Train Your Brain to Think About Notes


Diatonic Arpeggio Exercise

This is more of a mental exercise than a technical one. I came up with this idea the other day when talking to a student about using arpeggios while improvising. His problem was that he couldn’t locate the arpeggios he wanted on the fretboard fast enough to use them in his solo. So how do you get good enough to play any arpeggio you want, instantly and in the moment? You have to train your brain. Force yourself to think about the notes you are playing. The more you do that, the faster your brain will be able to process and locate the notes you want.

This exercise is just one way I came up with to train your brain. Here are the guidelines.
1. Play through all the diatonic arpeggios in the key, in order (example is in C).
2. Play only the four notes that occur in each arpeggio and then move on to the next arpeggio. When switching arpeggios, choose notes that are close by. Avoid leaping around.
3. Continually ascend and descend the arpeggios. Try doing so alternately every two arpeggios.
4. It’s OK to start on a note other than the root note so long as you play all the notes in the arpeggio.

As you try this you’ll notice there’s more than one correct path to follow. That’s the beauty of this. Work out the path that makes the most sense to you. Once you have that down, explore other pathways. See where your brain and fingers lead you.

If you can, use a metronome as you do this and play one note for every click. Set it up slow at first as you’ll probably notice even 50 BPM can be a challenge. But the whole point is to force your brain to process these notes quickly and that won’t happen if you always give yourself 30 seconds to figure out the next arpeggio.

Below is my one example of how you can move over the fretboard. This example is in the key of C Major but it’s not the only possibility. Explore other pathways and other keys. Change some of the rules or add other rules. Just so long as you’re thinking about the notes you play, you’ll be training your brain.




In case you are wondering, the notes for all the arpeggios in the key of C Major are
CM7: C E G B
Dm7: D F A C
Em7: E G B D
FM7: F A C E
G7: G B D F
Am7: A C E G
Bm7b5: B D F A