The Most Basic Six-Note Guitar Arpeggio: In-Depth
Our powerful six-note arpeggio: P, I, M, A, M, I
Or, expressed in tab form:
When in doubt, when in 3/4, head to P,I,M,A,M,I and hang tight until you have your wits about you.
This is Simple, and I am Bored
Whoa!! Hold on there, partner.
To quote Jamie Andreas: “When you see the complexity of what appears simple, you will see the simplicity of what appears complex.”
This arpeggio definitely falls under the heading of “see the complexity of what appears simple.”
At first glance, the P,I,M,A,M,I arpeggio might seem simple, easy and straightforward, but there is a lot to dig into here.
Let’s take the fingers in turn.
Spring-Load That Thumb
Many guitar players allow their thumb to float up and away from the strings after they play a thumbstroke.
It’s an understandable thing to do–by the time the thumb finishes playing, all the other fingers are getting busy with their respective notes, so the thumb gets lost in the mix.
However, a spring-loaded thumb that returns to the string it is set to play next will tighten up your playing and improve the power you can put into your thumb strokes.
So, as soon as you play through the first note of this PIMAMI arpeggio with your thumb, quickly return your thumb to a low hover just behind the 5th string. From there, it will be able to play its next note on the 5th string when the time comes.
In order to control your thumb and drill the spring-loaded habit into it, you’ll probably have to slow down quite a bit. For most of the students I’ve worked with, the moment they take their attention away from the thumb, it returns to its old floaty tricks.
Otherwise, as far as the thumb is concerned, just work on getting a strong, powerful stroke that produces a solid, pure tone in the bass.
The Easy Index Finger
Thank goodness we have an index finger–what if all our fingers were as obtuse and intractable as the ring and pinky?
The index finger’s job in this arpeggio is very straightforward–play the note with a clean attack and be ready to return for the final note of the arpeggio.
In case you aren’t clear about how to move the fingers, the basic movement for each of the fingers comes from the joints higher up toward the palm. The mid-joint and the joint right next to the hand at the base of the finger should produce the movement of each finger.
If you’re making the cat’s claw by moving from the joint closest to the fingertip, you’re going to be very limited by your technique. So as best you can, work to get the movement to come fro those joints that are closer to the base of the finger where it connects with the rest of the hand.
The basic motion is a lot like waving. You wave the finger back toward the palm.
This is a little tricky to describe solely through text, but just these basic ideas should orient you in a good way toward proper finger movement.
Middle Finger, Much Like the Index
When the middle finger plays to follow the index finger, your main concern is watching for good finger movement from the middle finger, first off, and then keeping the ring finger relaxed as the middle finger plays.
The ring and middle are a little codependent. The ring wants to go where the middle finger goes and vice versa.
Keep an eye on the ring as you play it and try to relax any excess tension that crops up in it.
The Moment of Truth: Play the Ring Finger
When the ring finger plays its note, this arpeggio requires extreme attention.
If you work this moment very carefully and deliberately, you’ll set yourself up for high speed, power and fluidity in this arpeggio and all its derivatives.
So, when the ring finger goes to play, the index and middle have already played and are back toward the palm of the hand (not too far, but relatively speaking, they’re in that direction).
Now, as you play with the ring finger, you need to simultaneously kick the index and middle fingers back out so they’ll be ready to play their notes in succession following the ring finger’s note.
It takes some time and relaxed easy practice to build this switch smoothly into your hand. Take time and really respect this moment–it will either derail you and leave you frustrated when you hit a speed ceiling with this arpeggio that you can’t get past, or you’ll develop a supernatural speed thanks to your ability to easily make this switch without building up unnecessary extra tension in your picking hand.
The Return to Middle and Index
After the ring finger plays and the middle and index kick back out in front of their respective strings, it’s all downhill.
Just first play the middle finger, and allow the middle finger’s return stroke to bring the index finger along through its string.
If you work gently and persistently, this two-finger movement can feel like a single smooth motion.
Instead of feeling like the middle finger moves and then the index finger moves, work at making the movement feel likes two fingers, two notes, one stroke.
Heavyweight Help for the P,I,M,A,M,I Arpeggio
Mastering this arpeggio will put you in a great place for accompanying many different 3/4 songs.
If you perfect the simple (but complex!) movements of this arpeggio and work them steadily with a metronome to keep you rhythmically honest, you’ll have a very sweet, simple and beautiful accompaniment option that can serve as a solid base for all sorts of other picking hand improvisations.
In the even that you don’t have a piece of music in 3/4 that you’re already working on, I highly recommend Mauro Giuliani’s 5th Guitar Study from his Opus 48. It uses this arpeggio throughout and helped me a lot as I was working on developing the fluid finger movements for power and speed.
Arpeggio Consulting Available Right Here at String Love
If you haven’t checked out my Online Guitar Lessons section and received some benefit from this lesson, then you’ll definitely want to delve into the free guitar lessons I’ve created and posted there.
Finally, if you’d like to hear how I employ this arpeggio alongside many others in my own music, then please check out my first album Spirited. You can grab it in digital form right here, right now, and you’ll be set up with some fantastic new music.
As always, please ask any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out!