Shaun Baxter shows how triadic arpeggios can be used to create stunning solos.
Over the next few issues we are going to study the stylistic elements in neo-classical rock, starting with triadic arpeggios. A triad comprises three notes (stacked 3rds), and is one of the fundamental building blocks of Western music. There are four main triads: diminished, minor, major and augmented. Diagram 1 shows three common shapes for major and minor triads. A major: A C# E A minor: AC E 13 5 1 b3 5 Diminished and augmented triads have not been included because they don’t feature in neo-classical rock (occasionally you will hear dim 7th, but that’s a four-note arpeggio, not a triad, and we will be covering that in a following lesson). It’s not to say you shouldn’t experiment with these triads. Practise by shifting the 3rds and 5ths of each of the shapes in Diagram 1 (lower the 5th of minor to get diminished; raise the 5th of major to get augmented) from A diminished (1, b3, b5) to A minor (1, b3, 5) to A major (1, 3, 5) to A augmented (1, 3, #5). Keep the changed notes on the same string as the original!
This is excellent for interval recognition as it hammers home where to find the 3rds and 5ths. Triads are also a good reference point for other intervals: if you want to find the 6th, it’s a tone up from the 5th: a lot easier than working up from the root.
Because the triadic arpeggios in Diagram 1 often just have one note on each string, they lend themselves to being sweep picked in order to be played at speed. Sweep picking is where you play more than one note with a single pick-stroke when travelling from string to string - effectively it’s a controlled strum.
In this month’s arpeggio workout, you will see many consecutive pick strokes in the same direction. When this happens, you should play all the strokes shown as one continuous stroke, not lots of separate ones. When doing this, only one note is supposed to be held down at a time by the fretting hand: this ensures that all the notes are heard separately (as single notes). If consecutive notes on adjacent strings occupy different frets, this is relatively easy; however, sometimes the consecutive notes are played on adjacent strings within the same fret, and this is when we need to use a barré roll which involves laying a finger of the fretting hand flat across two or more strings, and the weight of the fingerprint part is redistributed from string to string (note to note), so that only one note is held down at a time. This is achieved using an arm and wrist action rather than distorting the shape of the finger, which should remain straight but slightly arched throughout. Sweeping only sounds good when played in time (in other words, when there is an equal distance between each note, so that it doesn’t sound lumpy when played at speed). Some players think of a sweep as a succession of classical-style ‘rest’ strokes whereby, upon picking a string, the pick follows through and comes to rest upon the neighbouring string. The pressure is then increased upon the pick, in order to force it through this second string, to rest on the third, and so forth. This keeps the pick moving inexorably forward.
Show a small amount of plectrum to the string when picking (about 2mm). Then, when sweeping a large arpeggio the fingers and thumb can act like stabilisers, allowing you to lean on the fingernails during downsweeps and on the side of thumb during up-sweeps. This helps to angle the pick correctly. If you show too much pick to the strings, the change of angle between down and up-strokes will become too pronounced.
Finally, when sweeping across several strings, use a wrist action wherever possible, because the aim is to integrate it naturally in to the rest of your picking.
Triads form the basic reference point for most intervals.