Shaun Baxter shows you how to combine two of the guitar’s most labour-saving devices to execute exceptionally smooth arpeggio passages.
Shaun Baxter combines sweeping and tapping to produce exceptionally smooth arpeggios.
last month we looked at ways of using two-handed tapping to play arpeggios. This issue, we’re going to add sweep picking to the mix. Diagram 1 shows a series of useful arpeggios that exist within A minor that we will be incorporating into the lesson.
Fretting-hand tapping requires a much stronger and more purposeful action when producing notes with fingers of that particular hand, so that they sound crisp and even without incurring any unwanted noise. The required action is particularly demanding on the first finger if you are new to this technique, as this particular digit tends to be clamped to the guitar as a pivot for most ‘normal’ playing.
Apart from finger strength and accuracy, extraneous noise is your biggest enemy and should be abated using the following techniques: as usual, use the side of the picking hand to damp all idle bass strings by resting on them firmly, and the underside of the fingers of the fretting hand to damp any idle treble strings.
You must leave each string in such a way that you minimise noise. So move the finger outwards from the neck in a way that is both swift but gentle, rather than down towards the floor.
You should fret notes by stubbing the end of each finger (especially the first) up against the adjacent bass string (thus damping it): this entails holding down each string using the print part of each fretting finger, and not the tip. Also, some players use a string damper (often just a hair band, although several proprietary dampers are available) on the first few frets in order to eradicate extraneous open-string noise; however, you then cannot use your open strings for things like harmonics, so it is worth perfecting your technique without having to resort to this if you can.
Sweep picking is the practice of playing more than one note with a single pick stroke - a technique that can only be applied when travelling from one string to another. Sweep picking is particularly effective as a means of playing arpeggios that are arranged one-noteper-string, as one can ascend the arpeggio using one continuous down-sweep, or descend it using one continuous up-sweep.
The ‘sweep’ is effectively a controlled strum in which only one note is held down at a time by the fretting hand: this ensures that all the notes are heard separately, rather than running into each other and mushing up the overall effect.
When sweeping for the first time, it is not uncommon to rush; but if you don’t learn to sweep in time your approach will be limited, and everything will simply sound ‘sweepy’. In an effort to play in time, some players break the sweep action into separate strokes at slow tempo; but it’s better to commit to the sweep, then work on improving your timing.
At slow tempos, some find it helpful to think of a sweep as a succession of classical-style ‘rest’ strokes, whereby the pick follows through and comes to rest on the neighbouring string; the pressure is then increased, in order to force the pick through this second string, following through to the third, and so forth.
This approach should help you learn to sweep in time when playing at slow tempos. The pick should be angled on each downsweep, but should be held straight for each up-sweep. Ideally, you should show a very small amount of plectrum to the string when picking. Then, when sweeping, the fingers and thumb of the picking hand can act like stabilisers on a child’s bike – allowing you to lean on the back of fingernails during downsweeps and on the side of thumb during up-sweeps, to angle the pick correctly.
Finally, when sweeping across several strings, it’s important to try to use a wrist action wherever possible, because the aim is to integrate the sweeping technique naturally in to the rest of your picking.
If you don’t learn to sweep pick properly in time, your approach will be severely limited, and everything will simply sound ‘sweepy’.