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Arpeggios in position

You’ll have noticed, from playing the arpeggios in the last post, that each arpeggio type – major, minor and diminished – have their own shapes.

If you play them in the same position – as opposed to along the neck – things change.


Arpeggios in A

Let’s take the arpeggios in the key of A, fifth position. This means we’re using the A major scale, or A ionian. Same thing.


A major arpeggios

As you play this you’ll notice different shapes for the same chord quality. Major and minor triads each have two shapes, even though both shapes start on the root. This makes playing arpeggios in position a bit more difficult, but it makes it easier to use when soloing.


Use both

Both ways are useful, and – good news – they’re complementary.

Once you know your arpeggios in other modes, you can move between them using arpeggios.

In the next post, I’ll show you the arpeggios in the dorian mode. Then we’ll start moving between ionian and dorian.


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Dissonance, consonance, and arpeggios

At the end of the last post, I started talking about the chromatic scale. I’m going to back up a bit and expand the idea of single notes as non chord-tones, and talk about non chord-tones as part of arpeggios.

Think of single notes as being letters and arpeggios as being words. A phrase, then, is two or more arpeggios played in a sequence.


Creating tension on G major

So let’s take a single chord: a G major triad. Its chord-tones are: G, B, and D. Obviously, the G major arpeggio works, but what about all the other arpeggios in the key of G? Let’s take a look.


  • The A minor arpeggio has an A, a C, and an E. No chord tones, so we’ll label that as tense.
  • The B minor arpeggio has a B, a D, and an F#. This one is way more consonant with two chord-tones form the G major triad, and the 7th of a G major 7 chord.
  • The C major arpeggio has C, E, and G. Two non chord tones and the root of the G major triad. More consonant than the A minor triad, but less consonant than the B minor.
  • The D major triad: D, F#, A. One chord tone and the 7th of G major 7.
  • E minor triad: E, G, and B. Consonant like the B minor triad – two chord-tones and one non chord tone.
  • Finally, the F# diminished triad, which has F#, A, and C. this is probably the most dissonant triad of the key when played against the G major.


The takeaway is that you can plot the amount of tension you want to produce against a single chord. And yes, there is almost always more than one chord in any song. This means things can get complex pretty fast.


 The joy of work

It’s a lot of work to learn how to use arpeggios like this, but the payoff is enormous in terms of technique and ear training. Make it enjoyable (and not overwhelming), by just learning the arpeggios in the key of G for now and then playing them over a recorded G major chord.


Here’s are  the arpeggios in G major in sequence:


g maj arpeggio

I’ve put these all on the same two strings to make it a bit easier to play. This way you can get the tension/resolution sound in your ear faster. I’ll talk about playing them all in the same position in the next post.

I’ll also talk about not playing them in sequence like this. It gets old fast.

As a technical exercise, see if you jump randomly from chord to chord smoothly (i.e. Gmaj to Cmaj to F#dim to Dmaj, etc.). Go as slow as you need.

As an ear exercise, repeat one of the more consonant arpeggios at least five times. Then play one of the more dissonant ones. Then reverse the process. Repeat a dissonant arpeggio five times, and follow it with a consonant one.




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Non chord tones

Playing nothing but arpeggios can sound unnatural. There’s lack of fluidity and a surplus of predictability if you play nothing but chord-tones.

Let’s mix it up with non chord-tones. Non chord-tones are simply the notes in the scale that aren’t in the chord.


Using non chord-tones

To keep it clear, I’ll just use a C major chord.


C non chord tones

That’s a bit more fluid. I’ve inserted the non chord-tone F between C and E, and between E and G. Then between G and C, I’ve inserted to non chord-tones in a row – A and D.

Notice that there’s a leap of a 4th (C to F) right at the beginning. There’s another one at the end – A to D. From a compositional standpoint, that’s a nice balancing technique. What’s interesting is that the leap from A to D sounds more dramatic, making those 4ths both the same and different.

There are a couple of reasons that the A to D sounds more dramatic.


