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Arpeggios for Classical Guitar

Next to scales, arpeggios are the bread and butter of classical guitar player’s armoury.  In fact, when challenged, not one of us at Classical Guitar News could name a single piece which didn’t incorporate arpeggiated, broken chord passage.  As a plucked string instrument, the classical guitar lends itself particularly well towards arpeggios, so having a strong ascending and descending arpeggio technique is a must-have.

There are 2 basic types of arpeggio, ascending and descending with some notable differences in technical approach too. Let's start with ascending arpeggios...


Playing ascending arpeggios relies on a technique called "planting". Here the fingers are placed on the strings ready to play in advance. 

For example, in a classical pima (that’s thumb, index, middle and ring finger in that order) arpeggio, this results in the following sequence:
P plays at same time ima go down on their respective strings, i plays, then m followed by a.  As a plays, p goes back down and sequence loops again as required.


In the case of descending arpeggios, a technique called “sequential” planting is used. Here the fingers are placed down in order. So, in the case of an amip (straight reverse of the ascending sequence) this means a goes down and plays, followed by m followed by I and then pbefore the sequence begins once more.

Practicing Arpeggios

Achieving eveness is essential and practice with a metronome (say 5-10 minutes) a day is a great way of building and maintaining a fluid technique. Word of warning, don’t try to place too fast too soon. We all want to play Villa Lobos study at John Williams or David Russell speed, but this takes years of practice and highly developed levels of left/right hand finger co-ordination. Trust us, it’s well worth the effort in aiming for.  A good way of building speed (Fred Hand’s idea) is to place all 4 fingers on adjacent strings simulataneously (e.g.DGBE 4th to 1st) and roll out starting with p followed by I, then m and finally a. Simply repeating the process listening out for eveness of tone note duration as you go. This can be practised in reverse for descending arpeggios (sometimes referred to as “reverse” planting) too.

Classical Guitar News Advice Tips for Arpeggio Playing

Before we leave the subject of arpeggios, just one more thing. Contrary to popular mis-conception, is not the speed at which the fingers strike the notes which determines the speed of the arpeggio rather than speed of the recovery.  This means that the fingers, when not playing the strings need to be in a relaxed ready state (often referred to as a state of dynamic relaxation).  If you start to feel tension build up in your fingers at a particular temp (remember the metronome!) then this is a good indication of your speed at that point in time. Over time you can substantially increase this but patience and steady practice is a virtue. Keeping a practice diary can be particularly beneficial and motivational too for you to refer back to gauge your progress over time.

Recommended Further Reading & Viewing

For more information on both ascending and descending arpeggio technique we recommend taking a look at Scott Tenant’s book and DVD, "Pumping Nylon".

Other references worth checking out are obviously Giuliani’s 120 right hand studies for guitar. Sor, Giuliani and Paganini are also particularly useful if you want something more musical and piece-related practice material. 

You can check these out below right now, as well as host other recommended books and DVDs...


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Here's a selection of Top Tips from David Russell's website:-
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Play or not to play-ensure you select the music you'll enjoy the most
Damping basses-how to ensure you control that elusive baseline!
Trills-an essential but sometimes tricky part of guitar playing covered
Unusual Barrees-when conventional barrees just won't work

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