By: Brad Conroy
The term arpeggio describes a pattern of movements executed by the right hand fingers and thumb when playing a chord. The number of possible combinations may be endless, and the study of many of these patterns is an integral part of every serious classical guitar student’s daily practice routine.
Arpeggios are not only found within the classical guitar repertoire and you may in fact be playing arpeggios but aren’t aware of the proper terminology used to describe them. For example, the popular rock song “Stairway to Heaven,” is a fingerstyle piece that uses some basic right-hand arpeggios. Arpeggios are found in every genre that features a guitar, and if learned properly guitarists from all genres will be able to make their guitar sound more elaborate by incorporating them into their style.
In this lesson we will explore four basic right hand arpeggio fingerings. The examples given will incorporate a minimal use of the left hand, giving us the ability to concentrate on developing right-hand technique. The fingers will move with much more freedom and ease if they are trained to execute these arpeggios with minimal and precise effort, something that should be worked on right from the beginning. Take it slow and make sure you play with a heavy attack, which will help the right-hand fingers develop muscle memory.
Example 1, is a basic pattern that uses all four fingers of the right hand to play an open Em chord. Note that the fingers of the right hand are; (p) for thumb, (i) for index, (m) for middle, and ( a) for the ring finger. The number four in the circle in measure two does not mean to play on the fourth string, but means to use the fourth finger of the left hand to fret the G on the first string, third fret. Repeat this pattern several times in a row as it is a great right-hand workout. Once you can play this example at a moderate tempo you may recognize that it resembles the intro to “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica.
A very important aspect to the ascending arpeggio is that the (p-i-m-a) fingers should all be placed on the string simultaneously before executing their stroke. This placing of the fingers is known as “planting” and is an essential part of the technique and absolutely necessary if you want to develop rapid fire and clean arpeggios. Practice “planting” very slowly and deliberately, take notice of how the right-hand fingers stop the sounds of the strings. This is a quality to strive for in the early development of arpeggios, and after much practice the time it takes to plant will be so immediate that you won’t be able to notice the vibration of the strings stopping.
Example 2, is a pattern that can be worked on in a few different ways, incorporating slightly different approaches to right hand fingerings. The first way is to use i-m-i-m the whole time. This gives your right hand practice at changing strings. Second, you may use a-m-a-m the whole time, which will help these two “weaker” finger combinations get a work out. Lastly, try employing (i) on the third string, (m) on the second string, and (a) on the third string. Practice all of these combinations and remember take it slow, be deliberate, and strive for relaxation in both hands.
Example 3, is the same i-m-i-m concept, but it’s now employing some basic left-hand fingerings as well. Remember to use the fourth finger on the D, third fret, second string. Also, this exercise practices the right hand thumb moving from string to string. You should also practice this exercise using the a-m-a-m combination for an additional workout.
Example 4, is very similar to the first example, but this time we’re concentrating on the thumb. Try not to look at your right hand to much and train the thumb to find its way around by itself. Take your time, don’t to hard, and let the movement become natural.
Once you’ve practiced these basic arpeggio shapes feel free to apply them to any left hand chord, or scale and hear how you’re playing opens right up. You may also want to come back to these exercises every now and then to refresh your right hand, get it back into shape, or just for fun.