Octave Shape Arpeggio Exercise: Learn The Fretboard Notes (+ 6 Free Practice Backing Tracks)
This arpeggio octave shape exercise will help you learn the guitar fretboard notes quickly & increase finger speed
Playing octave shapes is a great trick to help you navigate around the guitar neck faster and learn the notes on the fretboard. The following exercise is an excerpt taken from the upcoming guitar music theory book "Easy Peasy Guitar Music Theory".
Further reading: If you're unsure exactly what an octave shape is, read here and then be sure to come straight back.
Octave Shape Exercise - Major 7th Arpeggio
Tools to use: Metronome, timer, phone or tablet to record progress clips, notepad for practice notes, blank tablature paper to keep a log of any variations to add in.
The following drill is an arpeggio sequence where you play the note intervals that make up a Major 7th chord (1-3-5-7) using octave shapes in place of single notes. Don’t make it harder work for yourself by tackling all three arpeggio positions in Fig 1.0 below in one go. Start with the G major arpeggio first, only adding on the other keys of A and B when you can play the first arp accurately and cleanly.
Use a metronome on 60-70-bpm once your fingers start getting to the positions easier and gradually increase the speed. Focus on getting the notes clean, buzz free and in perfect time. NO speeding up and slowing down. This will be impossible to avoid at first as you work on building up muscle memory, so have this as your end-goal.
Use the free practice backing tracks at the bottom of this post to practice over. These will help put the exercise into a musical context and take it away from just being an exercise.
Use your 1st finger on the bass note, and your 4th pinky finger on the higher note. Avoid using your third finger on the upper note - not because it would be wrong, but because the little finger is often neglected by many players and consequently stays weak and rather ineffective. We don't want that.
The span from your first finger to fourth is also wider - an added bonus.
Fig 1.0 - Major 7th arpeggio exercise tablature
Pro Tip: Say the notes out loud as you play each shape. This is known as 'acoustic encoding' and is a clever memorisation technique that turbo boosts learning of new information.
5 Key Practice Variables To Change:
- Use a metronome starting slow & gradually increase the speed, always working on maintaining rock solid timing.
Have 3 speeds: Slow (60bpm approx), moderate (90bpm approx), fast (140bpm approx). Adjust the moderate and fast speeds according to your ability level.
- Duration - Use a timer and mix up the duration you play each exercise variation. E.g. 60 second continuous reps, 2 minute reps etc.
- Number of reps - Change up how many repetitions you play for each exercise, section or key. Don't just hang about in your comfort zone.
- Rhythm - Experiment playing different timing sub-divisions such as quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes & triplets.
- Music theory - Try saying the notes and intervals out loud as you play to turbo boost your memory retention. Apply any other theory principles you're learning as you play.
Practice Backing Tracks
1. This first backing track is a G major 7 rhythm track at 90bpm. Practice the Gmaj7th octave shape arpeggio exercise over this.
2. This backing track is an A major 7 rhythm track at 90bpm. Practice the Amaj7th octave shape arpeggio exercise over this.
3. This third backing track is a B major 7 rhythm track at 90bpm. Practice the Bmaj7th octave shape arpeggio exercise over this.
4. This next backing track moves through the Gmaj7th - Amaj7th -Bmaj7th chords at 90bpm. Each key is played for 4 bars. Practice changing smoothly through the corresponding octave shape arpeggios over this track.
5. Gmaj7th - Amaj7th -Bmaj7th backing track at 115bpm.
6. Gmaj7th - Amaj7th -Bmaj7th backing track at 140bpm.
Get practicing your chops. Start on the slower tempo backing tracks for the single arpeggios, then work your way through backing tracks 4-6.
Be sure to record yourself periodically on your device of choice to listen back. You can only fix something if you know it's broken after all.
Have fun rockstars!