to play all of the notes in order and not skip any. That means that sometimes you will have 2 notes on the same string. Something that isn’t possible if you are playing all of the notes at once.

Here is a basic D major arpeggio on the first 4 strings. You are not going to hold down your fingers on more than one note at a time. You are just going to play each note individually and not as a chord. So here you are thinking melodically rather than just thinking about arpeggiating the notes in a basic D chord form.

D Major Arpeggio - 1

So the best way for you to think of a guitar arpeggio is this. A guitar arpeggio is all of the note possibilities of a chord played individually in a particular area of the neck. Arpeggios can definitely span multiple positions, but you are still playing the notes of a chord in order.

Here is a D major arpeggio in 2nd position on the guitar. In this arpeggio form you are actually starting on an F# note. Why? Because this is the lowest note possibility of a D chord in this position. Again, a D chord contains the notes D, F#, and A. So this is all of the D’s, F#s and A’s in 2nd position.

D Major Arpeggio - 2


What’s the Purpose of a Guitar Arpeggio?

So now you know what a guitar arpeggios is. But what are they good for? The answer is they are going to be very important for improvisation and/or songwriting.

If you are improvising over a D major chord, knowing were all of the chord tone possibilities are in a particular position is going to come in handy. This helps you create a melody that will sound like a particular chord. You may still play other notes, but emphasizing the notes in the arpeggio will help your melody have a strong chord sound.

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Page 2, Reading Horizontal Guitar Arpeggio Charts >>>

Page 3, Reading Vertical Guitar Arpeggio Charts >>>

Page 4, Playing Guitar Arpeggios >>>