Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 9 (Soloing With Arpeggios)

Most guitarist's rely entirely on scale shapes when soloing, but do not realize the great value of using arpeggios, too. This lesson will show how to combine the two, allowing you to sound better than ever!

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 9 (Soloing With Arpeggios)
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This is Lesson 9 of "Improvising With Knowledge" on Ultimate Guitar. These lessons are designed to get you accustomed to improvising with multiple pentatonic scale and arpeggio shapes, and following the chords through a chord progression. All exercises, examples, and solos from these lessons are taken from my book, "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising With Knowledge."

Here's what we've covered in the previous lessons:

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 1 focused on the Minor Pentatonic Scale Shape E1, notes across the E-string, moving the Min Pent E1 shape across the neck, and soloing over a minor chord.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 2 focused on the Major Pentatonic Scale Shape E4, understanding flats and sharps, moving the Maj Pent E4 shape around the circle of fifths, and soloing over a major chord.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 3 focused on alternate picking eighth notes to increase your speed, and incorporating rhythmic and melodic motifs into your improvised solos.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 4 focused on learning how to solo over a major chord progression or a minor chord progression by following the chords and using different scales for each chord, rather than just using a single scale throughout.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 5 focused on soloing over a chord progression containing both major and minor chords by following the chords and changing the pentatonic scale as the chord changes. It involves more thought, but produces excellent results.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 6 focused on adding a new pentatonic scale shape to your repertoire, allowing you to have 2 major pentatonic scale shapes and 2 minor pentatonic scale shapes to use when soloing.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 7 focused on how to improvise using 2 major and minor pentatonic shapes while following the chords through the chord progression.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 8 focused on playing arpeggios embedded within the 2 major and minor pentatonic scales that have been previously discussed.

Improvising With Knowledge: Lesson 9 (Improvising With Arpeggios)

Last lesson, we worked out how to visualize and play the major and minor arpeggios that are embedded within the pentatonic scales. Each of the major pentatonic scale shapes has a major arpeggio and each of the minor pentatonic scale shapes has a minor arpeggio. To review, here are the scales and arpeggios that have been covered thus far:


Maj Pent E4
(low root is played on the E string with the 4th finger)
e |-O-|---|---|-R-|
B |-O-|---|---|-O-|
G |-R-|---|-O-|---|
D |-O-|---|-O-|---|
A |-O-|---|-O-|---|
E |-O-|---|---|-R-|
Maj Arpeggio E4
(low root is played on the E string with the 4th finger)
e |---|---|---|-R-|
B |-3-|---|---|-5-|
G |-R-|---|---|---|
D |-5-|---|---|---|
A |---|---|-3-|---|
E |---|---|---|-R-|
Maj Pent A4
(low root is played on the A string with the 4th finger)
e |-O-|---|---|-O-|
B |---|-R-|---|-O-|
G |-O-|---|-O-|---|
D |-O-|---|-O-|---|
A |-O-|---|---|-R-|
E |-O-|---|---|-O-|
Maj Arpeggio A4
(low root is played on the A string with the 4th finger)
e |-3-|---|---|-5-|
B |---|-R-|---|---|
G |-5-|---|---|---|
D |---|---|-3-|---|
A |---|---|---|-R-|
E |-3-|---|---|-5-|
Min Pent E1
(low root is played on the E string with the 1st finger)
e |-R-|---|---|-O-|
B |-O-|---|---|-O-|
G |-O-|---|-O-|---|
D |-O-|---|-R-|---|
A |-O-|---|-O-|---|
E |-R-|---|---|-O-|
Min Arpeggio E1
(low root is played on the E string with the 1st finger)
e |-R-|---|---|-b3|
B |-5-|---|---|---|
G |-b3|---|---|---|
D |---|---|-R-|---|
A |---|---|-5-|---|
E |-R-|---|---|-b3|
Min Pent A1
(low root is played on the A string with the 1st finger)
e |-O-|---|---|-O-|
B |---|-O-|---|-O-|
G |-O-|---|-R-|---|
D |-O-|---|-O-|---|
A |-R-|---|---|-O-|
E |-O-|---|---|-O-|
Min Arpeggio A1
(low root is played on the A string with the 1st finger)
e |-5-|---|---|---|
B |---|-b3|---|---|
G |---|---|-R-|---|
D |---|---|-5-|---|
A |-R-|---|---|-b3|
E |-5-|---|---|---|
If any of these scale or arpeggios shapes seem unfamiliar, it is best to check out my previous lessons that include exercises and examples that will make them more comfortable and easily understood. There are also some arpeggio review examples in the video below.

Although guitarists regularly rely on pentatonic scales for soloing, arpeggios may also be used when improvising. They will link perfectly with the chord, since the notes of the chord and notes of the arpeggio are exactly the same. So, how do you train yourself to incorporate these shapes and utilize them throughout a solo? Here's the Three Step Method from my book, "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising With Knowledge." (If you have been following these lessons from the start, you will notice that Step 1 used to be "Play the Roots" but is now "Play the Arpeggios" to accommodate this new level of preparation).

Step 1: Play the Arpeggios
Step 2: Play the Scales
Step 3: Improvise

This method will now be applied to the following chord progression:

| D | | Bm | | G | | A | |

You can test yourself to see whether you really need these three steps to solo over this progression. Record the chords at 104bpm and see if you can accurately improvise over the chord progression, incorporating the appropriate pentatonic scale and arpeggio for each chord. Remember, following the chords is a key aspect of great soloing. Can you do it? If not, try the Three Step Method below.

