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Jamie Humphries The Rhythm Method - Introduction To Chord Arpeggios

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 8 **

Welcome to another instalment of the rhythm method. In this guitar lesson we are going to take a look at the essential guitar technique of chord arpeggios. This basic rhythm guitar technique enables you to perform the notes of the chords separately, allowing the tones of the chord to be played individually as opposed to a full strumming motion. Although this technique may seem quite straight forward, it can be quite technically challenging, with the guitarist having to have a controlled and precise picking technique, enabling him to be consistent with his picking and also to be able to cross and jump strings to produce more interesting patterns.

Many famous guitarists have used this technique on many of their most famous tracks. One of the most basic and simple tunes that beginners often learn that uses chord arpeggios is The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals. Other famous tracks that use this technique include Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, Hotel California by The Eagles, Every Breath You Take by the Police and Street Spirit by Radiohead - and there have been countless others. There are many other guitarists particularly known for using this technique, including one of my all time favourite guitarists Ty Tabor from the band Kings X.

The technique can be used to really add more dynamic contrast to your rhythm playing, especially if you go from full thick powerful rhythm strumming to sparse chord arpeggios -  John Petrucci of Dream Theater uses it to great effect. He will create a modulated arpeggio part, with either flanger or vibrato effects, using a single coil tone, but still using a crunch tone with the guitar volume backed off, so the tone cleans up and becomes thinner. He will often double this part with an acoustic guitar in the studio, or live with the piezo pickup on his Musicman, adding a crisp sparkle to the arpeggio part. Remember, the tone of your guitar is very important with this technique, as if you are using a crunch tone, too much distortion would make the part sound messy.

Now let's discuss the technical side of this technique. One of the things that I am often asked about this technique is whether alternate picking should be used. I think this is very much down to both the individual and also what type of part is being performed. I normally find if I am playing a more simplistic ascending and descending arpeggio pattern, I will use a downward picking motion across the strings, and an upward motion coming back across the strings. If I am playing a more intricate part, such as something like Street Spirit, then I would use an alternate picking technique as I would find this much more accurate. I would advise that you experiment with some simple chord progressions, or even some of the example tracks that I have mentioned.

Now let’s take a look at this month’s example piece. This month I have chosen to move away from a Blues based sounding track, to something slightly more contemporary. The inspiration for this track was both Kings X guitarist TyTabor  and Radiohead. The track is made up of three sections: verse, chorus, and an alternative verse. The verse makes use of some pretty straightforward chords, although I have used a minor inversion, Am/C, if you cast your mind back to earlier columns, we discussed major inversions. The picking pattern for the verse is pretty sparse, so make sure you experiment with different approaches. For the chorus I have included a descending style arpeggio progression, I have made use of open strings, and chords that descend on the A and D strings, the open strings giving them more interesting extensions. The alternative verse features a looping figure. This is pure Radiohead; I love how those guys orchestrate their guitar parts and set up melodic interplay between different rhythm figures. This part features some pretty wide stretches, so make sure you get your hand in a position that helps with them.

That’s pretty much ties up this lesson, I hope you enjoy it, and find these examples inspiring. Be sure to pay attention to the tone used in the video lesson, and make sure you push these ideas further and experiment with ideas of your own.

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