Published On: Thu, Aug 28th, 2014

Guitar Techniques: Arpeggio Armoury

Step right this way for more practical ear training to help improve your musical senses.

Arpeggios are formed from scales. For example, to make a C major arpeggio, you take the 1st (root), 3rd and 5th notes of the scale and then add the 8th (octave) at the top to make the arpeggio a complete octave.

Since the C major scale consists of C D E F G A B C , if we take the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th, we get C, E, G, and C again (this arrangement of notes appears in the first two bars of Exercise 1).

To convert a major arpeggio into a minor one, the third is flattened. In this case, the third is E; if we flatten this note we move it down by one fret, obtaining Eb. So, a C minor arpeggio consists of the notes C, Eb, G, and C again to complete the octave; this arrangement of notes can be seen in bars three and four of Exercise 1. Exercise 1 is based on C major and C minor arpeggios. The second and third exercises are both based on a specific type of arpeggio called a triad. As the name suggests (“tri” = three), a triad denotes an arpeggio that incorporates three notes: 1st, 3rd and 5th.

1: C Major and C Minor Arpeggios (4/4 Time)




Treat this exercise as two separate ear tests. First, play the C major arpeggio as shown in the first two bars over and over to get used to the sound of it. Now, sing along to the exercise. Don’t worry: the quality of your voice is immaterial, but do try to sustain a clear, distinct note with the minimum of wavering. Once you are comfortable with this, play only the first note – that is, C on the fifth string, third fret – and sing the rest of the exercise, repeating the low C at the end of the exercise to check that you haven’t wavered off-key. Now go through and repeat the entire same procedure for the C minor arpeggio in bars three and four.

2: C Major Triad Inversions (4/4 Time)




The first bar of this exercise uses inversions of the C major triad. The first triplet beat – a triplet being three notes played in the space of one beat – consists of the 1st (root), 3rd and 5th, which is a root position C major triad. The second beat – in ascending order – is made up from the 3rd, 5th and 8th (also the root note, just an octave higher), which is a first inversion C major triad. The third triplet beat consists of the 5th, 8th, and then the 3rd an octave higher, which is a second inversion triad. On the fourth beat the exercise returns to the key note an octave higher than at the start of the exercise. Just as in Exercise 1, play the exercise through, then sing the notes as you play them. After that, play only the first note and sing the exercise. The second bar is the same exercise, but with C minor triads.

3: C Chromatic Scale Random Pattern (3/4 Time)




A bit of an ear twister, this one. Like Exercise 2 it’s based on triads, but instead of proceeding up a series of triads in the same key, this treats the low C as the lowest note in each triad. So, first of all we have the C major root position triad of C, E and G. Then, we treat this low C as the lowest note in a first inversion triad – a first inversion Ab triad. Then, we treat the low C as the lowest note in a second inversion triad, a second inversion F triad. Be warned, however, that this requires some mental/aural gymnastics to get right, and assumes you are totally confident and accurate with Exercise 2. The second bar is basically the same, but with the three different kinds of minor triad.

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