Major Arpeggio Guitar Shapes

Arpeggios are a key component in any competent player’s improvisational & song writing arsenal

major arpeggio guitar shapesLearning each individual shape, mapping out and connecting the entire fret-board, therefore, becomes a priority. This post is more about calling on these shapes when needed during an improvisation/song writing session whilst also providing an efficient way, both in terms of time and practicality, to work on them. I thought the best place to start my posts on arpeggios in soloing would be with the Major shapes. Very often in an improvisation there will be a mix of different types of arpeggio available to use at any one time, for a lick or melody line – major to minor arpeggio lick, dominant 7 resolving to major etc. This is because a diatonic chord progression will offer up it’s own pre-determined, harmonised arpeggio options (I-Maj, II-Min, III-Min, IV-Maj, V-Maj, VI-Min & VII-Dim). So, sometimes, will a non-diatonic one and there are no hard and fast rules as to what will definitely work all the time – there is no realistic situation I can think of where all 7 diatonic arpeggios will work at once! So as I progress through my posts on arpeggios, so will they become more ambitious, experimental and improvisational but (as always) practical.

I have recorded an audio demonstration which will explain more clearly what I have outlined in the opening paragraph. This will include the 5 major arpeggio guitar shapes from the CAGED system. I have combined the G & A shapes and omitted the D shape from the main exercise for concision but it should be easy enough to work out and include those shapes if needed by following the CAGED link above. They are played firstly as a practical, repetitive exercise which is diatonic to the key of G (with an A root note making it A Dorian, which will be posted on at a later date) and is performed to accommodate shapes in one position of the fret-board at once of the 3 major triads of G – G Maj, C Maj & D Maj. This will then blossom into an improvised solo (which also includes ideas other than arpeggios to keep things realistic) to demonstrate these arpeggios in solo/improvisational form and both are fully transcribed. There is also a much longer backing track to, first of all, practice the arpeggio exercise along to and then improvise or play my solo note-for-note to. There are walk-through notes to explain the techniques and theory involved. If the backing track is too fast to play the exercise to at first, follow the tips in this post to start at a slower pace and build up to tempo.

Major Arpeggio Guitar Shapes

Here is the audio of the exercise which moves seamlessly into an improvisation –


Download (PDF, 46KB)

The exercise starts with Sequence 1

Ascend E Shape of G, Descend A/G Shape of C, Ascend C Shape of D & Descend E Shape of G

Which moves to Sequence 2

Ascend C Shape of G, Descend E Shape of C, Ascend A/G Shape of D & Descend C Shape of G

Which moves to Sequence 3

Ascend A/G Shape of G, Descend C Shape of C, Ascend E Shape of D, Descend A/G Shape of G

And finally plays an octave of Sequence 1 @15th fret –

Ascend E Shape of G, Descend A/G Shape of C, Ascend C Shape of D & Descend E Shape of G

I have played this exercise using sweep picking all the way through but this is not the only way to play it and could be performed using alternate picking as well, although, this is the more difficult option in my opinion and each sequence ends with an exit note or lick. You may wish to practice each sequence separately before putting it all together by following the tips in the above link, in the paragraph before the exercise description.


Download (PDF, 63KB)

The improvisation opens with some straightforward minor pentatonic licks to introduce the vibe. The first arpeggio can be spotted in bar 7 which is a 3 down, 1 up descending idea on the C/D shape of G. The improv. moves to D(A shape) and then C(A shape) arpeggios in bar 9 and the idea is completed in bar 10 with G & D arpeggios (E & C shapes respectively) and a C in bar 11 which exits on an ambitious note in F#(I think I got away with it! G). Bar 14 sees a move from the C shape to the E shape of C to set up some A Dorian decorations (including a brief C shape G arpeggio). Bar 18 sees the start of a long run taking in the E & C shapes of C & D which then moves to a similar idea using the A shapes of both. The improvisation then finishes with a tapping lick which has a jarring ‘magic eye’ (the melody tricks the ear as a magic eye picture tricks the eye), rhythmic feel to it which may take some practice to coax the melody out – the high 22nd fret tap is not necessarily taken on board by the ear and the resultant melody of the lick is an unexpected one. I have played all the arpeggios in this improvisation using sweep picking.

And here is the backing track which you may remember from this tapping post

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