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Dominion: More on Traveling Up, Down and Across the Fretboard, and a Sweep-Picked Arpeggio Lick

In this month’s installment of Dominion we’re going to check out a couple of lead playing ideas based on arpeggios, both of which have a pretty cool neo-classical sound.

FIGURE 1 covers a lot of fretboard real estate and is one of those licks that also looks cool while you’re playing it, as your fretting hand travels up and down the strings as well as across them. It started out as one of those “let’s see if I can do this” things.

I’m not sure exactly who or what I was trying to mimic with it; I was just going for a little bit of that neo-classical sound with a slide-y, acrobatic feel to it. Like many of my licks, it was born from first singing it my head and then transposing it to the guitar. I heard what I wanted it to sound like in my head first, figured it out on the neck, and then determined how best to finger it so I could play it fast and efficiently with a minimum of effort and energy expended.

Whenever I’m working on something that’s challenging, fast or acrobatic I think it’s important to break it down and analyze it to determine the best way to play it. And sometimes that involves doing things that may feel a little bit awkward but facilitate getting to the next note.

As this example demonstrates, sometimes I use a fingering move that may initially appear illogical purely because of where I’m going next, but in the grand scheme of things, it actually makes sense.

FIGURE 2 is along the lines of my solo in the Lamb of God song “Grace” (from Wrath), which a lot of people have been asking me about. I don’t think I stumbled on anything new though, as it’s pretty much a textbook five-string D minor arpeggio sweep! For the past couple of records I’ve tried to really focus on stepping-out into my own as a lead guitarist.

I’m definitely more of a feel-oriented, blues scale/natural minor-based player, as opposed to a sweep-picking and shred kind of picker. That said, I decided to add those skill sets to my technical arsenal because I wanted some more modern-sounding solos on Wrath. It was both fun and a challenge to work some of those elements and techniques into my lead playing vocabulary.

As a lot of people do nowadays, I did this by sitting in front of my computer with my guitar checking out dozens of playing videos online. The internet is such a wonderful resource, with all these lessons from so many different players out there. I found some really great sweep-picking stuff by players like Jeff Loomis and Herman Li. Paul Gilbert, in addition to being a phenomenal player, is also a great teacher.

Sweep picking requires a fairly light touch, and I found I had to dial back my “picking pressure” a little bit in order to work it into my playing. My right hand is kind of like a shovel because I’m from the Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons school, where you really dig in with your pick! If you’re a heavy picker like I am, sweep picking requires you to retrain yourself and focus on finesse and accuracy, as opposed to sheer brute force.

Like any fast, technique-orientated playing idea, sweep picking is all about muscle memory, so the only way to master it is with a lot of practice and repetition.

I’m really happy with the way my solo in “Grace” turned out. Not because I managed to nail some fast sweep arpeggios in it but because it turned out to be a really musical solo that adds to the song. And that’s the real secret to mastering any playing technique—being able to employ it musically to complement and enhance a song or solo.

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