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Notes, Chords and Arpeggios (Guitar Lesson)

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David MacKenzie

Notes, Chords and Arpeggios

Now that David has explained a few common chord shapes, he will go back and explain what notes, chords, power chords, and arpeggios are.

Taught by David MacKenzie in Basic Electric Guitar seriesLength: 8:12Difficulty: 0.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (00:54) Opening Music Welcome back! Dave opens Lesson 4 with some blues licks in the key of A.
Chapter 2: (7:13) Notes, Chords, Power Chords, and Arpeggios In this lesson, Dave provides a quick review of topics discussed thus far. It is very important to periodically pause from regular practice and review concepts that you have recently learned. This should be done roughly once every month or couple of months. Otherwise, you run the risk of forgetting important information that you have learned.


Dave defines a note as "one string plucked/picked to produce a tone or a specific pitch." Often, guitarists strum muted strings to produce a percussive effect. Although muted strings (indicated by x's in notation) do not produce a specific pitch, they are still considered notes.

Take this time to review the proper procedure for fretting a single note. Most beginner guitar students find that their greatest obstacle is producing a consistent solid tune. This is primarily due to issues with the fretting hand. In order to play a note with a tone free of annoying buzzing sounds, the following rules must be observed:

1. The fretting fingers must remain as close as possible to the fretboard at all times.

2. When fretting a note, make sure that the appropriate left-hand finger is as close to the fretwire as possible without actually touching it. Pressing the string down right over top of the fret will cause a note to buzz and ring poorly. Pressing the string down too far from the fret will yield the exact same result. Make note of the location of Brad's fingers when he is fretting a note.

3. The string must be held down with sufficient pressure in order to produce a clear sound. Fretting a note with insufficient pressure causes the note to sound muted.

4. Pressing a string down too hard will cause the string to go sharp. If you apply too much pressure to the strings with your left hand, your playing will always sound slightly out of tune.

5. Do not flatten any of the joints in your left-hand fingers. Make sure each joint is relaxed and slightly bent at all times.

6. Keep the left-hand fingernails as short as possible!


A chord is formed by any combination of three or more distinct pitches played simultaneously. For every type of chord (major, minor, dominant 7th, etc.) there is a specific formula used to determine which notes are contained within each type of chord. These formulas as well as other complicated music theory concepts are discussed in Phase 2 lessons.

Take this time to review all chords and chord progressions that you have learned so far. As you learn more chords, it is very important that you do not forget chords that you have previously learned. The best way to remember the chords that you have learned is to use them in a musical context. Practice chord progressions often to engrain all chord shapes in your mind.

A. Chord Voicings

Due to the nature of the guitar, there are several different ways to play the same chord. For instance, there are over 75 possible ways to play a basic C chord. Each specific way to fret this chord is referred to as a “chord voicing.” Make sure you have a solid foundation in all basic, open chords before learning alternate voicings for these chords.

Power Chords

The term "power chord" is slightly misleading from a music theory perspective. A power chord is comprised of two notes. Often, one or both pitches are doubled an octave higher to create an overall larger sound. Technically, three different pitches must be present to form a chord. However, since the phrase "power chord" has such a catchy ring to it, it is used frequently by all sorts of musicians. When two pitches are played together simultaneously, they comprise what is called a "double stop."

A power chord creates an emotionally powerful effect. This is how they gained their popular title. When distortion is added to power chords, their sound becomes even more intense.

Usually, a power chord consists of a root note and the note a perfect fifth above it. For example, a C5 power chord consists of the root note C and the note G a perfect fifth above it. However, a root note is often combined with the third or the note a b5 above it to create a power chord with a different tonal flavor.


An arpeggio is formed when the notes within a chord are picked individually. Dave defines an arpeggio as “a chord or specific notes picked one at a time to create a scale, melody, or sequence in music. Arpeggios are most frequently used to create melody lines and sequences. Most commonly, an arpeggio is substituted for a strummed chord progression in order to create an overall different texture. Arpeggios are frequently used in the course of a guitar solo to outline chord progressions. Watch as David outlines a C# major chord with its corresponding arpeggio notes.

Now that you have learned all of these concepts, try to pick out specific examples of each when listening to your favorite music. Determine whether the guitarist is playing single notes, chords, power chords, or arpeggios. If you have any questions regarding this lesson, feel free to email questions to Dave or other JamPlay instructors.

