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2-1-2 Arpeggio Permutations

2-1-2 Arpeggio Permutations

May 22nd, 2008 by

Welcome to my fourth column/lesson. This time I would like to talk about a component of guitar playing that has always fascinated me: arpeggio permutations/fragments. Playing arpeggio fragments can make one’s playing more colorful, usually helping a musical phrase sound harmonically richer and more diverse.

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Lesson Video

Most of the time – in so called “heavy” music – lead guitar players will greatly underutilize arpeggios and their permutations. Typically, players tend to fall into the trap of working on a small number of possibilities/shapes and leaving it at that – always having only a few stock patterns to rely on. There is always the option of extending these arpeggio ideas and/or breaking them up into smaller fragments, which can be applied in a more original way into a given musical situation.

Consider some of the following when coming up with new arpeggios:

  • Devise a new fingering
  • Extend the arpeggios to include new/different tensions
  • Extend the arpeggios to imply chords not being outlined by the rest of the group
  • Try to “think outside the box,” work on different techniques in trying to apply arpeggios to a musical passage.
  • In this lesson I will talk about a specific fingering: the so called 2-1-2 technique – meaning that we will be playing each fragment as two notes (on 1 string) followed by a single note (on an adjacent string), followed by two more notes on the string following the previous one.

    To play these ideas you should sweep pick the arpeggio fragments – this will create a more fluid/flowing sound. So, the pick stroke motion for an ascending arpeggio figure (with the 2-1-2 fingering) will usually be something like: (U, D) (D) (D, U). Notice the consecutive down strokes allow you to rake through the strings andeconomically move across them with as little wasted motion as possible.

    Example 1

    EXAMPLE 1 is a warm up type of exercise that helps explore permutations that move across all 6 strings using this 2-1-2 fingering.

    The four arpeggios for these examples are:

    • Dmaj7 (9)
    • Gmaj7 (9)
    • A7/C#
    • Bm7/F#

    Example 1A is the “double ascending” version – ascending 5-note shapes, as four groups of quintuplets.


    Example 1B is the “double descending” version: descending 5-note shapes, as four groups of quintuplets.


    These first 2 examples are the easiest ones to play, because the “between 5-note shapes picking” follows the same direction through adjacent strings. Another possibility is to play these shapes inverting one of the two directions – which will obviously lead to string-skips:

    Example 1C: ascending 5-note shapes, and descending 4 groups way.


    Example 1D: descending 5-note shapes, and ascending 4 groups way.


    Notice how these last 2 examples are harder to play and imply a more technical picking pattern. Note how the picking direction between each quintuplet stays the same, but requires the double string-skip to start the new group. It may take awhile to get cleanliness and fluidity out of it, so I would suggest that you isolate this picking movement and practice it really slowly. Make sure all notes come out even and with the desired dynamic control.

    Example 1 E is a mix between descending and ascending 5-note shapes. In this case the phrase implies a group of 9+13+13+13 across the 2 bars (as opposed to 5+5+5+5 for each bar). These rhythmic patterns that break the traditional rhythmic groupings of a common meter tend to give the listener a feeling that the group is floating over the beat. The right hand movement is again what needs to be looked at and studied carefully, especially when switching between shapes.


    Example 2

    EXAMPLE 2 takes the same idea and applies somewhat more horizontally across the neck. It is based on descending arpeggios played on only 2 different sets of strings. Just like examples 1C and 1D, it requires a double string-skip in parts. The arpeggios in this case are based on these chords:

    • A7 (9)
    • F#m7 (b5 b9)
    • C7 (9)
    • Bm7 (b5 b9)
    • Ebm7 (b5 b9)
    • Cm7 (b5 b9)


    Example 3

    EXAMPLE 3 combines the double ascending 5 note shapes (Example 1 A) with the ascending/descending pattern seen in Example 1 E. In this case, the shapes move in all the directions: vertically, diagonally, and horizontally. This example is based on this series of arpeggios:

    • Em7 (11)
    • Bm7 (11)
    • Esus4 (9 13)
    • Am7 (11)
    • Dsus4 (9 13)
    • Em7
    • G7


    Example 4

    EXAMPLE 4 mixes the 2-1-2 shapes seen before (5-note groups) with 4-note ones. The first half of the lick is “double ascending,” while the second half is “double descending.” A good tool to have in your arsenal is how to mix different rhythms inside the same line/phrase to give an unexpected feel to a musical phrase.

    These are the arpeggios played in this example:

    • Em7
    • Em (11)
    • Bm7 (11)
    • A7
    • Em
    • Gmaj7
    • Em7


    Example 5

    EXAMPLE 5 is our final example; it shows how we can incorporate these ideas inside a more varied and musical phrase. This line in fact uses different playing techniques and emphasizes different harmonic colors/tensions, even though it is based entirely on the C# Phrygian Dominant scale (5th mode of the F# Harmonic Minor scale).

    The arpeggios played at the end of measure 2, and throughout measure 3 are:

    • C#7
    • G#dim
    • F#m (11)


    I hope you enjoyed this lesson and stay tuned for more “Technical Difficulties.”

    2-1-2 Arpeggio Permutations

    About Francesco Artusato

    Francesco Artusato is a guitar player/composer with a Berklee College of Music degree (major in Film Scoring). He has extensive experience in teaching guitar and music theory; his expertise is in the Rock/Metal language. Francesco is currently part of a Metal band called Hiss of Atrocities, and has also recorded three instrumental solo projects. His column at Guitar Messenger is called Technical Difficulties, and it will be focused mainly on developing different techniques such as vibrato, bending, picking, legato playing, tapping, sweeping, and every other mechanical challenges related to the guitar. The purpose of this column is to show how to incorporate all the different techniques into musical phrases, and not just seeing them as physical workouts (rhythm, melody, and harmony are always the primary concern). Music always first!

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    • RamJam

      Example 2 plays as example 1A-E. Can you fix the clip?

      • Fixed! Sorry about that and thanks for noticing!