Beginning Arpeggios: 3-String Exercises

This lesson will introduce you to 3-string arpeggios using the bottom 3 strings ("e", "b", "g"). This is an exercise-based lesson demonstrating 3 different interconnecting patterns. Guitar/Chord theory is NOT discussed here! This lesson is appropriate for all levels of playing!

Ultimate Guitar
In this lesson I am going to cover beginning arpeggios. I am going to use my own experience as a frame of reference which is relatively limited but will still provide a healthy start into this technique. It is not my intention to explain all the different keys and which notes to play where... this is a strictly exercise based lesson. Let's begin! You can use distortion or a clean tone when doing this; whatever you prefer. Personally, I started out with distortion and never looked back! I also set my switch to the bridge pickup... and sometimes I turn the tone knob all the way down on my guitar to give it a different sound (and help remove the sound of the "g" string...). I am going to tab out one of the few arpeggios that I know that covers all six strings. It will be the basis of most of this exercise:
e|----------------------15-19-|  index, pinky
b|-------------------17-------|  ring
g|----------------16----------|  middle
d|-------------17-------------|  ring
a|-------13-19----------------|  index, pinky
e|-12-15----------------------|  index, pinky
This is to be played with all downstrokes. I use a hammer-on for the first 2 strings when ascending. Once you reach the bottom (high "e" string) you will downstroke the first note(15) and upstroke the second(19). Here's an example of the entire arpeggio played from top to bottom and back:
e|----------------------15-19p15----------------------|     down-up
b|-------------------17----------17-------------------|    down   up
g|----------------16----------------16----------------|   down     up
d|-------------17----------------------17-------------|  down       up
a|-------13h19----------------------------19p13-------| down         up
e|-12h15----------------------------------------15-12-|down           up-down
Good! Now you know where this lesson is derived from! This arpeggio is great sounding but can be very difficult and can be discouraging to learn at first because it requires some tricky work from your fingers (especially your ring finger)! So, in order to really get into beginning arpeggios we're going to limit ourselves to 3-string arpeggios and only on the bottom 3 strings ("e", "b", "g")... Okay, starting slowly we're going to play this:
e|-15p12----------12-15p12----------12-|up    down-up    down  pinky, index
b|-------13----13----------13----13----| up down    up down    middle  
g|----------12----------------12-------|  down       down      index   
It's important to start slowly and pay attention to aiming your index finger while keeping a steady "up, up, down, down, down" rhythm. Also, palm-mute a bit while doing this; otherwise you'll notice the prevailant sound of the "g" string ringing throughout the entire arpeggio. This can get really annoying! Okay, so we've mastered the phrase above! Yay! Let's move on to something more complicated (use the same picking pattern as above):
e|-19p15----------15-19p15----------15-|  pinky,index           
b|-------17----17----------17----17----|  ring
g|----------16----------------16-------|  middle
In this exercise you want to focus on being able to lift your fingers after each note in order to stop it from ringing out (or palm-mute heavily... but this makes the arpeggio sound crappy...). being able to lift your fingers after each note also helps with your dexterity and speed. It also helps with the connection between your brain and each individual finger. This will lead to faster playing and more accurate phrasing! This next arpeggio strays a bit from the reference arpeggio but it will be relevent to the rest of the lesson; so, here it is:
e|-14p10----------10-14p10----------10-|   pinky, index
b|-------10----10----------10----10----|   index
g|----------11----------------11-------|   middle
In this exercise it's important focus on lifting your middle finger after striking the "g" string and then "rolling" your index finger from the "b" to the "e" string and back. Don't worry if you can't "roll" at first. It will come with practice. If needed, just bar the "e" and "b" strings with your index finger and focus on what your middle and pinky fingers are doing. Personally, I don't totally "roll" my index... I pretty much bar the 2 strings and only slightly lift my index and reapply it without actually moving it off the "b" string... It's very similar to "rolling" but it's easier and faster for me and sounds just as good... Well, we're moving along nicely now! Time for some words of wisdom: Don't Stop Just Because You Make A Mistake! Try to overlook your mistakes and make a solid effort to just complete each phrase in its entirety! I said this in another lesson, "if you were running a footrace and you fell on your face, you wouldn't get up and go all the way back to the beginning and start over, would you? No. You would get up and keep running to the end!" I know that learning techniques isn't a footrace; but I feel the analogy strongly applies anyways... With a bit of practice you'll be hitting all the notes correctly; just make sure you can do it from start to finish! It's imprtant to know how the phrase "feels" under your fingers... Okay! Now let's put some of this together! I'm going to add a phrase we haven't practiced (the fingering is the same as the first 3 string phrase we practiced above... ). Start slowly and focus on finishing!:

