Thrash Course with Dave Davidson: Combining Two Popular Arpeggio-Playing Techniques to Create Fluid Phrases

Two techniques most rock lead guitarists are familiar with are sweep picking and fretboard tapping, both of which are often employed to perform arpeggios.

Sweeping, like strumming, involves quickly dragging the pick across several adjacent strings in a single downward or upward motion, except when sweeping you try to mute and silence each string with the fret hand immediately after picking it, as opposed to holding down a shape and allowing the notes to ring together like a chord.

Tapping entails using either a pick-hand fingertip or the edge of a pick to hammer-on a note on a single string at a specific fret. In this column, I’d like to demonstrate ways to combine the two techniques to create great sounding licks that can easily be moved around the fretboard.

Let’s begin with an Em7 chord, as shown in bar 1 of FIGURE 1. In bar 2, I play an ascending arpeggio based on this shape across the top five strings, using a downstroke sweep in conjunction with a couple of hammer-ons, which I use to add a second note on the A and G strings. When incorporating hammer-ons into a sweep like this, the pick hand needs to slow down momentarily to give you time to fret the second note before picking the next string. Practice this move a bunch of times, striving for an even rhythm across all eight notes in bar 2.

FIGURE 2 has you descending an Em7 arpeggio across these same strings using tapping instead of sweeping. Notice that we’re skipping over the B and D strings here and playing three notes on the high E, G and A strings. I tap the first note on each string with my pick-hand middle finger, which I then pull-off to the second note, then to the third note. When pulling off (with either hand), you don’t want to just lift the finger off the string, but rather flick it slightly sideways in order to keep the string vibrating and make the notes project with sufficient volume.

Now let’s combine sweeping and tapping into a continuous, fluid arpeggio run, as demonstrated in FIGURE 3. It can be a little daunting to do this across five strings like this. You can try starting out with just the top three strings, as shown in FIGURE 4. When looping a pattern like this, I try to pick the first note each time around, which can be the trickiest part of it. Proceed slowly at first, gradually increasing speed while striving for precision.

We can easily expand on this idea, simply by changing one note in the chord we’re arpeggiating. As shown in FIGURE 5, if I move the fifth of Em7, B, down a half step, to Bb, the resultant chord is Em7b5 (E G Bb D), a dark-sounding chord that is ideally suited for metal. FIGURE 6 illustrates how to apply our sweep-and-tap pattern to this arpeggio.

Now that you have the concept down, try switching back and forth between Em7b5 and Em7, as shown in FIGURE 7. Remember to spread your fretting fingers appropriately for the wider stretches required for Em7b5, and then bring the fingers back in closer for Em7.

Let’s wrap up by moving the Em7 run pattern up and down in half steps: start with Em7, move up one fret to Fm7, then back to Em7, and then down one fret to Ebm7, as demonstrated in FIGURE 8.

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