How To Play Arpeggios On Guitar – The Ultimate Guide To Arpeggio Licks For Guitar
by Tom Hess
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You are in the right place.
This sweep picking article will get you started on the right path and get you playing guitar arpeggio licks very quickly.
The first step to playing major and minor guitar arpeggios is...
... learn the right sweep picking fingerings for them.
Then you need to know the mechanics of sweep picking.
(Sweep picking is the technique that enables you to play arpeggio licks for guitar at high speed.)
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You need to tie major and minor guitar arpeggios together.
This creates sweep picking guitar licks you’ll feel proud to play for others.
In this article, I show you all 3, so you can play awesome guitar arpeggio licks for guitar starting today.
To begin, watch the sweep picking video below:
Now that you know the basics of sweep picking and understand how major and minor guitar arpeggios work, what’s next?
Here are 5 more advanced sweep picking tips that help you play guitar arpeggio licks with ease:
Few things sound as bad during sweep picking guitar arpeggio licks as open string noise.
No matter if you are playing arpeggio licks for guitar or you’re playing scale sequences, string noise happens from the lower in pitch strings or from the higher in pitch strings.
When you are ascending some guitar arpeggios – the lower in pitch strings can often ring out.
When you play arpeggios on guitar descending – the higher in pitch strings can often ring out.
Here are the solutions for this:
When you play arpeggios on guitar ascending, use your picking hand’s thumb to mute the lower strings. The thumb simply slides up the strings (resting on them) as you ascend through guitar arpeggios.
I created this technique (I call it thumb muting), when I was struggling to play arpeggios on guitar cleanly. And I’ve yet to see a better way to mute string noise on guitar arpeggio licks.
Here is how thumb muting works:
Question: “But Tom Hess, what about muting with the palm when I do sweep picking? Isn't that just as good for muting string noise during arpeggio licks for guitar as thumb muting?”
Answer: No. Here is why:
When you play guitar arpeggio licks while you mute with the palm, the resting position of the pick becomes outside the string trench (the space between strings). This means you will not be able to do proper sweep picking motions as you play arpeggios on guitar. (And that means: you’ll play guitar arpeggio licks far below your speed potential.)
Not to mention: muting with the palm for sweep picking is less reliable than muting with your thumb. That’s because the thumb naturally rests on ALL the lower (in pitch) strings as play guitar arpeggios.
The palm doesn't.
When you descend guitar arpeggios…
Use your index finger (of your fretting hand) to mute the higher in pitch strings as you do sweep picking.
It looks like this:
When you use both thumb muting and fretting hand index finger muting to play arpeggio licks for guitar – your sweep picking is almost guaranteed to be perfectly clean.
What the heck is finger rolling and how does it help you play guitar arpeggio licks cleanly?
Finger rolling happens in guitar arpeggios when you play more than one note on the same fret on several strings (with the same finger).
When you play arpeggios on guitar that use finger rolling, the biggest thing to pay attention to is: separation of notes. If the notes of the finger roll ring (bleed) together, your guitar arpeggio licks (and all your sweep picking licks in general) sound sloppy.
Many guitarists (even those who play arpeggios on guitar at eye-popping speeds) struggle with this specific element of sweep picking (finger rolling) and avoid it as much as they can.
Ironically – I find guitar arpeggio licks with finger rolling to be the easiest ones to play fast.
That’s because I have a simple, almost fail-safe process for mastering finger rolling in guitar arpeggios.
It works even if you’ve struggled with this element of sweep picking for a long time.
Watch this video where I show you the ins & outs of fast & clean finger rolling for your guitar arpeggio licks
Bonus tip: If you have a hard time doing the motion of finger rolling in your guitar arpeggio licks (even after watching the sweep picking video of me breaking down the motions), do this:
Talk your way through the motions. Simply say to yourself (out loud) each part of the finger rolling motion as you are playing your guitar arpeggios with sweep picking. This will help you to do the motion the right way, allow you to spot mistakes before they turn into bad habits and keep you from practicing too fast.
Question: “Tom Hess, does finger rolling only happen when I play arpeggios on guitar (or do sweep picking in general)? Or does it happen in other guitar techniques too?”
Answer: Finger rolling doesn’t only happen when you play arpeggios on guitar. It also happens in some scale sequences (and other licks). However, the motions of finger rolling are always the same (no matter if you are doing it as you play guitar arpeggio licks, or other techniques).
Tremolo (rapid picking of one note back and forth) is a fantastic technique to combine with guitar arpeggios.
This not only helps you clean up sloppy sweep picking… but also creates awesome (and very aggressive) arpeggio guitar licks.
How do you actually combine guitar arpeggios with tremolo?
Play a 5-string A major arpeggio in root position. Sweep up to the 3rd string, then play a tremolo on that note.
At this point, you should only hear the note on the third string. Repeat this exercise until you can do it cleanly. Then practice sweeping up to other notes in the arpeggio and stopping on them with tremolo as well.
