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Blues Guitar Institute

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Never Play Wrong Notes with These…

Lesson ID: TB441

Arpeggios are like a cheat code for solos.

With the right mindset, arpeggios can be one of the most direct paths to soloing over chord changes like a pro. Because of their very nature, arpeggio-based soloing can drastically reduce wrong notes. Of course, it takes methodical practice to get to that point and this lesson can help you get there.

Let’s dive in with a quick refresher on arpeggios. Then, we’ll cover one of my favorite ways to leverage arpeggios to create solos that flow with the music.

Let’s dig in.

Trim the Field with Arpeggios

Chords are notes played harmonically – at the same time. An arpeggio is a chord played melodically – one note at a time. Play the arpeggio over its related chord and the notes fit. Each note sounds good over the chord.

This trims the options for notes when you’re soloing down to just a few “right” notes.

If you’re not familiar with the basics of arpeggios you can get up to speed here: Arpeggios Made Easy.

To hear this in action, here’s a C Major chord – (C, E and G notes) with the arpeggio played over it.

Yes, this sounds basic but this is the foundation that we’ll use to build sweet solos. Think of this as arpeggios: level one. Level two and three get really interesting.

Before we level up, get comfortable playing arpeggios in different octaves and positions. The interval approach I mapped out in TB435 should help you get there quickly.

Practice things like this two octave version of the C Major Arpeggio.

As you practice, focus on the intervals of the arpeggio. This helps you move arpeggios to different keys and avoids memorizing patterns. You should also try to find different options for finding the intervals.

Here’s one variation:

The goal is to build your ability to craft the sound you’re looking for versus recycling patterns.

Now that you’ve trimmed the field of wrong notes, it’s time to level up by learning how to switch arpeggios.

Switch Arpeggios on the Fly

There aren’t a ton of one-chord songs.

In real jams, chords change. So, let’s work on your ability to switch arpeggios as the chords change. This will help you target chord tones and avoid nasty notes even as the chords change.

Let’s take a look at an exercise that will help you get comfortable switching arpeggios. I call it the Arp Switcher and we’ll break it down into three levels of difficulty.

Let’s dive in using the dominant 7th arpeggio (Root – Major Third – Perfect Fifth – Minor Seventh).

Level One: Follow the Roots

Play each note of the arpeggio in ascending order to a quarter note rhythm. When the chord changes, shift to playing that chord’s arpeggio.

As a variation, try playing the arpeggio in descending order instead.

This is a great first step, but it certainly sounds like an exercise – not a solo. Let’s build toward a more musical sound in Level Two.

Level Two: The Next Note

Let’s stick with the same progression and the same goal of changing the arpeggio to match the chord.

But try this tweak to the exercise:

When you change to the new arpeggio, don’t aim for the root. Instead, aim for the note of the new arpeggio closest to where you end the last arpeggio. Maybe that’s the root. Maybe not.

Here’s an example:

This requires you to think ahead as you play. Think about the chord that’s coming up and visualize its arpeggio. This will help you know where the nearest note is before you get there.

It takes practice to play one thing while thinking about another, so start the exercise at a slow tempo. This level can be a challenge but it will boost your fretboard navigation skills.

Still, this level still doesn’t sound very musical. Let’s work on that in the third level of this exercise.

Level Three: The Arp Switcher

This is where things get interesting.

Instead of playing each arpeggio in order, deliberately play the notes out of order. As you do, keep the strategy of switching to the nearest arpeggio note.

This opens up the arpeggio and you begin to hear the outline of useable phrases taking shape.

Remember from your intervals study that there is more than one way to find each note on the guitar. Use this duplication as a change to explore options on the fretboard.

This will help you massively on your way to mastering the fretboard. Win!

But still, there’s something we can do to make these arpeggios sound fuller. Something that will help the arpeggio give way to phrases in a solo.

Let’s take a look at that.

Embellish the Arpeggios

What takes arpeggios from an exercise to a great solo?

The answer is in how you decorate each arpeggio and how you connect them through the chord changes.

The Arp Switcher will arm you with a plan for playing the chord changes. But, sticking strictly to the exercise leaves your phrases limited. You’ll want to color the phrases with extra notes.

Here are a couple of ways to embellish arpeggio:

  • Hammer up from the minor third to the major third for a classic blues sound
  • Use an enclosure by playing the note a half step above the target, then a half step below, and back to the target
  • Move down chromatically to connect arpeggios

Here’s another example:

Of course there are many other ways to embellish your ideas. Use rhythm, use guitar techniques and sometimes just leave a bit of space.

We dive into these topics and more in BGI’s lesson on phrasing.

Read it next here: 5 Steps to Better Phrasing.

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

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