MMC Lesson Four: Major Chord Arpeggios

  1. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    This lesson is part of a Study Group for Mandolin Master Class by Brad Laird.
    To start at the beginning, go to this thread:
    To purchase a copy of the book we're using, go here:
    List of all lessons in this series can be found here:

    Lesson Four: Major Chords & Arpeggios

    In this lesson we will review the music theory sections studied so far, and dissect the Major Chord. We will learn about Arpeggios: What they are, how to find them on the mandolin, and how to begin using them. We’ll also learn a little bit about the Circle of Fifths, and practice some arpeggios following the circle. There will be some bonus material in this lesson for the nerds among us who need to know more about music theory. Have fun with this one!


    1. REVIEW. Now is the time to review the first three lessons’ music theory assignments, and make sure that you have a grasp on the Major Scale and the Major Chord. This is important for understanding Arpeggios.

    2. Study pages 12-13 and to the middle of page 14, about Extending Scales and about Arpeggios.

    a. Play all the examples on your mandolin

    b. Study what Brad has written about improvising at the bottom of page 13. You should refer to this often in the coming week. Make a commitment to “become very familiar with playing scales and arpeggios.”

    3. Study page 41, Arpeggio Exercises in All Keys

    4. Watch the videos that go with this lesson.

    5. Learn to play arpeggios in all keys using a circle of fifths soundtrack. Use the download files to aid you in getting started.


    To get feedback, just post a comment or video here.

    Lesson Videos:

    Intro & Review

    Arpeggio Patterns


    Lesson Four PDF
    Arpeggio Patterns PDF
    Arpeggio Circle of Fifths TEF
    Arpeggio Circle of Fifths TAB PDF
    Arpeggio Circle of Fifths STD PDF


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  2. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    reserved post
  3. HonketyHank
    Something interesting occurred to me today while I was playing around with the arpeggios in the circle of fifths tabs. I am sure everyone noticed pretty quickly that there are two rather obvious patterns that repeat themselves over and over again in different keys.

    Specifically, (1) the two string arpeggio, for example A major: index finger on 2nd fret of G string, ring finger on 6th fret of G string, index finger on 2nd fret of D string, pinkie on 7th fret of D string.

    And (2) the three string arpeggio, for example C major: ring finger on 5th fret of G string, index on 2nd fret of D string, ring on 5th fret of D string, middle on 3rd fret of A string.

    I practiced these and I guess I could get pretty good eventually at doing them anywhere on the fretboard (within reason).

    So, I thought, now let's do a two octave arpeggio. Let's say in Bb major. It would look something like this:

    Play it. The interesting thing (to me anyway) is that the three string arpeggio in the 2nd octave does not work using the fingering noted above unless you shift your left hand. Instead of using ring, index, ring, middle fingers, you have to use pinkie, middle, pinkie, ring fingers if you want to keep playing in one position.

    So in fact, we have two ways of playing the same (three string) arpeggio using the same strings and same frets but different fingers.

    I am willing to bet that there will come a time when I either (a) wish I could do both fluently or (b) am glad I can. Maybe even sooner rather than later.

    I'm going to practice both, but the one using the pinkie is a lot harder.
  4. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Very cool observation, Hank! I'm following suit with you. Great exercise to extend this with the altered fingering.
  5. HonketyHank
    Maybe the lesson here is to avoid playing in a position where your pinkie is on the root note. Or learn how to shift positions seamlessly in the middle of a run.
  6. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I take it the two-octave practice is still giving you trouble with the pinky there? I hadn't discovered that neat two-octave deal until you mentioned it, I'm still falling behind a bit on my practice time, but I'm glad you mentioned it because I think it's helpful exercise. When we're actually playing, we're free to use as much or as little of what we learn in these exercises, but IMO it's a good thing to know where the arpeggios are and to practice different ways of accessing them.

    What I've been working on is playing them along with Brad's "circle of fifths" track. I slow down the track and try to play the right arpeggios over the chords by ear and by memory. I had to refer to the circle, and to the TAB a bit at first. The sound is a bit boring - no improv yet, just "boring" arpeggios. But at this point, though the sound is a bit boring, the exercise is not boring because it's a challenge to play the right key and keep time.
  7. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Been a few weeks since this lesson was added, so time for an update. As a fellow student, this lesson has taken a long time to work with personally. The object is to learn these major arpeggios and be able to play along in time around the circle of fifths. It has forced me to get better acquainted with finding notes on the neck, and remembering which key is coming next around the circle of fifths. This has been one of the most beneficial lessons I've worked on musically for many years, I believe. Still, due to lack of daily practice and a busy non-musical schedule lately, it has taken me three weeks to get a handle on it.

    I feel like more time needs to be spent on this, especially for the benefit of newbies who might have trouble working with metronomes, playing in time with backing tracks, following the circle of fifths . . .

    So I'm thinking the next lesson should be a lesson on the circle of fifths and I'm thinking of adding videos about that, and about timing as related to use of metronome and backing tracks, continuing all the while with arpeggio studies.

    In other words, dropping the old anchor here and looking back to the use of metronome and backing tracks, looking forward to circle of fifths study of music theory. Keeping it simple but going deeper so as not to lose any newbies.