Here is an example of this sweep picking variation in action:
Common questions about this way of playing guitar arpeggio licks:
Question: “Tom Hess, How many times do I do the tremolo when I stop on each note of my guitar arpeggios?”
Answer: It doesn't matter. Don’t count the number of pick strokes when playing arpeggios on guitar with tremolo picking. Go entirely by feel and stop when you think you’ve done enough tremolo pick strokes. In fact, it’s almost better not to pick the string too many times.
The reason is: you want your (and your listeners’) ear to hear mainly the sound of your guitar arpeggios and guitar arpeggio licks – not tremolo picking. But if you do too many tremolo pick strokes – the listener’s ear will forget that you are playing guitar arpeggios. And thus, the sweep picking + tremolo effect will be lost.
Find out how to play clean sweep picking arpeggios for lead guitar.
Play Fast Sweep Picking Arpeggios
Play lightning fast arpeggios using
a sweep picking rolling technique.
How To Fix Unclean Guitar Playing
Fix sloppy playing by reading this article about muting string noise.
Question: “Tom Hess, should I use a metronome on this guitar arpeggio licks variation or not?”
Answer: Don't use the metronome. Go entirely by feel on this sweep picking variation.
Combining sweep picking guitar arpeggio licks with tremolo picking is a good example of integration. (Integration happens when you combine 2 or more concepts in a smooth way.)
And guitar arpeggios sound great when combined with just about any other lead guitar technique.
For example, check out this video about combining guitar arpeggio licks with scales:
Use these integration ideas as you play arpeggios on guitar.
Here are a few simple ways turn simple major and minor guitar arpeggios into awesome guitar licks that sound cool and are easy to play:
Idea #1: Create a break in the pattern of your sweep picking guitar arpeggios.
When you play arpeggios on guitar in the usual way (up and down) – the listener expects the notes (in your guitar arpeggios) to follow a certain order. This expectation creates a pattern.
But any time you break that pattern – you create musical tension.
The good news is: you don’t have to be an advanced guitar player to use breaks in the pattern for creating musical tension with your guitar arpeggio licks.
One easy thing you can do is to double up on the highest 2 notes of (standard) major and minor guitar arpeggios.
This makes your guitar arpeggio licks sound very aggressive (by using the break in the pattern idea) – without having to play anything fast or difficult.
Watch this video to see how this sweep picking idea sounds:
Idea #2: Create sweep picking licks by playing guitar arpeggios only in one direction.
Yes, just like the name sounds – you play arpeggios on guitar either only ascending or only descending. This breaks the pattern of what your listener expects to hear and builds a lot of musical tension in your guitar arpeggio licks.
Want to see how to use this idea to create arpeggio licks for guitar?
Watch this sweep picking video:
Yes, this sweep picking variation is very hard to play fast. (That’s because when you play arpeggio licks for guitar by sweep picking in only 1 direction, you have to skip strings. This is hard to do at high tempos.)
That said, this doesn't matter, because this way of playing arpeggio licks for guitar sounds very intense at any speed.
Idea #3: Use silence
It may seem strange to hear that you can “use” silence to play arpeggios on guitar… but you can. And it’s quite easy to do.
What you do is: play a fast sweep picking burst (on 3 strings, 4 strings or 5 strings) – followed by total silence… which is then followed by a screaming note with wide vibrato.
This also creates a break in the pattern of your guitar arpeggio licks and allows you to add some speed into your playing in a way that’s easy for your hands to do.
Here is how it sounds:
Major and minor guitar arpeggios are more than enough to play awesome arpeggio licks for guitar using sweep picking.
But if you want to go deeper?
Then expand your triad guitar arpeggios to 7th chords.
This means: you’ll play arpeggio licks for guitar using 4-note chords. The unique challenge with this is:
You now have to do hammer ons (and pull offs) in the middle of your sweep picking licks as you play arpeggios on guitar. (The hammer on/pull off happens on the 3rd string of your guitar arpeggio licks that use 7th chords.)
However, there IS an advantage to this.
The advantage is:
You can now create brand new sweep picking guitar arpeggio licks that would not be possible using just triads.
Here is an example of cool arpeggio guitar licks you can play using 7th chords:
That said, there is a certain sweep picking challenge here:
Make sure that your pick doesn't stop moving all the way through these guitar arpeggios that use 7th chords. Just because there is a hammer on or a pull off happening in the middle of the arpeggio doesn't mean your guitar pick can stop and rest.
Watch this sweep picking video to see what I mean:
Now that you know how to play sweep picking arpeggio licks for guitar, the next step is to improve other elements of your guitar speed and become a cleaner, faster and more accurate guitar player. I show you how in my free eGuide called: Speed Blitz – How To Play Guitar 10% Faster In One Day. Download it today and make your playing noticeably faster by this time tomorrow.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Ready to level-up your guitar playing? Learn how with the best online lessons for guitarists.
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