Today’s reader question is on the perennial topic of sweeping arpeggios. “B” wrote in a couple of weeks ago asking:
…Sweeping is fairly easy for me. I have the movements of my right hand sweep down just fine, and I can sort of figure out the Arps. I am self taught of a year or so, a little less and already I have associated myself among the best shredders around. =D Or so my friends say. I have been learning sweeps for about 2 weeks, and I need to know how you make it cleaner, with a distorted sound. I play Technical stuff, if you have ever heard of Necrophagist or something like Abigail Williams, and I can play the sweeps and arps just fine, except I leave all the notes ringing after the sweep on the string.
So, how do I..not do that? I try and palm mute, run my thumb over the strings as I sweep, but I end up making more noise. So I tried playing sweeps on clean just to get the motions down without banging on the strings with my fingers when playing fast. I know I am rambling, but sweeping is so frustrating when you can only hear static. My efforts in trying to clean by distorted sweeps have been destroyed…So as the only person to ever WANT to help me, Thank you.
Oh dear. Two weeks is nowhere near enough time to master a challenging new technique. Our fast-paced culture of instant gratification leads many people to expect to totally kick ass at new skills within an extremely short time. If they can’t manage, they think they either don’t have the “talent” for it or that they must be doing something horribly wrong.
Some skills just take time to develop. And beware: there are plenty of guitarists out there who will
lie about grossly underestimate the amount of time and effort they need to master a given technique, just so they will appear more “talented.” This is total bovine excrement. So cut yourself some slack, realize that any skill takes time to develop, and don’t compare your own progress with other people’s.
OK then, without having seen or heard you play, my guess is that you are trying to play your sweeps too fast too soon.
You need to slow way the heck down, and here is why.
If you play very slowly, you can observe what you’re doing in detail and discover the exact source of the noise. It could be coming from either your left hand, or your right hand, or a combination of both. If you slow way down and still can’t tell where the noise is coming from, then ask a friend to help observe you. You might also find that the noisy problem disappears at a very slow tempo. In that case, gradually increase the tempo until the problem starts to occur.
Once you’ve identified the problem, THEN you can work on fixing it.
Sweep like a girl
For what it’s worth, here are some of my own observations about sweeping arpeggio technique.
- It’s not necessary to mute with the right hand unless you’re going for that Al DiMeola percussive effect. Try letting the heel of your right-hand palm glide lightly over the strings as you sweep to keep them from ringing.
- As you sweep through the arpeggio, your left hand should finger each note separately as you strike the string with the pick (or play a legato note). As you move to each new note, the preceding finger lifts off the string. So you only actually fret one note at a time. When you do a “bar roll,” make sure to actually ROLL your finger so that only the note you want to play is being fully fretted.
- I tend to keep my right hand and forearm fairly relaxed and loose, but I’ve noticed that some guitarists sweep with a much stiffer right hand and forearm. You can experiment with different feels to determine what’s right for you.
- Try practicing with varying levels of distortion, from clean to “more gain than God.” Using a clean sound will help you develop an even pick attack (you can hear if it’s not), whereas using lots of distortion will reveal any sloppiness that you need to clear up.
Just remember that the following applies to almost everything you’ll ever try to play: if you can’t play it at a slow-to-moderate tempo, then you’re not ready to play it fast. Period.
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