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Thread: Major chord arpeggios

  1. #1

    Default Major chord arpeggios

    Hi, everybody. I just started going through the theory lessons by Chad Manning on Peghead Nation. Early on he does a lesson on major chord arpeggios. This is probably a stupid question, but why learn the arpeggios when you could just learn the major scales? For example, if you know your G major scale, don’t you just have more notes to use over a G major chord?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Arpeggios occur a lot in bluegrass and old time music and it’s good to have them under your fingers so that you can hit them automatically without having to stop and work them out. In addition, practicing arpeggios gets their sound in your head and helps you recognize them when you are listening to new material. This facilitates faster assimilation of the new material. Bill Monroe used a lot of arpeggio-based licks. Some of his tunes were almost all arpeggios, like “Texas Gallop” and “Woodstock Hornpipe.” Finally as my father the professor used to say, “It is always good to know something.”

  3. #3

    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Sometimes you want to reduce your choices. All the notes in a G major scale do not necessarily work that well over a G major chord.

    Also as you get into more complicated types of tunes with more chord changes,such as circle of fifths changes common in jazz and even in traditional tunes like Peach Picking Time in Georgia, Salty Dog or Dear Old Dixie, the arpeggios following the chord changes are much easier to work with than constantly shifting scales.

    And the arpeggios often sound really cool. Most of Dixie Hoedown, for instance, can be built out of them and sounds really pretty. Django Reinhardt, the great gypsy jazz guitarist lived by them. A lot of his wild flashy jumps and runs are simply minor arpeggios.

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    IMHO Arpeggios are far more fun than a straight major scale, especially in bluegrass or old time music.
    Arpeggios and Pentatonic scales come off more musical/lyrical than a straight major scale.
    Personally, I would learn both, but at first, go for the pentatonics.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Well, there's "learning" and "doing" – you can learn the notes of a scale in a few minutes, but you'll spend the rest of your life trying to play them as cleanly and fast and melodic as possible.
    Music is made up of patterns. Scales are a pattern, arpeggios are another – the more patterns you practise, the more tools in your toolbox.

    Whatever – maybe it's 'cuz I just woke up, and need to finish my first cup of coffee, but I feel like I've had this conversation a couple of times already in the last week or so, with an OP asking "Why do I have to learn this? Can't I just learn that?"

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    I know several patterns for the major scale and pentatonic scale.

    Yet, I've been struggling to remember the arpeggio patterns (and transition between them for chord changes). It seems like it should be simpler since it's only 3 notes, but I struggle. I've been making them a regular part of my practice now.

    I was at a jam tonight, and I still don't know the arpeggios well enough for them to help be build a break (did most of my breaks out of the pentatonic).
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    It’s also about learning your intervals. Certainly tone tone semitones Tom tone tone semi tone is useful.

    But 135. 351. 513 is also useful. Then you bring in minors, diminished, augmented, 9ths, 11th 13th sus 4 sus 2 etc etc

    Then you know you’re getting somewhere

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    I know a classically trained violinist who said one of his instructors was diligent in having him learn every arpeggio ( major, minor, minor 7th I'm sure there's more) in every key, so it applies to more than just bluegrass ( Mozart, Beethoven, reference them frequently). Doing it is easier than explaining it, I recommend Mike Marshall's "Fun with arpeggios" DVD if you can find it.
    Obviously arpeggios can be "over used" but if you listen carefully to solos ( in any genre) I guarantee you will hear references to arpeggios.
    So when you "play the changes" you generally run arpeggios, or variations base on arpeggios, as opposed to scales. That doesn't mean forget about scales, you kind of need both and arpeggios are always found within scales.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Thanks, everybody. This is all very helpful. Because they involve fewer notes, I was thinking of arpeggios as a less versatile tool (maybe "beginner's version"?) compared to an entire scale or mode. It sounds like most think they are a a very useful tool in and of themselves.

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  12. #10
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Quote Originally Posted by mandasthesiology View Post
    ... why learn the arpeggios when you could just learn the major scales? For example, if you know your G major scale, don’t you just have more notes to use over a G major chord?
    Quote Originally Posted by mandasthesiology View Post
    Thanks, everybody. This is all very helpful. Because they involve fewer notes, I was thinking of arpeggios as a less versatile tool (maybe "beginner's version"?) compared to an entire scale or mode. It sounds like most think they are a a very useful tool in and of themselves.
    "More notes is better than fewer notes" - Excuse me if I'm reading you wrong, but that seems to be the gist of your thinking, and I couldn't disagree more. Following that logic, why learn any diatonic scales at all? Just learn the chromatic scale, then you have all twelve notes to choose from, right?