Video Subtitles / Captions

Supplemental Learning Material


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

guloguloguyguloguloguy replied on January 17th, 2018

I was wondering if your Fender guitar has standard gauge frets, or maybe jumbo frets...(?) I would think that the larger "jumbo" frets would make it much easier to play, without having to develop heavy callouses on One's finger tips.

Clino77Clino77 replied on September 29th, 2017

Is he tuned down half a step?

Bradley.ConwayBradley.Conway replied on September 29th, 2017

Hello Clino77! Good ear! I got out my tuner and used the open E that Dave plays at 00:55 in Scene #1 and he is de-tuned about a half step. Most times players will do this to accommodate their singing if they happen to have a hard time reaching that high of a pitch (I do this myself, only I tune down a full step). Happy Jamming!

rgk51mdk56rgk51mdk56 replied on March 25th, 2016

also give some examples of what a power chord is and arpegio

rgk51mdk56rgk51mdk56 replied on March 25th, 2016

he has not explained what barre chords are and now is introducing them.

Marc_XMarc_X replied on March 13th, 2014

This is crazy. As I look at all of the lessons within this phase, I'm just blown away. I am self taught but David really brings it with simple explanations and demonstrations. One day and I am really playing better. Moving on quickly because it has become second nature to me. Knowledge is power so any of you having a little difficulty, rewind the video and do it again. You'll get it. Keep rockin'!

the_ANTIDRUGthe_ANTIDRUG replied on January 17th, 2014

Silver sparkle Strat. Cool

harry9000harry9000 replied on December 20th, 2012

Hey...Five-O-Duce! Rock on Dave!

dreamleadguitardreamleadguitar replied on October 24th, 2012

hey, this lesson is awesome! Thanks for this. I want to be able to understand how chords are derived. similarly how the power chords are derived. This will enable me to derive chords without learning. please help me understand this theory! Thanks a lot!!

usmalemanusmaleman replied on September 30th, 2012

DAVE...I like the unit crest on your strap and proudly wore it in the 101st. I was in 3-502nd from 89 to 92. Strike Brigade! I assume you were too?

johnnyrockitjohnnyrockit replied on June 15th, 2012

Great Stuuf Thanks Dmac it's so helpful!

danrdanr replied on February 27th, 2012

Well, looks like that took me to the same place.......YukYuk......I'll be patient.............Thank You

danrdanr replied on February 27th, 2012

David, Lesson 4, chapt. 2, under Power chord "notes" refers to the third as "b5", does this mean a flat (b) 5 ? example: C5, having a fifth of "G", the third would be F#, or the third is 3 notes above C, making it an E ? What is this ? How is "b5" read or spoken? Thank You

danrdanr replied on February 27th, 2012

Hey David, Not sure what i'm doing here............posted a question yesterday i believe......most of the posts there are pretty old maybe this is a more direct route.....

dwg101dwg101 replied on February 19th, 2012

Dave Please post the tabs for the riff you played at the end of this lesson Thanks David

himagainhimagain replied on January 16th, 2012

Hey, Dave. I'm enjoying your lessons, but I've noticed as you progress through your lessons that the different guitars you use are tuned different. i.e. the silver Fender with the flag in lesson 4 is tuned 1 full step lower than the guitar you use in lesson 3. I'm not having trouble re-tuning, but without you pointing that out to some of your less experienced students, it may end up being a little confusing for them. Just sayin',,,,

cov99cov99 replied on October 12th, 2011

I'm pretty sure Power Chord is a term used specifically referring to the 5th interval (+ an octave optional)...

byronmatherbyronmather replied on August 12th, 2011

hey there awesome lessons just curious about bar chord/scale type thing. If I take any bar chord then separate it into single notes does that mean if im playing a g bar chord then play the notes thats a g scale or not?

evilmpevilmp replied on February 9th, 2011

Like these lessons you are very talented I can only imagine what the latter lessons are like

coolbeanmonkeycoolbeanmonkey replied on January 20th, 2010

loving your lessons to by the way

coolbeanmonkeycoolbeanmonkey replied on January 20th, 2010

am i right in thinking that when your sweet picking an arepeggio in this video you are basically finding the same notes as played in the chord but just picking them individually along the fret board?

