Improvising with Arpeggios: Using Arpeggios Creatively

In this music lesson we will talk about some creative ways to use arpeggios. If you have started incorporating arpeggios into your playing, you may have come to a point where you are not quite sure what else you can do with them. There are a number of strategies you can implement:

Starting From Different Notes
The first thing you should do is work on starting your arpeggios from each note. The arpeggio shapes you practice may start with the root, but when improvising or writing you can start them from any note. Experiment with isolating fragments that start on different notes of the arpeggio like so:
Inverted Chord Arpeggios
In this example the complete fingering is in the first bar. The other bars break this C Major arpeggio into tiny three note fragments. You are essentially playing chord inversions. If you don’t quite understand that concept yet, don’t worry about it. All you need to know is that you are still playing the same arpeggio no matter what note you start on. Practice playing some of these fragments in isolation, or try using them to start your phrases.

Skipping Notes
The next step is to skip some notes of the arpeggio. This creates big melodic gaps that sound interesting. For example if you have a C Major triad with the notes C E G (1 3 5 if you are thinking in terms of intervals), don’t play up the arpeggio one note after the other. You could start with the C, skip to the G and then play the next C and E. Conceptually this is a simple idea, but in execution it can be difficult for some instruments such as the guitar. For piano players it likely won’t be difficult. Here is a common arpeggio variation based on this principle.
Arpeggio Pattern
In the above music example you are starting on the root, skipping over the third, playing the fifth, skipping over the next root and playing the third. Along with the major shape is a minor one as well. The base C Major and A Minor arpeggios are shown in bars 1 and 3 for a reference point.

Does this sound familiar to you? These kinds of arpeggios were used in the intro of the song “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson. They have a pleasing open sound. For guitar players be careful to take it slow so that you skip the strings you need to. Piano players should try to get the leap to the last note sounding smooth and connected. There are multiple fingerings you can use, but the ones provided are good to start with.

Rearranging The Notes
The last component of this lesson is rearranging the notes of the arpeggio. With this approach you will be skipping notes like in the last music example, but you will be going in all sorts of different directions. This is the culmination of the previous two exercises. In essence, you can play the notes of the arpeggio however you want. Check out this C Major lick to get an idea of how you might rearrange an arpeggio.

Arpeggio Pattern 2

On the left is the two octave fingering that is used as the basis of the lick, and on the right is the lick. The shape is still there, but you are playing the notes in a completely different order. Even though this example is musically skipping around a lot, the melodic nature of the arpeggio holds it together. Whether you play guitar or piano you are likely to find these sorts of ideas difficult. Stay slow and try to hit the notes accurately.

If this music lesson is a bit intimidating, do not worry. These are all general concepts that can be applied in different ways. It is something to work on for a long time. What you should takeaway is that you can do these sorts of processes with any musical idea, and by doing so you can create something entirely new. Arpeggios are used in all sorts of music, so getting a good command of them can help to prepare for many different situations. If you need a refresher on arpeggios or you are looking for more music lessons, check the sidebar.

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