How to Play a C form Arpeggio Pattern on the Guitar

On the guitar, before you break down the C form into smaller and more useable chord voicings, you should add to it in the form of an arpeggio pattern. An arpeggio is a technique in which you play the notes of a chord one at a time like a scale rather than simultaneously as a chord.

The term is also used as the verb arpeggiate to describe how players pick through the notes of chords individually rather than strumming them all simultaneously (think of the opening to “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals or “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.).

For example, a D chord is D-Fs-A. Using the position of a C form D chord, you find these notes in the barre chord shape but also outside of it. For instance, you see an Fs at the 2nd fret of the 6th string, an A at the 5th fret of the 6th string, and another A at the 5th fret of the 1st string.

To form a full arpeggio pattern, play through all occurrences of these notes in this position from low to high and then high to low like a scale, as shown here.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Notice that the lowest pitched note available in this position is where the arpeggio pattern begins — on the 3rd of D, or Fs. When mapping out an arpeggio like this, you don’t need to start on the root. Instead, touch on all chord members in the position.

Also notice that some strings have more than one chord member on them. When playing notes simultaneously as a chord, you can choose only one note per string, but arpeggios allow you to play multiple notes on a string because you can fret and pick each one individually.

For example, when playing a chord, you can use either the Fs or the A on the 1st string but not both. When playing an arpeggio, you can play both.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Here you can see the shape this arpeggio pattern makes on the fretboard. The numbers in the first diagram indicate the chord intervals, the letters in the second diagram indicate the note names, and the numbers in the third diagram indicate a sample fingering. Feel free to try the sample fingering or come up with a different fingering that better suits you.

Play through the C form arpeggio one note at a time like a scale, ascending and descending until you have it completely memorized. You can also use this pattern at different frets to play arpeggios for other pitches, as shown below. You can position the pattern around any note along the 5th string. Notice that the arpeggio pattern also works for C in the open position.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

As you work through this chapter, don’t try to memorize all the different chord shapes presented. Instead, focus on memorizing the arpeggio patterns from which each form is taken. Then you can use those patterns to build any shape you want.

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