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Why Arpeggiate Chords on Fingerstyle Guitar


We all know how to strum chords, but is there value in arpeggiating them, especially in solo fingerstyle guitar playing? In this lesson we'll look at some of the benefits of arpeggiating chords and how you can achieve greater clarity by thinning out your musical texture.

Welcome to 'Fingerstyle For The World', my online lesson series where I strive to help guitarists around the world become better musicians. Let's delve right into our musical concept for today: Arpeggiating for Texture.


Before You Begin:

Download my free resources to guide you along!


Musical Concept: Arpeggiating for Texture

To arpeggiate a chord means that you play each note of the chord in succession, one at a time. This is in contrast to strumming or plucking multiple strings simultaneously, where the notes of the chord are sounded together.

What's the difference musically? When arpeggiating, you are spreading out the contents of the chord over a period of time instead of stacking them up all together. In essence, your musical texture becomes thinner, and you can hear each individual note more clearly.

What's the point of it? Well first of all its not that arpeggiating is the better or worse approach to playing a chord. It's simply a different approach that will reap specific outcomes in your music. Some of which are:

- As mentioned before, greater clarity of individual notes

- A sense of movement in your music as different notes are played one after another in succession, outlining the harmony

- Greater control over the articulation of each individual note played.

Let's examine these traits in a musical example.

Musical Example: 'How Firm A Foundation'

In this arrangement of the traditional hymn 'How Firm A Foundation', I almost entirely arpeggiate rather than strum the chord changes. Listen for how the texture has thinned out, allowing the melody to more clearly cut through the arrangement.

Also listen for the constant drive and movement as note follows note, as though they were footsteps as one walks briskly!

Now let’s try out an exercise to apply arpeggiating to your own playing.

Musical Exercise: Arpeggiating Chord Changes

Here we've got a simple exercise to arpeggiate chord changes, and I've chosen chord shapes in the higher register to maximise the clarity you can achieve with this technique.

As you play these arpeggios, strive to make each note ring clearly without buzzing or muting.

While it is often beautiful to allow the notes to ring over each other, try also to avoid overlapping notes excessively. Subtly mute the previous note when playing the next by gently lifting off your fretting finger. Be comfortable with both approaches to playing arpeggios.

Tips & Conclusion

Remember that you're learning a musical concept and not a technical exercise! Of course technique always comes into play, but focus on achieving the musical characteristics of clarity and movement in your playing. The technique will follow with practice.

Do leave a comment with any questions you might have and I'll do my best to answer them. Follow along my musical journey on my YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and website as I share new music videos and lessons on those very music videos, each and every week, to help you along your own musical journey.

Until next time, I'll see you again!

By Neil Chan


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