Classical guitar arpeggio patterns

Arpeggio patterns

Practising arpeggio patterns is an important part of classical guitar technique. An arpeggio in music is a chord in which the notes (chord tones) aren't played all at the same time but are spread out by playing the chord tones individually. The effect is flowing and harp-like (the words harp & arpeggio) are related. Sometimes arpeggios are referred to as broken chords.

In actual music, arpeggios can be any kind of pattern in terms of pitch and rhythm. In standard classical guitar practice routines, however, they're logically arranged to ascend and descend, and include every chord tone along the way. The idea is to develop finger dexterity and improve finger stretch in reaching for chord tones, as well as gain an aural awareness of the sound and position of each chord tone within the chord.

All major and minor chords consist of three notes (alone or duplicated at any octave). These are called the 1st (or root) the 3rd and the 5th of the chord (numbered from their position in the scale of the same name).

Every pattern goes through the sequence in exactly the same order:
1st, 3rd, 5th, 1st, 3rd, 5th, 1st, and descends in reverse order as 5th, 3rd, 1st, 5th, 3rd 1st with exactly the same fingering in both directions.

The (fretting hand) fingering is given under the ascending notes in notation, and the tab is included for non readers of standard music notation. The Roman numerals indicate the fretboard position that your first finger will control. The ones shown in parenthesis, such as (X) aren't strictly accurate as your first finger (which always determines the fretboard position) isn't used, and the other three are all on the same fret.

Picking hand fingering isn't marked but the standard classical guitar approach is to use the thumb (p) only for the lowest note followed by a strict rotation of i,m,a fingers (index, middle, ring) until the highest note is reached with "a". Then descend in reverse order m, i, a, m, i etc., as shown below

Two octave arpeggio
Ascending - p, i, m, a, i, m, a, - Descending - m, i, a, m, i, p

Three octave arpeggio
Ascending - p, i, m, a, i, m, a, i, m, a, -Descending - m, i, a, m, i, a, m, i, p

The following arpeggio patterns are based on a classical guitar syllabus of Trinity College of music, London.

Major arpeggio - two octave movable pattern

The first pattern is a two octave completely movable major chord arpeggio pattern. The example is in C major, in 2nd position (starting with finger 2 on fret 3 of string 5) but you can play the pattern from as low as position one, which is B major, up to as far your guitar lets you reach.

Two octave moveable arpeggio pattern. Example key C major
Two octave movable arpeggio pattern. Example key C major | Source

Minor arpeggio - two octave pattern

Minor chords differ from major chords by one note, which is the 3rd of the chord. The 3rd of a minor chord (and also of a minor scale) is one semitone or half step lower than the 3rd of major chords (and scales).

This single change can completely affect the arpeggio patterns, though, as the following pattern shows.

Minor arpeggio - two octave pattern. Example key C minor
Minor arpeggio - two octave pattern. Example key C minor | Source

Major arpeggio - three octave pattern

This is a three octave movable pattern. The example is in F major, and this is as low as the pattern can be started without involving open strings.

Major arpeggio - Three octave moveable pattern: Example key F major
Major arpeggio - Three octave moveable pattern: Example key F major | Source

Minor arpeggio - three octave movable pattern

This is a movable three octave pattern based on F minor. As with the major version, F minor is as low as the pattern goes without involving open strings.

Minor arpeggio - Three octave moveable pattern: Example key F minor
Minor arpeggio - Three octave movable pattern: Example key F minor | Source

Open string three octave major and minor arpeggio patterns

The following two patterns are useful major and minor patterns based on E. They're not strictly movable as they contain notes played on open strings. They're the open string equivalent patterns of the movable major and minor shapes based on F, above.

In the E minor arpeggio, the choice of finger 3 for the second lowest note (G) is standard technique, but the choice of finger 4 is also given so that, if you prefer, you can hold a familiar E minor chord shape for the first two octaves and use finger 4 to play the 2nd note (low G on string 6, fret 3)

Major arpeggio - Three octave fixed pattern in E major
Major arpeggio - Three octave fixed pattern in E major | Source
Minor arpeggio - Three octave fixed pattern in E minor
Minor arpeggio - Three octave fixed pattern in E minor | Source

Other arpeggio types

Major and minor arpeggios are, by far, the most important arpeggios in classical guitar studies, but there are other arpeggios that can also be practised, such as 7ths, diminished and augmented chords among others. Meanwhile, if you're looking to improve your technique, regardless of the style of music you play on guitar, these major and minor patterns are well worth practising on a daily basis, along with scales. Half an hour a day on scales and arpeggios is about normal for a classical guitar student.

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Comments 2 comments

B.L. Massey 4 years ago

A very good crash course on arpeggios. I will recommend it to my friends as a refresher or beginning. It is very nice of you to provide examples with both notes and tablature. Thank you.


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chasmac 4 years ago from UK Author

I've no idea why I didn't see this before, but thanks very much for your comment and for recommending my hub to your friends.

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