Arpeggio Theory


Welcome to our lesson on Arpeggio theory!

This lesson will guide you from being a complete arpeggio amateur to being able to formulate some sweet as arpeggio sequences through the use of some straight forward music theory!

So What is an Arpeggio?

An arpeggio is a selection of intervals taken from a scale & played in an ascending or descending fashion. Each note of an arpeggio is played individually and should not clash with the preceding note, as the aim of the arpeggio game is clarity.

Arpeggios can be performed theoretically on any instrument that has the capacity to play a scale, including classical & fretless instruments.

This lesson should be easy to follow, however, this is a theory lesson and you will need some basic knowledge of intervals as well as the intervals that form the basis for chords.

If you are not quite ready, head on back to our music theory directory and come back once you have a better understanding πŸ™‚

How to formulate an arpeggio?

An arpeggio is built from the same intervals as a chord which makes this a smooth learning experience for anyone with chord theory knowledge.

For example, If we wanted to play a Major arpeggio, we would use the 1 – 3 – 5 intervals from the chosen key of the Major scale.

Below is a reference list of a good selection of the intervals used for different formulations:

Major – 1 – 3 – 5

Minor – 1 – β™­3 – 5

Sus 2 – 1 – 2 – 5

Sus 4 – 1 – 4 – 5

Major 6th – 1 – 3 – 5 – 6

Minor 6th- 1 – 3 – 5 – β™­6

Major 7th – 1 – 3 – 5 – 7

Minor 7th – 1 – β™­3 – 5 – β™­7

Dominant 7th – 1 – 3 – 5 – β™­7

Diminished – 1 – β™­3 – β™­5

Augmented – 1 – 3 – #5

ForΒ our example, we are going to use the key of E Major.

E Major use’s the following notes:

E F# G# A B C# D#
I ii iii IV V vi vii

Using this we are able to build arpeggios up to the Major 7th note (You can advance them further with extension’s if you wish but for this lesson, we will stick with the above intervals).

Now, as mentioned before, having knowledge of chord formations is near essential for this. If you know that a sus 4 chord is built from the 1 – 4 – 5 intervals, or that a dominant 7th chord is built from the 1 – 3 – 5 – β™­7 intervals,Β then you can easily figure out the notes of the arpeggio.Β 

So, what’s is different about arpeggios and chords?

First of all, the arpeggio should have each note performed individually without a clash from another, whereas a chord is built from several notes performed synchronously.

As well as this, chords can be performed invertedly & with the intervals placed more sporadically. For example, you could perform a Major 7th chord with the intervals following the pattern: 7 – 3 – 5 – 1 from bass note to high note respectively.

whereas an arpeggio should follow the sequence as an order (1 – 3 – 5 – 7).


So, now we know that arpeggios are built using the same intervals as chords, how do I create an arpeggio sequence?Β 

Just as you would create a chord progression! And in fact, if you already have a chord progression made up, then you can use the chords within the progression to determine which arpeggios you should perform over them.

So, first of all, we need a progression to follow! You can use any progression you choose, but for our example, we are going to use an I – ii7 – IV – V progression in the key of E Major.

Using the above table from before, we already know that these intervals consist of:

EΒ Maj – F#min7 – A Maj – B Maj/Dominant.

Now, we need to find the intervals for each of these keynotes.

I iii V Vii
E Major E G# B
F# minor 7th F# A C# E
A Major A C# E
B Major B D# F#

And bingo! We have the required notes for each of these arpeggios!

Below we have includedΒ the sheet and tab for this progression on a treble clef:

E Major arpeggio for arpeggio theory lesson-1


Just as a recap, the steps involved to craft an arpeggio sequence is as follows:

  • Pick a key and an interval progression
  • Decipher the notes for each of the intervals “build”
  • Craft them together into a sequence

And that’s all there is to it! We hope you enjoyed this lesson and were able to take some valuable information from us πŸ™‚

To head on back to our music theory lessons directory, Click Here!

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