Hello, UG community! A few months ago, I wrote a column where I explained one approach to breaking out of pentatonic box shapes by playing three-notes-per-string licks beginning on the second degree of the natural minor and avoiding the root note. It's been a while, but I'm back with another technique to help my fellow guitarists color their lead playing: the 4-string sweep arpeggio.
The idea seems simple enough: a sweep picking pattern that only crosses four strings. However, I believe these arpeggios are really underrated weapons in the guitarist's arsenal. In this article, I will explain my approach to 4-string sweeps and present some of my favorite patterns for using this technique.
(Note: this article is not intended to be an instructional in beginning sweep picking. There are dozens of articles on UG devoted to helping players reach that milestone. Support the people who take the time to help developing guitarists by reading and reviewing their articles!)
Most players begin sweeping by learning simple 3-string patterns, usually an A minor arpeggio like the one illustrated in Figure 1. From there, they advance to 5-string shapes, then 6-string patterns. Looking at that progression, one could understandably feel as though something is missing. And that's a shame, because 4-string arpeggios are an excellent way to augment one's phrasing.
3-string sweep, Am
Many 4-string sweeps require the guitarist to move their fingers in ways that may not seem as fluid, especially if they are used to the 3-and-5-string shapes outlined above. Utilizing these shapes effectively will require - as with all new techniques - time, practice, and patience until they can be played cleanly.
*For clarity and consistency, all examples given will be in the key of CMaj/Am, with the exception of Figure 5.
Figure 2 illustrates the first 4-string shape I developed. It most closely resembles the A minor sweeps presented above, and works well in a C Major/A minor or D minor context:
4-string sweep, Am
The pattern in Figure 4 is probably the most difficult to accustom one's fingers to out of the whole bunch. It resembles an A minor shape but fingering the E on the fourth string (D string) can be a bit tricky:
Figure 4:4-string sweep, A minor
So, there you have it: three 4-string arpeggio shapes to get you started! To see how you can apply them, here's a link to a short video I made where I play a series of 4-string sweep sequences. My guitar is tuned down a whole step, which puts my playing in the key of C minor:
To see how extensively these shapes can be used and moved around the fretboard, here is a long 4-string sequence illustrating some of the basic patterns I cycled through in the video. Played with the guitar in standard tuning means these arpeggios are in the key of D minor:
Figure 5:D minor
As you can probably hear, these patterns lend themselves to some really beautiful, technical-sounding melodies and can be combined with other arpeggio shapes - as well as other techniques like tapping - to create more intricate passages. I hope you are able to apply them to your own lead work, and add this really excellent approach to arpeggios to your musical toolkit. Please review and comment: constructive criticism and support is always appreciated! Fortune willing, I'll have another lesson up soon!