    The reason we have diatonic scales is to whittle down the available notes to a workable pallette of colors. The reason we have pentatonic scales is to whittle down even further to the most basic relative intervals that resonate with humans musically.

    But when you play chords (harmony), you whittle down even further. Basically stack thirds to create three note triads. Knowing which three notes in a given chord is more important IMHO than knowing scales, no matter how many notes of the various scales you use in conjunction with them.

    Diads (double-stops) take it down even further.

    And of course your chords have different functions in a key: Root, dominant, sub-dominant, etc. and so we have chord extensions with four or more notes to the chord rather than just a triad: Learn those arpeggios too.

    You don't just play all seven notes of a major scale simultaneously and call that the harmony of the major scale. You stack thirds to build chords of select notes from the scale. Learn those notes, learn how to play them over changes, experiment with licks using them. You'll be glad you did.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Quote Originally Posted by mandasthesiology View Post
    .........why learn the arpeggios when you could just learn the major scales? For example, if you know your G major scale, don’t you just have more notes to use over a G major chord?
    Many people would point out that chord tones sound much better and are foundational to playing. Connecting chords via voice leading requires knowing where the chord tones are.

    Without knowing any scales all the notes are available to a player, but I don’t think that’s helpful.
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    To put it another way, the space between notes is more important than the notes themselves.

    Playing one note in unison over and over and over and nothing else is not very much fun and not very musical, generally speaking.
    Playing a chromatic scale over and over would be incredibly boring, too, though you'd be using ALL the notes.
    Playing with the entire major scale over a major chord will give you some pretty sour sounding notes if you don't know how to weave them around the chord tones (arpeggio notes).

    You want the sound of intervals between the notes to make a pleasing melody (tune, solo) or harmony (chords).

    When you know which two, or three, or four notes go best with a chord (chord tones, arpeggio notes) then you can use the other notes of a scale to enhance those tones while allowing those chord tones to keep you centered.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    FWIW, a truth in roots-oriented music (and maybe most western music, for all I know!), is that the chord-based melody tones most often occur on the stronger beats (for example 1 & 3, or maybe 1 2 3 4) while the non-chord passing tones tend to occur on weaker or back beats (like 2 & 4, or + + + +). Sure there are exceptions, but if there's a 50/50 chance of putting the chord tone on the strong beat, then there's maybe a 50% chance of it sounding musical.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Quote Originally Posted by EdHanrahan View Post
    FWIW, a truth in roots-oriented music (and maybe most western music, for all I know!), is that the chord-based melody tones most often occur on the stronger beats (for example 1 & 3, or maybe 1 2 3 4) while the non-chord passing tones tend to occur on weaker or back beats (like 2 & 4, or + + + +). Sure there are exceptions, but if there's a 50/50 chance of putting the chord tone on the strong beat, then there's maybe a 50% chance of it sounding musical.
    +1

    Good point. Western Music is historically tonic music.

    Tonic = (1) Key is important, (2) chord tones are important, (3) diatonic harmony is important. Sure, there are plenty of exceptions you can find, and they tend to prove the rule.

    From a practical standpoint, leaving the intricacies of music theory, knowing the I-IV-V chords of the common keys you play, and where the chord tones are, will go a long, long way in your playing. Adding the ii & vi chords and understanding the V7 will take you even further. And from there, the sky is the limit as to where you want to go next.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    The tones in an arpeggio are your strongest start and end points for phrases. They also provide good coordinates for understanding the organization of the fret board.

    The more different ways you use information you are trying to master, the better you will learn it. Leaving out some scale tones is a different way to use a scale.

    That said, some people learn beautiful phrasing and how to get around the fretboard without ever practicing arpeggios.

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    These are great perspectives. The responses demonstrate what a wonderful resource this forum offers. If I analyze what I've been doing so far, I'd describe it as learning scales and modes from books and charts and then choosing phrasing and finding chord tones mostly by ear when I solo. Now I'm excited to learn the arpeggios because 1) it seems like a more bite-sized way to master the addresses of the notes on the fretboard and 2) it can help develop a different (maybe more thought-out?) way to build a solo. That's the whole reason I started looking at the theory course to begin with. So, thanks again!

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    This is actually a very cool discussion

    I always think of scales as melodic

    I think of arpeggios as harmonic - harmonize with chord progressions or with the melody line, or under the melody line.

    An arpeggio is the 1 3 5 and sometime 7 of a scale played in sequence as opposed to a chord where all 3 or 4 tones are played simultaneously.

    It seems so simple of a distinction, yet the presence of either has a profound effect on the music, the absence of using either can have equal effect as well.

    I think one important thing about scales and arpeggios is they are generally played in order either ascending or descending.

    As opposed to a melody or phrase, which usually fits within a scale, but does not necessarily follow the scale tonal order.

