Augmented Arpeggios

After looking at major and minor arpeggios, it’s time to turn our attention to augmented arpeggios. Augmented arpeggios (like augmented triads) have a very “outside” sound and feel to them and are a great way to throw your listener a curve ball every once in a while.

The Basics

If you recall from our lesson on augmented triads, the augmented triad is made up entirely of major thirds: the root, the major third and the augmented or raised fifth. In the key of G the notes are G, B and D♯. We can take the triad shapes we learned earlier and create arpeggios that cover all six strings.

Let’s stick with G as our root. Here’s the first pattern rooted at the second position:

All we’re doing here is stacking one major third after another. Since the interval between an augmented fifth and the root is also a major third, it only takes these three notes to repeat the cycle from octave to octave.

If you’re on your second cup of coffee or just happen to be particularly observant, you may notice that the augmented fifth is the same interval as a minor sixth. If you dig deep back into your memory you should remember that the inverse of a minor sixth is…care to guess?

You got it, a major third. Look at that. Major thirds, all the way to the bottom…err…top.

Moving along, our next arpeggio shape starts with the major third on the sixth string and a big stretch:

If you compare this shape with the major arpeggio, the only difference is that the fifths are one fret higher. Now, if we keep moving up the neck and start with the fifth we get this shape:

Scroll back up to the top of the lesson and look at the first set of shapes. Go ahead. I’ll wait for you…

It’s the same shapes! How is that possible? Remember, the augmented sound is all major thirds. It only takes three notes to repeat in the next octave so the shape we use down in the second position creates the exact same notes as the same shape a major third up the neck.

So hold on, that means that if we keep moving up the neck our next shape should match the second shape we looked at, right? You got it.

If we keep going, our remaining shapes look like this:

How awesome is this? You only need to know two shapes to play an augmented arpeggio anywhere on the neck. Better yet, we only need to pick one note out of either of these shapes and call it the root. The distance between the intervals is the same no matter how you slice it.

This also means that a single arpeggio can actually be considered one of three different augmented arpeggios. A G augmented arpeggio is also a B augmented arpeggio as well as a D♯ augmented arpeggio.

The Augmented Sound in Practice

The augmented sound is pretty “outside” sounding. It doesn’t really fit into the normal major/minor diatonic sound we’re used to hearing in popular music. But breaking out a little every once in a while is a nice way to spice things up.

Guys like Larry Carlton and Robben Ford are absolute masters of working little bits of jazzy outside playing into some really tasty blues-based licks. At the other extreme is a guy like Allan Holdsworth who seems to have a completely different sense of harmony and melody from us mere mortals.

Most of the time, running an entire augmented arpeggio can sound pretty mechanical. So when you just need a little sprinkling of augmented magic, you may find it easier to just bust out a quick burst of major-thirds rather than thinking in terms of shapes. Your mileage may vary.

Let me leave with you with an example of mixing bluesy licks with some augmented flourishes. If you aren’t used to hearing this kind of outside playing it may sound really odd to you. Some people take to it right away, for others it’s an acquired taste. Heck, some people never like it, but it never hurts to know about it right?

This lick can be played entirely over Am7. It starts out with a heavy dose of the augmented sound and finishes with a traditional blues-rock phrase:

Augment Your Blues

What do you think? Weird? Too weird?

A jazz guitar teacher I studied with in college once told me that if you screw up, do it again with conviction and people will call it “jazz”. Here’s a quick sample of how it sounds (NB: I’m tuned down a half-step):

Until next time, keep rocking (or jazzing)!