What Are Guitar Arpeggios?

If you've come across the term "guitar arpeggios" and are not quite sure exactly what it means, then you're not alone. (There are plenty of guitarists out there who are confused as well). But luckily, arpeggios are pretty easy to understand once you've been given a concrete example. So, let's do that right now…

I've put a chord diagram below that shows an A Minor 7 chord. It would be a great idea to grab your guitar now and play the chord. (I find it's much easier to learn and understand music theory when I have a guitar in my hands!).

A Minor 7: Chord Diagram

A Minor 7: Chord Diagram

Are you playing the chord now? Awesome. Now, here's a good question for you…what notes are you playing? In other words, what notes are being used to form the A Minor 7 chord? Please take a moment or two to work that out now. [Side Note: Learning the notes on the fretboard is a really good idea if you want to get a good grasp of music theory].

All done? Fantastic. If you worked it out right, then you would have come up with these notes…

  • The open A-string is an A-note.
  • The second fret of the D-string is an E-note.
  • The open G-string is a G-note.
  • The first fret of the B-string is a C-note.
  • The open thin E-string is an E-note.

To make this even clearer, I've written the notes names above the chord diagram of the A Minor 7 chord…

A Minor 7: Notes Of Chord Shown

A Minor 7: Notes Of Chord Shown

All clear so far? The key point at this stage is that an A Minor 7 chord is made up of four different notes: A C E and G

OK, the next step we are going to take is to map the notes of the chord onto a fretboard diagram. In other words, we will find every location of the notes A, C, E and G. (Side Note: To make sure that the diagram was small enough to fit on this webpage I have done this only up to the 12th fret, but normally I would map the notes out using the entire fretboard).

Here's the fretboard diagram showing all the note locations of the A Minor 7 chord…

A Minor 7: Notes of Chord Mapped Onto a Fretboard Diagram

A Minor 7: Notes Mapped Onto Fretboard Diagram

Now, you might be wondering the value of doing this. Well, if you look at the diagram above you'll notice that it no longer looks like a chord…it looks a lot closer to something that you might see in a scale book. And this brings us to a really important question…

What's stopping us from playing the notes of an A Minor 7 chord like a scale? In other words…what's stopping us from playing the notes of the chord one at a time like we would when soloing with a guitar scale? And of course, the answer is nothing.

And the cool thing is that when we play the notes of the A Minor 7 chord one at a time then we are playing an A Minor 7 arpeggio.

So in fact, an A Minor 7 chord is exactly the same as an A Minor 7 arpeggio. The only difference is the way that we play them…

With a chord we play the notes all at the same time. With an arpeggio we play the notes one at a time.

 

A Few Final Words

Although I will be covering guitar arpeggios in more detail in future guitar lessons, I think it would be a great idea to put this music theory immediately into practice. (Theory is a total waste of time if you don't apply it!). So I invite you to do the following…

  • Make up at least five ways of playing an A Minor 7 arpeggio. (I don't want to give you too many hints at this point in time. The key is to EXPERIMENT…you will learn more by experimentation than being spoon-fed all the time! With that said, remember that as long as you stick to the notes shown in the fretboard diagram in this lesson, then you are playing an A Minor 7 arpeggio).
  • Write down the arpeggios you made up onto some TAB paper.
  • Learn the arpeggios shapes.

Have fun!


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