F Major arpeggio in 3 octaves

Left Hand

This is a dramatic example of a "ballistic motion". (A series of movements programmed to flow automatically from one impulse).

To play the arpeggio fluently and musically involves coordinating arm and hand movements in a graceful ballet.

Firstly, look at the highest and lowest notes in the figure:

Low F to high F on the guitar
Low F to high F on the guitar

The teacher can play the figure in a clear, swaying triplet rhythm while the student plays the low F and the high F in unison with the teacher. This will help develop a clear concept of the basic shape of the phrase, and accustom the student to hitting the target notes at the appropriate times.

This is like marking the most prominent features first in a geological survey.

Next, the student may play only the F's, in rhythm and using the appropriate fingers.

Let's look at the Left Hand fingering for the whole figure. Notice that:

  • The fingering is different ascending and descending.
  • Position changes are taken on the 1st and 2nd fingers.

Low F to high F on the guitar
F major arpeggio in 3 octaves ascending
Low F to high F on the guitar
F major arpeggio in 3 octaves descending

The left hand fingering breaks down conveniently into 3 note groups:

The Ascending groups:

Low F to high F on the guitar
Low F to high F on the guitar
Low F to high F on the guitar

The top 3 notes require an extended hand position.

Low F to high F on the guitar

If this is too difficult at first then the hand/arm can use a "temporary displacement", lifting the 1st finger off as the 4th finger plays F.

Why don't we take the three notes in one position?

Because the next group of notes would then require a movement down the string on the 3rd finger. You get much more muscular feedback during position changes made on the 1st or 2nd fingers.

Low F to high F on the guitar
Low F to high F on the guitar

The finger pattern p i m is usually used in ascending triadic arpeggios. Why?

  • It is very quick.
  • The tendency of the thumb to accent serves the phrasing (groups of three).
  • p and i take advantage of the "lay of the strings".

F major arpeggio - 3 octaves - Right Hand ascending
F major arpeggio - 3 octaves - Right Hand ascending

The descending equivalent would be a m i.

m and i lay quite nicely over the appropriate strings.

However the a finger is likely to be slower than i and m, and correspondingly harder to accurately place at fast tempos.

F major arpeggio - 3 octaves - Right Hand Descending

This information originally appeared in my publication "Scales and Arpeggios and How to Play Them" (1998). That book was superceded in August 2003 by the publication of "Guitar Playing and how it Works", and then again in 2007 by a 3rd edition, and in 2015 by a 5th edn.