You can repeat this as many times as you like. It's very interesting sounding and a lot of fun once you get it down. I've found that it helps to sometimes just turn your amp off and play these exercises while just watching t.v. Or something in order to facilitate "muscle memory" and build speed without being able to be discouraged by the way it sounds when you're first starting to learn them... Okay, let's do another complete exercise with some slight variations! Once again, there will be an added phrase that hasn't been tabbed out above; however, like the last exercise, the fingering for the new phrase is the same as the very first 3 string exercise we practiced:

As before, you can repeat this as often as you like. Alright! Now we've learned some basic 3-string arpeggios! I won't drag this lesson out with any more tabs... I'm sure you're all smart enough to come up with different ways of playing these arpeggios on your own. The most important thing to take from this lesson is the finger placement for each exercise! Once you can play each pattern accurately you can move them anywhere you please along the bottom 3 strings ("e", "b", "g") to come up with your own phrases and licks! You can also experiment with changing the picking rhythm while you play in order to create something more interesting! *note*- I forgot to mention this above: you really have to adapt the "up, up, down, down, down" method if you want to be successful at performing these exercises! At first you may try to play in a "up, up, up, down, down" fashion, but unless you're just fantastic with your pick-hand- it's just not going to work... I'm VERY proficient at picking and I did this at first and failed! I really tried, too! I REALLY wanted to be able to pick up 3x and down only twice but it just never worked out quite right! It worked about 60% of the time... But doing it the "right" way works 100% of the time for me and it will likeley be the same for anyone else... Just a thought! Also, just for fun... go and look up the little arpeggio at the beginning of "thunderhorse" by 'dethklok'. The fingering is a little different than these exercises but it's just as easy and a lot of fun! It will help you with moving from pattern to pattern along the neck quickly. It's also a 3-string based solo/lick using the "e", "b", and "g" strings. Well, that's it for this lesson! Please feel free to comment and email me for any specific questions.

8 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nice... pretty good lesson man! I've been trying to learn some new arpeggios and these turned out pretty sweet. 5 stars. Do you know of any other songs than the one by dethklok with fairly easy arpeggios?
    k well first off, to sweep your pickups should be on the neck pickup for more bass and a smoother sound, and don't mean to bash, but if your g string is ringing than your sweeping wrong
    @milliondollars i just re-read this lesson and i realize that i meant to say neck pickup instead of bridge pickup... unfortunately you can't edit a lesson after submitting, so... the reason my "g" string rings a little is because i have crappy stock pickups on my guitar. the only way to make it stop is to palm-mute so much that it almost makes no sound at all! i mentioned this in the lesson because more people have crappy pickups than good pickups...
    @lost&foundbox: right now i'm really focused into "dethklok" arpeggios (mostly because i have the tab book). if you're interested in more licks from them try looking at the little solos from the dethklok theme song and from the duncan hills coffee jingle.
    @milliondallars again: i'm also playing straight into my amp with an extreme amount of distortion which adds to the "g" string ringing out (it's really only slightly but it still annoys the crap out of me!). before anyone says anything to me about doing arpeggios on clean settings or with less distortion let me just say that i already know these things. i don't have a footswitch and i don't want to get up and change my amp settings every time i want to switch from rhythm to lead. i've just learned to deal with it until i get a new pedal! i figure that most people who read this will also not have a great amp or a pedal/footswitch... for those of you with good pickups/amps/footswitches/pedals/whatever you can probably disregard what i said about the "g" string ringing out as you probably don't have that problem (or can overcome it with certain settings). for the rest of us with CRAPPY pickups/amps/guitars/and lack of pedals... palm-mute and focus!
    Mr. Song
    The g string shouldn't ring out at all, no matter which pickups you use, lol. You can get it right on an acoustic, even. Just gotta let each finger rest slightly on the string after playing the note. But good lesson anyway.