Guitar Tips and Lessons: All About Arpeggios


Need a new warm-up routine? Looking to expand beyond major scales? Then it’s time to dip your toes into the wonderful world of arpeggios! An arpeggio consists of the notes of a chord played in succession, either ascending (up) or descending (down).

Like chords, arpeggios are made up of the root, third, and fifth intervals of the scale, and they can be major, minor, or include sevenths. For example, a major seventh arpeggio in the key of C would be C – E – G – B (root – third – fifth – seventh).

Why should we practice arpeggios? It adds more colour to our musical palette, instead of always thinking of melodies as being linear or diatonic. At the end of this lesson, you’ll be able to play C minor seventh arpeggios in four positions on the fretboard. 

Step 1: Ascending in Root Position

First, we’ll begin the arpeggio by placing our first finger on the note C (third fret of the A string). Next, we will use our fourth finger (pinky) to play the third, which is the note E flat (sixth fret of the A string). From there, we will move to the fifth, which is the note G (fifth fret of the D string). Finally, we’ll add the seventh, which is the note B flat (third fret of the G string). These notes make up the C minor seven (Cm7) arpeggio: C – Eb – G – Bb.

Step 2: Descending in Root Position


Now that we’ve played the notes in ascending order, let’s play them back down in descending order to complete the exercise. To do this, we must start on octave C (fifth fret of the G string) and play those same notes backward: B flat (third fret), G (fifth fret D string), and E flat (sixth fret A string).

Now try playing the whole thing starting with the root C on the A string, up to the octave C, and back down. Since there are four notes in each direction, each note should receive one beat. See Example C.

Example C:

Step 3: Starting on the Third

Once you‘re able to play the notes of the Cm7 arpeggio comfortably and evenly, it’s time to move up the neck and play the same pattern starting on the third note of the arpeggio. This is also known as first inversion. We’ll need to move our entire hand down so that the second finger is now placed on the third note, which is E flat (sixth fret of the A string). At this point, it’s important to remember that we’re in the key of C minor, so we must continue to use the same four notes. With this in mind, the next note would be G (fifth fret D string). We’ll use our first finger to reach up to that note. We will then use our fourth finger to reach the note B flat that we now must play on the eighth fret of the D string. Finally, we’ll reach up to the note C on the fifth fret of the G string. Play these notes back down, starting on the octave E flat (eighth fret G string). See Example D.

Example D:

Step 4: Starting on the Fifth

As you can probably guess, the next step is to move down the fretboard again to start the pattern on the fifth note of the arpeggio, which is the note G. This is called the second inversion. We’ll begin by placing our first finger on the note G (tenth fret of the A string) and play the same four notes again: G, B flat (thirteenth fret A string), C (tenth fret D string), E flat (thirteenth fret D string). Play the notes back down, starting on the octave G (twelfth fret G string). See Example E.

Example E:

Step 5: Starting on the Seventh

The final position, known as the third inversion, begins on the seventh note of the arpeggio, which is B flat (thirteenth fret A string). Start with the second finger and play the four notes once more: B flat, C (fifteenth fret A string), E flat (thirteenth fret D string), G (twelfth fret G string), and back down again starting on the higher B flat (fifteenth fret G string). See Example F.

Example F:

Step 6: Put It All Together

Once you feel comfortable with all four positions, put the whole thing together by starting on the Root C and play in ascending and descending order all the way up the fretboard. See Example G. Now that you know the formula for arpeggios, you can transpose this same exercise into other keys!

Example G: