There are three main ways to make guitar arpeggios. Fingerstyle, sweep-picking, and alternate picking. They’re all presented in this lesson.

1. Guitar Arpeggio? Que?

So, what is an arpeggio?

An arpeggio is a chord. A “broken” chord. Except that you do the notes one by one, and don’t let them ring. It can be played upward or downward, it does not matter.

This technique appears mainly on stringed instruments and keyboards. The lead guitar in a band will often be the one doing them, as for scales.

Chord Arpeggio

A chord representation (left) and an arpeggio (right)

2. Fingerstyle

You will see a lot of classical players doing arpeggios and other broken chords, as strumming is rarer in the genre. But it can also be played on any types of guitars, such as steel-stringed acoustic or electric ones. The sound will come out softer than with a guitar pick, but with some practice, you’ll get a very good result.

So basically, how do you do? There are two ways:

  • With your left hand – if you’re right-handed – you start by shaping a chord. And instead of strumming the guitar, you play the strings one by one, without letting them ring. You can mute them subsequently with the palm or your left hand. Open chords are harder to do than other chords as you will have to mute the string played before moving to another one.
  • Moving your fingers horizontally and vertically. You don’t shape the chord. Instead, you just play the notes one by one, moving from one string to another. This is probably the easiest way, as muting is done automatically note after note.

You can also play what is called an “arpeggiated” chord, where you will let all the strings ring until you completed the chord. This is a lot easier than doing an arpeggio.

3. Sweep-picking

This technique is well-known for electric guitar players, and especially for metal headbangers, as it allows you to play an arpeggio at a really HIGH speed. But you can also use it on acoustic guitars, though it might be a bit harder. But harder makes you stronger, right?

The term itself is very self-explanatory. You sweep with a pick. Down strokes from top to bottom and up strokes from bottom to top. Without letting a note overlapping another, as for any other arpeggio techniques. Combine this with a very good use of a tremolo, and it will sound awesomely great.

4. Alternate picking

This is probably the less used way of making arpeggios with a guitar. Why? Because it goes faster with sweep-picking. Alternate picking is great for scales, but for arpeggios… not really. Anyway, if you want to use this technique, it’s really up to you.

How do you do it? As sweep picking, use a pick and make a broken chord. But instead of sweeping your pick, you alternate up and down strokes each time you do another note.

Let’s make an example : C-E-G. Down stroke at C. Up stroke at E. Down stroke at G. Get it? It’s the same as for scales.

5. Going further with guitar arpeggios.

The faster way to become better with arpeggios is to know your chords. You will find all types of them here.

Seeking other techniques? Tapping can be your savior. You can easily make arpeggios with this particular technique, but it requires skillful hands. If you’re determined to develop your talent then, go ahead.