Step 1: Play the Arpeggios

  • Using quarter notes, play the arpeggios of the chords two times through the chord progression. First use the lower hand position of each arpeggio shape, then the higher hand position of each arpeggio shape.
  • Alternate starting each arpeggio from low roots or high roots, and leave one beat of rest between each arpeggio.
The video below shows me playing Step 1 with scrolling tab so you can play along. Here is Step 1 in text, if you prefer:
E |----------------|--2--5--2-------|----------------|----------------|
B |-----------3----|----------------|----------------|----------------|
G |--------2-------|----------------|--4-------------|----------------|
D |-----4----------|----------------|-----4----------|----------------|
A |--5-------------|----------------|--------5--2----|-----2--5-------|
E |----------------|----------------|----------------|--2-------------|
----------------|--------3-------|--5-------------|----------------|
----------------|--0--3----------|-----5--2-------|----------------|
-----------0----|----------------|-----------2----|----------------|
--------0-------|----------------|----------------|--2-------------|
-----2----------|----------------|----------------|-----4----------|
--3-------------|----------------|----------------|--------5-------|
----------------|--------10------|--7-------------|----------------|
----------------|--7--10---------|-----7----------|----------------|
-----------7----|----------------|--------7-------|----------------|
--------7-------|----------------|-----------9----|----------------|
-----9----------|----------------|----------------|--9-------------|
--10------------|----------------|----------------|-----10-7-------|
----------------|--7--10-7-------|----------------|----------------||
-----------8----|----------------|--10------------|----------------||
--------7-------|----------------|-----9----------|----------------||
-----9----------|----------------|--------11------|----------------||
--10------------|----------------|-----------12---|----------------||
----------------|----------------|----------------|--12-9--12------||

Step 2: Play the Scales

  • Using eighth notes, play the pentatonic scales two times through the chord progression. First use the lower hand position of each scale shape, then the higher hand position of each scale shape.
  • Each scale should begin on a root and end on a chord tone (note of the arpeggio). To achieve this, the scale with either 1) continue in sequence until the very last note, or 2) the next-to-last note will be repeated as the last note.
  • Alternate starting each scale from low roots or high roots, and leave one beat of rest between each scale.
The video below shows me playing Step 2 with scrolling tab so you can play along. Here is Step 2 in text, if you prefer:
E |-----------------------2----|--5--2----------------------|
B |-----------------3--5-------|--------5--3--3-------------|
G |-----------2--4-------------|----------------------------|
D |-----2--4-------------------|----------------------------|
A |--5-------------------------|----------------------------|
E |----------------------------|----------------------------|
----------------------------|----------------------------|
----------------------------|----------------------------|
--4--2----------------------|----------------------------|
--------4--2----------------|-----------2--4-------------|
--------------5--2----------|-----2--5-------------------|
--------------------5--2----|--5-------------------------|
----------------------------|-----0--3--0----------------|
-----------------------0----|--3-----------3-------------|
-----------------0--2-------|----------------------------|
-----------0--2-------------|----------------------------|
-----0--2-------------------|----------------------------|
--3-------------------------|----------------------------|
--5--2----------------------|----------------------------|
--------5--2----------------|----------------------------|
--------------4--2----------|----------------------------|
--------------------4--2----|----------------------------|
----------------------------|--4--2----------------------|
----------------------------|--------5--2--5-------------|
----------------------------|-----7--10-7----------------|
-----------------------7----|--10----------10------------|
-----------------7--9-------|----------------------------|
-----------7--9-------------|----------------------------|
-----7--9-------------------|----------------------------|
--10------------------------|----------------------------|
--7-------------------------|----------------------------|
-----10-7-------------------|----------------------------|
-----------9--7-------------|----------------------------|
-----------------9--7-------|----------------------------|
-----------------------9----|--7-------------------------|
----------------------------|-----10-7--10-10------------|
-----------------------7----|--10-7----------------------|
-----------------8--10------|--------10-8--8-------------|
-----------7--9-------------|----------------------------|
-----7--9-------------------|----------------------------|
--10------------------------|----------------------------|
----------------------------|----------------------------|
----------------------------|----------------------------||
--10------------------------|----------------------------||
-----11-9-------------------|----------------------------||
-----------11-9-------------|----------------------------||
-----------------12-9-------|--------9--12-12------------||
-----------------------12---|--9--12---------------------||

Step 3: Improvise Over the Chord Progression

  • Think ahead to keep track of when the chords are about to switch.
  • Use the arpeggios within your improvisation to link your solo with the chords.
  • Start your solo with lower shapes (and notes) and end your solo with higher shapes (and notes) to help the solo build and become more intense.
I have included a solo at the end of the video to show how these arpeggios can be incorporated throughout a solo. You can now try improvising your own solo over these chord changes, too. If you tried soloing before playing Step 1 and Step 2, is your soloing more solid now? If so, then you may want to check out all that "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising With Knowledge" has to offer!

The next Improvising With Knowledge Lesson will cover how to incorporate some of the most unique guitar sounds into your playing – slides and bends. Be sure to continually practice these scales and arpeggios thoroughly so that you have total control when applying them to soloing, and when adding slides and bends. Play with knowledge!

Use the following video to practice all of the different exercises listed above, with scrolling tab so you can play along.

About the Author:
By Greg Studley, author of "A Guitarist's Guide to Improvising With Knowledge," "Speed, Accuracy & Technique for Guitar," and "Essentials of Rhythm Guitar." You can also download PDF versions of the exercises and play with free jam tracks at www.ImprovisingWithKnowledge.com.

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