I've never been into sweep arpeggios. That's not to say I avoided them on purpose, I just never felt motivated to practice them. I dig a lot of rock/metal players that use sweep arpeggios extensively, so it was only a matter of time before they became the target of my ever-shifting obsessions.
The catalyst was a confluence of a couple events this week: I attended a metal show to see and old friend perform (saw two players with amazing chug-a-lug, speed-picking, and sweep arpeggio chops), and I watched some Metalocalypse the next day. Something made me want to learn this technique immediately.
Sweep Arpeggio Shapes
One hurdle that prevented me from jumping on this earlier was that I didn't know what arpeggio shapes are used for sweeping. Most of the arpeggios I've really worked on over the years were 7th arpeggios, which use a combination of one and two notes per string, not very conducive to sweeping. I worked briefly with some John Petrucci exercises long ago, but his shapes were mostly mechanical, designed to get the sweeping feel into your fingers, not for making real music.
So I looked up a few YouTube videos on how to play sweep arpeggios, got the general idea, then modified the shapes to my own tastes. I decided to stick to only major and minor triads. They seem like the most-used shapes in shred sweeping. Even if they weren't, they're still fundamental to tonal music. Why master more complex ideas without conquering triads first?
There are six sweep arpeggio shapes I'm working with: root position, first inversion, and second inversion of major and minor. Each shape contains eight notes. Ascending and descending, without repeating the highest or lowest note, makes a total of 14 notes, so I put each example below in 7/8.
Major Root Position
Minor Root Position
Major First Inversion
Minor First Inversion
Major Second Inversion
Minor Second Inversion
How to Practice Sweep Arpeggios
I'm still pretty slow at these things, compared to the professionals, but I've made pretty rapid progress in the last few days. I play these primarily in quintuplets. I know, it strains the mind a bit, but it ensures that every note is played evenly; your perception is never skewed by hearing the pattern in the same rhythmic position every time. Each of these shapes can be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks. I find it especially engaging to apply sweep arpeggios to common pop chord progressions like i-bVI-bIII-V or I-iii-vi-IV. And for long-term daily warmup exercises, nothing works better than my new Custom Flash Cards application (preset to the settings I use, just for you).