  1. The leap from C to F isn’t preceded by any closely spaced intervals like everything before the leap from A to D. So no contrast.
  2. The leap from C to F is in a lower register than the leap from A to D. The higher register on an instrument has a more in-your-face quality.



Add rhythm, and it gets better.


c non chord tones rhythm


Every chord-tone

Of course, non chord-tones aren’t just the other notes in the scale. They’re also the other notes outside the scale: C#, D#, F#, and G#. Try playing and resolving those to chord tones.

Here’s the C chromatic scale with the chord tones (CT) marked. Everything else is for creating tension. And tension is always resolved by moving to a chord-tone.


C    C#   D    D#    E    F    F#    G    G#    A     A#     B

CT                    CT              CT                       CT

1                      3               5                         7



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Targeting inside the scale

All the notes comprising a chord exist in a scale of some sort. For example, each chord in the key of C is built from notes in that key.

Sounds obvious, but let’s unpack it anyway. I’ll start with the scale.

Here’s the notes and the tab…

c major scale


…and here’s the image.

c major scale2



Bear in mind that both of these images represent a two-octave C major scale, which has 15 notes.

That’s important to remember for the following:


  • The 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale give you the C major arpeggio (6th string, fret 8), E (5th string, fret 7), and G (5th string, fret 10).
  • The 2nd, 4th, and 6th notes give you a D minor arpeggio: D (6th string, fret 10), F (5th string, fret 8), and A (4th string, fret 7).
  • The 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes give you the E minor arpeggio: E (5th string, fret 7), G (5th string, fret 10), and B (4th string, fret 9).
  • The 4th, 6th, and 8th notes give you an F major arpeggio: F(5th string, fret 8), A (4th string, fret 7), and C (4th string, fret 10).
  • The 5th, 7th, and 9th notes give you a G major arpeggio: G (5th string, fret 10), B(4th string, fret 9), and D (3rd string, fret 7).
  • The 6th, 8th, and 10th notes give you an A minor arpeggio: A (4th string, fret 7), C (4th string, fret 10), and E (3rd string, fret 9).
  • The 7th, 9th, and 11th notes give you a B diminished arpeggio: B (4th string, fret 9), D (3rd string, fret 7), and F (3rd string, fret 10).


Chord-tones in the scale

So the idea here is that when you see a progression with chords in the key of C, you can find the notes of the chord in a scale. Because of this, you can easily slip in other notes in the scale that aren’t part of the chord. This creates more tension, which is easily resolved by moving to a chord-tone.

You get good at this by practicing only the chord-tones first.

Take the following progression:


c major progarp


Play the C major arpeggio a few times, just to get used to it. Now play the A minor arpeggio until you’re comfortable with it. Then play from the C major arpeggio to the A minor arpeggio, treating them as a single unit. Once that’s comfortable, add the D minor arpeggio (play it by itself, then as part of a C – Amin – Dmin unit). Then add the G.

It will probably feel a bit unnatural, jumping from arpeggio to arpeggio (especially from A minor to D minor). All we’re doing here is teaching our fingers where to go for each chord. Don’t expect music yet.



C major to A minor and D minor to G major link up pretty naturally. But A minor to D minor is a problem. You can’t really move naturally from the last note of the A minor arpeggio to the first note of the D minor arpeggio.

Good thing it’s a two –octave scale. You can make a D minor arpeggio starting on the 3rd string:

  • D (3rd string, fret 7), F (3rd string, fret 10), and A (2nd string, fret 10).


a min to d min


That’s the basic strategy: if something doesn’t seem to work, look for alternatives. The specific strategy here is to find another place on the neck to play the D minor arpeggio.

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Targeting 2

Targeting (see the last post) gives us all the safe notes. If you use the chord-tones of the chord you’re on when you’re soloing, it’s going to sound ok.

But there are only three chord-tones if you’re playing triads, and four if you’re playing 7th chords. Since there are 12 notes to choose from, you might be wondering what you can do with all those other notes.