moonchildmoonchild replied on November 11th, 2009

I gotta say sir, i love your lessons! So easy to learn and understand, so straightforward, so fun. I'm progressing so fast! Hopefully not to fast. I wanna master the foundations first :)

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied on November 12th, 2009

thank you so much! i am glad it is helping you! rock on!!

justorymesjustorymes replied on September 16th, 2009

i like metalica songs and i think fade to black is one of thows arpagio things at the begining. (sorry i'm new)

frankoo411frankoo411 replied on June 26th, 2009

hey dave bought a new guitar.not as nice a my prs. i didnt want to mess it up i bought an ibanez grx series. nice guitar but it seem the strings are alot farter off the frets. i can see the allen key holes on the bridge. can i lower them or do i need to get another nut that is shorter to. i practice several hours a day and would prefer to use the ibanez but the prs is allot easer to play. or did i just get a bad guitar

Nick1515Nick1515 replied on April 15th, 2009

Hey David, this is Nick (you commented a while back on my tae kwon do pic), just wanted to say that you rock brother, i joined this site becuase of your playing. I also love that airborne sticker on your guitar, I got a huge smile on my face when i saw it, i was with the 101st airborne for two years. Any chance i could talk you into writting "12-12-85" on that sticker? (look up 101st and gander). Take care, Nick airborne all the way!

cmp1969cmp1969 replied on March 31st, 2009

Concerning arpeggios...Don't you have to know how to write a chord then it is played in the third and fifth with a two octave difference? Please clarify.

tomorrowtomorrow replied on November 13th, 2008

that is great "pick any note that is within reason"

leugim789leugim789 replied on April 20th, 2008

i just started, and ive been going along pretty good, but the arpeggios confused me, help?

dantheguitarmandantheguitarman replied on July 10th, 2008

dude its easy all an arrpergio is picking each string of the chord one by one

jboothjbooth replied on April 21st, 2008

If arpeggios are confusing you, think about it like this. When you play a chord you are playing (3) or more notes at the same time. An arpeggio in it's most basic form can just be playing all of the notes in that chord individually instead of at once.

leugim789leugim789 replied on April 21st, 2008

thanks, i get it now

ksengage89ksengage89 replied on April 2nd, 2008

i noticed that when you were doing bar chords that all strings were freted. i can not figure out how to get my first finger to bar all six strings is there any thing i can do to fix this

jboothjbooth replied on April 2nd, 2008

For most of them you honestly don't need to. For instance many barre chords (such as the A shape and C shape) do not require the 6th string to be fretted. Some people do as it makes changing between the shapes faster, but if you cannot do it it isn't necessary. Also, you only need to worry about your barre finger getting the strings that are not fretted, which can make things substantially easier than making sure all 6 strings ring out. Also keep in mind Barre chords take a lot of hand strength and will get MUCH easier over time.

micnightmicnight replied on January 11th, 2008

I see you play G major with fingers 1, 2 ,3. I have seen other places as well. I am just starting, and the first reference I had showed G major with fingers 2,3, 4. Is there an advantage one way or the other?

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied on October 6th, 2007

you should be able to get more stretch as you go. it's kind of like when you lock your knee"s and try to touch your toe's. you have to warm up the muscles and ligaments, and tendons 1st before you try anything that is difficult stretching wise. some of it is strength, and some of it is flexibilty. keep after it wasp!!!! you'll get there!! we are here with you every step of the way, but you are the one who has to apply what you learn here!!! rock on!!!!!!

waspwasp replied on October 6th, 2007

tks for the answer, ill try it. but will i eventually be able to stretch out more or do i have to work with what i got?

david.mackenziedavid.mackenzie replied on October 6th, 2007

hey wasp, thanks for the question! i would definitely start off with learning the first major chords. i like to teach them from A major to Gmajor first. that way you alway have a reference when you need to find them, or a certain chord in a song. you can play them like an exercise or scale, and it helps with transitioning to different chord structures. i really need to do a lesson on this as well. this seems to work with anyone i have taught face to face. as for your second question, start at the 12th fret with your 1st finger on the small e string (1st string). do a four finger walk up=meaning, 1st finger=12th fret, 2nd finger 13th fret, 3rd finger 14th fret, and 4th finger 15th fret. do that once, then skip to the 2nd string and continue same exercise all the way to the 6th string(same frets). now go to the 11th fret and start over. once you've done that progress down 1 fret at a time (same exercise) until you reach the 1st fret. this allows your finger/hand to warm up on the smaller frets first before you tackle the larger frets spaces (1st, 2nd, 0r 3rd fret area). i hope that is understandable. let me know if it is'nt!! best of success to you!!!!

