ARPEGGIO - literally "Broken Chord". Here I am refering to a sequence of notes, each of which is on it's own string. In guitar music, much of the time the right hand executes a repeating pattern while the left hand holds down a fixed chord, changing to a diferent chord after a while with no transitional notes in between (the right hand does not vary). This is very common in American Folk music. The other extreme occurs when a melody is played such that no two consecutive notes are played on the same string, allowing them to over-ring, producing a harp-like quality. Alonso Mudarra's "Fantasia (immitating the harp of Ludovico)" and Peter Finger's "Open Strings" are good examples.



The late nineteenth century guitarist Francisco Tarréga developed a simple set of rules for the execution of arpeggios. They involve the advance placement (planting) of the right hand fingers in preparation of the stroke (plucking of the string).




For ascending arpeggios, all fingers are "planted" in advance. In the example above, the thumb is placed on the (6) string, index on (3), middle on (2) and the ring finger on (1). After all fingers are in place, each note is sounded in succession, after which all fingers are immediately re-planted. In actual performance it's not really that simple, but that's how you practice the arpeggio in order to work up speed and precision. If you wait long enough for this page to completely download, you will see a .gif animation (about 238KB) of what it looks like, above.




For descending arpegios, each finger is planted while the previous note is being played. This way each note is prepared just prior to execution. It's a little tricky at first, because you are planting one finger while "plucking" with another. This is probably a lot closer to what takes place in actual performance.




You have two choices here. I was taught to plant all fingers for the ascending portion (the first four notes in this example), and then plant the next finger only while executing the next two notes. The whole process repeats starting on the seventh note. The other way (which I prefer) is to execute the entire pattern using the descending rule: planting each finger one note in advance.




When two are played at the same time, the two right hand fingers that play them are planted at the same time. The ascending rule applies, but I like using the descending rule: the thumb and index are planted, then the middle finger is planted as they start their stroke(s); as the middle finger begins it's stroke, the ring finger is planted; when the ring finger begins it's stroke, the thumb and index are planted, starting the whole pattern over again.



Often there is more than one way to play the arpeggio.




Example I. is probably the most important one to learn to do well. The ascending rule is used: all fingers are placed in advance. During execution, the thumb executes rest strokes, coming to rest on the next string after each stroke until the third note. There the thumb executes a free stroke so as not to interfere with the index finger on the next note. When played extremely fast, it becomes a chord "strum". The diference between using this pattern and "strumming" a chord with only the thumb lies in the amount of control: any given note in a chord can be played louder than the others, bringing out voices in the chord.

Example III. is one of my favorites. Here the right hand essentially executes two three-note arpeggios in a row using the ascending rule. It is easy and fast, but the right forearm must move slightly to change the hand position; going back and forth between having the thumb positioned on the (6) string and on the (3) string.




In the other examples, I find it easiest to apply the descending rule. Which pattern you use in a given situation are largely a matter of personal preference. Some factors to consider are: what comes before and after (what the right hand is going to do next); where the rythmic accents are (use the thumb to play the accented notes or the strong beats). Usually the composer or arranger will specify the right hand fingering if it's important. Don't immediately discount their suggestions just because you know an easier way. The reason behind their method may not be obvious until you have tried it for a while.



That's it for now. The secret is practice!