It really depends on how much tension you want to create. Instead of using all 12 of the notes available to us, let’s just use the seven that are in any major scale.

I implied in the last post, that the key of C has seven notes. And I pointed out the notes that are in a triad (root, 3rd, and 5th). Using a C major triad as an example, that gives us C (root), E(3rd), and G (5th), leaving D (2nd), F (4th), A (6th), and B (7th) just sort of sitting there.

Is it ok to play those on the C major triad? Sure, but you need to be careful with them.

You need to be careful with them because those are the notes that create tension.

And because they create tension, you need to know how to resolve them.



Resolving these notes is pretty easy. Just follow them with the closest chord-tone.


  • Follow the 2nd with the root or the 3rd.
  • Follow the 4th with the 3rd or the 5th.
  • Follow the 6th with the 5th.
  • And follow the 7th with the root.


Once you start playing these you might find that you like the sound of the 2nd against the chord. The 6th sounds ok, too, and if you play the 7th you’re essentially creating a 7th chord. So it’s ok, too. The 4th is the one that usually gives people the most trouble.

Keep in mind that each of them have a level of tension different than the others. You’ll wind up liking some more than others.



Record a C major triad, and practice playing all of the notes in the C major scale against the chord. A good way to approach this is to just play the scale, stop on the 2nd(D), and hold it. Then resolve it down to the root (C).

Do it again, but resolve it up to the 3rd (E). Do you like the resolution up or down? Or do you prefer to just stay on the D?

Staying on the D creates a feeling that we haven’t arrived at the end. All non chord-tones create this feeling. Because of this, it’s a good strategy to rest on non chord-tones at the beginning of a solo, and rest on chord-tones toward the end.

Go through the same process with the other non chord-tones (4th, 6th, and 7th). Pay close attention to what your preferences are. Do you prefer to rest on the non chord-tone? What resolution do you like: up or down? Knowing what you like and don’t like is crucial in developing a personal voice.

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I’ve talked a lot about chords in the last few posts. I want to focus on the individual notes in those chords now.

I’ve talked about how we get the notes of a chord (Take every other note of the scale).

And I’ve talked about what to name those notes. For example…


Key of C:


C                 D            E           F            G             A          B

Root          2nd        3rd        4th          5th           6th        7th


So the C major chord has a C, E, and G, also known as the root, 3rd, and 5th.

Start the C major scale from D and you have the dorian mode.


D                E             F           G         A              B             C

Root         2nd          3rd        4th       5th          6th          7th


…and the notes of the D minor chord are D, F, and A.



Why am I talking about all this? Because the notes of any chord (called chord tones) can be used to make solos and riffs sound like they make sense (i.e. good)

How? By placing chord tones in strategic places in the solo or riff. This is called targeting. You’re targeting notes in the chord

And how do you do that? Take a look at your progression. Figure out the notes in each chord by taking the root, 3rd, and 5th of that chord. Then place those notes in important places in your solo or riff.


The important places

Where are the important places? Perhaps the most important place in a solo or riff is at the end. When you put a chord tone there, any tension you’ve created gets resolved. Everything sounds complete.

Of course, you may not want it to sound complete. But that’s another post.

So, an example…


simple progression


The first thing to notice is where the chord tones are. I’ve started the whole thing on the root of the first chord. The root is the most stable chord tone so it always works at the beginning. It communicates solidity. That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing every time, but it’s not a bad place to start.



The second note is the 5th of the chord, and I end the first bar on the 3rd (E). In between those notes are non-chord tones (F and D); these communicate less stability, and are great for transitions to chord tones. To make things interesting, it’s important to create tension and then resolve it (which going from non-chord tones to chord tones does).


Do some analysis

Analyse the rest of the progression keeping in mind what chord you’re on, and what chord tones you’re looking for. Which bar creates the most tension (i.e. has the most non-chord tones)? Notice how a non-chord tone on one chord (E on the G chord, bar 3) turns into a chord tone on the next chord.


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