waspwasp replied on October 6th, 2007

kinda got lost here. have been messing around with the open power chords (which is pretty kool) but what should i be learning next? closed power chords or all the major chords? i figure it will take some time to learn the major chords, but if i know the power chords will give me somethin to play with in between learning the major chords? what do you suggest? if you suggest the major chords, learn them in a certain order? ty:confused: ps: one BIG question? my fingers will not spread over 4 frets worth a crap, with practice will they eventually be able to or some kind of exercise i can do for them? really feels un-natural at the moment.:(

Basic Electric Guitar

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

In his Phase 1 series, David MacKenzie will walk you through the basics of rock guitar.

Lesson 1

About the Guitar

David discusses the parts of the guitar. He also gives you some basic techniques to get you started.

Length: 31:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Power Chords

In this lesson, David introduces basic power chords. Great fun for beginners!

Length: 10:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 3

Basic Chord Progressions

David introduces some basic chords and chord progressions.

Length: 14:15 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 4

Notes, Chords and Arpeggios

David provides a brief explanation of what notes, chords, power chords, and arpeggios are.

Length: 8:12 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

Speed and Coordination

This lesson is all about increasing your speed and coordination. David demonstrates basic picking exercises.

Length: 14:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Chord Exercises

David MacKenzie presents a mysterious sounding chord exercise. This exerices is designed to improve right hand technique.

Length: 9:12 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Practice and Discipline

In this short lesson David talks about practice, discipline, and how you should apply yourself when learning and mastering the guitar.

Length: 6:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

Double Stops

Double stops can bring new life to your rhythm and lead playing. David provides a short tutorial on what double stops are and how they can be used.

Length: 7:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

The Major Chords

David covers the basic major chord shapes. Every guitarist must learn these basic chords.

Length: 18:29 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

The Minor Chords

David MacKenzie walks you through the basic minor chords. Expand your knowledge of chords with this fun-filled lesson.

Length: 8:15 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 11

Major Scales

Major scales are an essential component of all styles of music. They can also be used as a great way to orient yourself with the fretboard.

Length: 32:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

Major Scale Jam

David MacKenzie explains how to practice the major scales along with a fun backing track.

Length: 11:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

The Minor Scales

David MacKenzie proceeds to an in-depth discussion of the minor scales.

Length: 15:36 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 14

Minor Scale Jam

David MacKenzie shows you how to play the natural minor scale over a rockin' JamTrack.

Length: 6:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 15

One String Exercise

David demonstrates an excellent one-string exercise in this lesson. This exercise will improve your dexterity and knowledge of the fretboard.

Length: 16:48 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 16

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are techniques that enable you to play with a smooth, legato feel.

Length: 8:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 17

Basic Bends

David MacKenzie gives a crash course on bending in this lesson. Bends can add a lot of soul to your playing.

Length: 16:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 18

Cool Rock Licks

David MacKenzie teaches two rock licks inspired by Yngwie Malmsteen and Kirk Hammett of Metallica.

Length: 12:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 19

Hammer-On Exercise

David returns to the world of hammer-ons with a fun new exercise. This lesson includes a JamTrack.

Length: 13:56 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 20

Return to Pull-Offs

David returns to the world of pull-offs with a new exercise. This lesson includes a backing track.

Length: 12:50 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 21

Practicing Bends

David MacKenzie returns to bending technique in this lesson. This lesson features a backing track that is designed for bending practice.

Length: 12:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

Basic Vibrato

Integrating vibrato into your guitar playing is a great way to add emotion and soul. David MacKenzie explains the basics of vibrato in this lesson.

Length: 9:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 23

Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie introduces the pentatonic scale.

Length: 5:48 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 24

Minor Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie introduces the minor pentatonic scale in this lesson.

Length: 4:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

Full Major Scale

David MacKenzie explains a two octave pattern of the major scale.

Length: 11:31 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 26

Full Minor Scale

David MacKenzie introduces a two octave natural minor scale pattern.

Length: 12:20 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 27

Full Major Pentatonic Scale

David teaches a two octave pattern of the major pentatonic scale.