    I think this is important before we get into minor scales and chords. I've been thinking about these lessons for the past couple of weeks, and welcome any feedback on any of this.
  8. HonketyHank
    I have been slacking off. I have always felt (rightly or wrongly) that memorization was boring at best and too often used as a substitute for understanding at worst. This mindset does not serve me well in the world of music. I know the utility of knowing that circle of fifths backwards and forwards but I just bog done on it. Same deal with memorizing what sharps and flats go with what key. Same deal even with just being able to play a tune all the way through without reading it.

    So anyway I kinda picked my way though all the arpeggios and the circle of fifths and said yeah,yeah, I can do this if practice it, then said maybe tomorrow I,ll work on it.

    And now I am visiting family in the Midwest. Can't be practicing all that stuff now. Right? Well ok, maybe tonight.
  9. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Thanks for that, Henry, it's good to know that we're in the same place on many issues. I took a similar approach: "I'm sure I could do this, maybe tomorrow." Tomorrow was a long time in coming. But as I wrote above, I found that when I finally actually started doing it, it only took a few tough sessions to start making major headway. I should have done it with the guitar 50 years ago.

    Personally, it's as if every cell in my body rebels against any kind of rote memorization. I have vivid memories of being palm-whipped with a ruler in elementary school for "counting on my fingers", albeit in my head, rather than memorizing multiplication tables! Yep, Mrs. O'Neil would have us form a line, she sat before us, and in turn we'd have to answer multiplication problems from memory. The closer I got to the front of the line, the more I wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else. When I was asked a problem, I'd do mathematical gymnastics in my head in order to answer it. If it took too long, she'd pronounce, "You're counting on your fingers!" and make me turn up the palm. I was in agony often in those days, as was my dad who couldn't get any traction whatsoever with the flash cards at home, it seems everyone was agonizing except for Mrs. O'Neil and I came to despise her and the multiplication tables.

    Anyway, I think this current stuff is finally coming together for me, due to my love of music and my foolish decision to lead this study group

    What I'm finding is that a little honest effort and determination is going a long way.

    Enjoy your visit, all the best to you and the family.
  10. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Starting on this one. I can see I'll be here a while.
  11. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    No fears, Sherry! This is a really big lesson, with the circle of fifths along with learning where all these arpeggios are, but if you practice at it a bit every day, you may be surprised how quickly you'll manage it. Couple weeks, month? Anyway, you're bound to learn something and accomplish something you're proud of and can use.
  12. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Mark, always the encourager. It is appreciated!
  13. Papa P
    Papa P
    Mark, Henry and all,

    I think I have found my tribe! I'm right in step with your comments on this lesson.

    Just watched a great video the other day about practicing that goes along with what y'all and Brad have been saying. Basically, it said that when we practice we are using our short term memory. If we practice too long on any one subject and don't use proper techniques and precision at some point our short term memory fills up and erases or records over the first part. As we get tired and don't use proper techniques and precision, we may be teaching our brain and muscle memory the bad stuff. Bottom line was to limit an exercise to 10 minutes or so, go to something else to practice for 10 minutes and then come back to the original exercise. Theory behind this is that with the breaks and coming back the brain says, "we keep coming back to this, so we need to store this in long term memory".

    So it makes sense to try different fingerings like Mark and Henry are talking about and daily not one long session weekly like Brad talks about!!!

    Thanks y'all!!!!!
  14. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Thanks for the comments, Phil
  15. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Had some time to work on the exercises today. Mark, I love that second video you posted. (I may have loved the first one also, but didn't feel the need to watch it a second time; i.e., today.

    Observation: The first arpeggio pattern is played in 3rd position. For those who play in 3rd position, this is no great revelation; however, if I weren't now learning to play in 3rd position, I would have been puzzled (or something).

    Question: Mark, as we play the Circle of Fifths exercises, do you recommend playing open strings or 4th finger? Or maybe both? Or does it matter?
  16. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    It depends which arpeggio you're on, Sherry. There is more than one way to do many of them, meaning that you can use open strings on many of them, but I think that in this lesson and in the Circle of Fifths exercise I included in Lesson Five, they are all played in closed positions, no open strings. The point of all that is to learn the two movable patterns and play them all over the neck around the circle of fifths. This is not the only way to study, play or practice arpeggios of course, but it is meant to help a beginner to have a challenging exercise of learning both patterns as well as learning the circle of fifths, which is the topic of lesson five.

    This can seem to be a daunting task for a beginner, so in my opinion it is important to go slow, work at it as often as you can, and stick with it as long as it takes to be able to do it, whether that means weeks or months. Then, come back to it often, and learn other more difficult exercises down the road, like for instance Tim O'Brien's arpeggio exercises.

    Here is the third video from lesson 5 which actually demonstrates how these patterns are played around the circle of fifths:

    There is a PDF with notation + TAB for the fingering also in lesson five.
  17. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    FWIW I asked my teacher about open vs. 4th finger. She suggests playing open going up and 4th finger coming down. That way you can do both without really thinking about it. She has always had me play scales the same way.
  18. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    That's good advice, Sherry, variations aid in gaining proficiency
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