    Arpeggios fit within individual chords, but chords progressions like melodies are not bound to any tonal order. Of course we see "popular" chord progressions used and re-used like I-IV-V, throw in a minor VI on the bridge and Major V7 turn around and you have yourself a Bluegrass song.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    In addition to all the good tips given so far on using arpeggios, the OP asked about practicing them when they were already part of the scale. I find value in having them under my fingers without having to think about it.

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Quote Originally Posted by mandasthesiology View Post
    These are great perspectives. The responses demonstrate what a wonderful resource this forum offers. If I analyze what I've been doing so far, I'd describe it as learning scales and modes from books and charts and then choosing phrasing and finding chord tones mostly by ear when I solo. Now I'm excited to learn the arpeggios because 1) it seems like a more bite-sized way to master the addresses of the notes on the fretboard and 2) it can help develop a different (maybe more thought-out?) way to build a solo. That's the whole reason I started looking at the theory course to begin with. So, thanks again!
    This is really the same approach that Sharon Gilchrist uses in her new “fretboard” method PHN course. You combine an understanding of where the root notes are found in a 1,4 &5 progression and overlay the major arpeggio pattern for each chord. This puts the melody pretty much under your fingers. Then she shows you two easily accessed double stops that are right there to add into your solo. And the beauty is that it’s all closed and moveable.

    It’s got me out of first position and playing in any key. Now I just have to work on getting up to speed and improving my timing (I have broken out the metronome). I also practice w/ backing tracks, or along with the originals (using the “gear” on YT, when available to slow it down).

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    I'm sorry, what's "PHN"?
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    PHN = PegHead Nation

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Quote Originally Posted by mandasthesiology View Post
    ...why learn the arpeggios when you could just learn the major scales?
    There's already been lots of good discussion here, but I'll add my two cents. When some people talk about "learning the scale" they mean learning to play the notes going up and down in alphabetical order, that is (theory talk here) in seconds. But the melodic phrases you're going to play, whether you're learning a song or improvising a solo break, will use the scale notes in lots of non-alphabetical sequences.

    So most music students eventually learn the scales in patterns that will be useful for playing real melodies. One of the most important patterns is "broken thirds":

    CE-DF-EG-FA-GB etc.

    Then come patterns like

    CDEC-DEFD-EFGE and so on.

    If you play a pattern with two consecutive thirds, you're playing triads:

    CEG-DFA-EGB-FAC etc.

    You can think of these as "broken chords" (C-Dm-Em-F) or arpeggios if you want, but what you're really doing is getting to know the scale in a fuller way than just going up and down in seconds.

    Jazz players practise broken seventh chords through the scale:

    CEGB-DFAC-EGBD etc. (going up each time)
    CEGB-CAFD-EGBD-ECAF etc. (going up then down)

    That last line can be thought of as a chord progression (Cmaj7-Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7). But again, it's really just a practice pattern for the C major scale.

    Point I guess is that you keep getting deeper and deeper into the scale and its musical possibilities, and this will help with reading, ear-playing, and improvising.

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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    I kind of had similar thoughts when I started to figure out pentatonic scales. Like, jeeze why bother with this, I know all the notes in that key, why now go back and just work on a subset of them.


    I don't think you will find anyone who regrets learning arpeggios. Nobody says, "wow what a colossal waste of time."

    Not that that is all that convincing. There is probably no part of music theory that, once learned, feels like there was no point to learning it.

    It is only looking up hill at something yet to be learned that we question if this is going to be useful or not.

    Probably have to learn everything.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Great thread going on here.

    I've played scales since I was a kid playing the organ. Didn't like them then but it paid off in the long run. So, when I picked up the mandolin 3 years ago, one of the first things I started doing was working on scales: first, from the open position, then working up the neck. FFCP helped a lot with patterning.

    Age has its benefits and one of them is learning to master the basics first. Never really worked on arpeggios, though, until recently. Threads and comments by people I've come to respect highly on this site set the wheels in motion. Then, watching a YouTube video by Magnus Zetterlund gave me some groundwork to making it fun and more interesting - up the neck. What a difference it has made in my playing by ear!

    So, are scales good to learn and play? Most definitely! But, they are not the end-all. Arpeggios expands the skills learned in scales and develops necessary muscle memory up, down and across the fretboard.
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    Default Re: Major chord arpeggios

    Quote Originally Posted by FredK View Post
    But, they are not the end-all.
    Yes absolutely. But the dirty little secret is there is no end-all. Nothing in music theory is entirely sufficient. Everything I don't know will at some point limit me for not knowing it.

    Which is the way it should be. Heaven forbid we achieve a level at which there is no point in learning more, no point in being curious, no point in trying to get even better.
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