Length: 6:30 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Full Minor Pentatonic Scale

David MacKenzie teaches a two octave version of the minor pentatonic scale.

Length: 9:20 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 29

Cool Lick

David MacKenzie teaches several licks based on common arpeggio patterns. This lesson also includes a backing track to jam with.

Length: 20:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 30

Rhythm Basics

David MacKenzie introduces some important rhythm basics in this lesson. This lesson also includes a backing track exercise.

Length: 14:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 31

Power Chord Variations

David MacKenzie explains various power chord voicings. By simply moving a finger or two, new power chords can be formed.

Length: 18:43 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 32

Cool Lick Exercise

David MacKenzie introduces some new amazing licks.

Length: 29:12 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 33

Tapping Exercise

David MacKenzie introduces the tapping technique and teaches a fun exercise. This lesson includes a backing track.

Length: 22:44 Difficulty: 2.5 FREE
Lesson 34

Tapping Exercise #2

David MacKenzie teaches another amazing tapping exercise.

Length: 13:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 35

Tapping #3: Adding Open Strings

The third tapping lesson elaborates on the previous lesson by adding open strings.

Length: 12:59 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 36

Tapping #4: Diminished Lick

The fourth lesson in Dave's tapping series deals with a monster diminished lick.

Length: 11:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 37

Tapping #5

In lesson five of his tapping mini-series, DMac provides backing tracks that you can tap over.

Length: 8:04 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 38

Tremolo Technique

In lesson 38, DMac demonstrates some tremolo techniques to add to your repertoire.

Length: 13:54 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 39

Tapping #6

DMac returns to his tapping instruction with more advanced techniques.

Length: 19:54 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 40

Chord Structures

In lesson 40, DMac teaches you how to play various D chords all the way up the neck.

Length: 9:20 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 41


In lesson 41, David discusses the octave and its uses while playing.

Length: 17:09 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only

About David MacKenzie View Full Biography Dave MacKenzie has been playing guitar for 30 of his 45 years on this earth. Starting back when he was 14 years old, Dave picked up the guitar and started to learn from his oldest brother, who had played some guitar as well. Dave was hooked, and couldn't learn fast enough! Everything from the Beatles, Chicago, Ted Nugent, The Eagles, you name it, Dave was trying to play it.

Then as with a lot of players out there, Eddie Van Halen came along and changed the way guitar was played! Dave has been influenced by anyone he has heard play guitar, literally! Always keeping an open mind and a humbleness about him has helped him to keep learning new things on, and about the guitar.

Dave has mostly played in top 40 rock, country, and pop bands. He is most recently playing guitar and keyboards in a 80's metal band called Open Fire. They have opened for Warrant, Firehouse, Winger, and LA Guns within the 3 and a half years they have been together, and are now jumping into original music.

Dave believes you should have internal motivation, and passion to play guitar, and most definitely, it should be fun!

As with his playing, Dave will find new ways to show you how to get the most out of your time learning guitar!

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Mike H.

"I feel like a 12 year old kid with a new guitar!"

I am 66 years young and I still got it! I would have never known this if it had not been for Jamplay! I feel like a 12 year old kid with a new guitar! Ha! I cannot express enough how great you're website is! It is for beginners and advanced pickers! I am an advanced picker and thought I had lost it but thanks to you all, I found it again! Even though I only play by ear, I have been a member a whopping whole two weeks now and have already got Brent's country shuffle and country blues down and of course with embellishments. Thank you all for your wonderful program!

Greg J.

"With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace"

I'm a fifty eight year old newbie who owns a guitar which has been sitting untouched in a corner for about seven years now. Last weekend I got inspired to pick it up and finally learn how to play after watching an amazing Spanish guitarist on TV. So, here I am. I'm starting at the beginning with Steve Eulberg and I couldn't be happier (except for the sore fingers :) Some day I'm going to play like Steve! I'm self employed with a hectic schedule. With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace, rewinding and replaying the videos until I get it. This is a very enjoyable diversion from my work yet I still feel like I'm accomplishing something worthwhile. Thanks a lot, Greg


"I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students."

I am commenting here to tell you and everyone at JamPlay that I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students. I truly enjoy learning to play the guitar on Yes, I said the words, ""enjoy learning."" It is by far the best deal for the money.

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