Last updated on April 13, 2019
If you’re a fan of Steve Morse’s playing, one of his most prominent techniques is alternate picking arpeggios instead of sweeping them. I think this is a great technique to have under your belt as it really heightens the dexterity of your picking hand, as well as giving that sweep-picking sound without having to learn to sweep pick. I personally prefer the sound of alternate picking arpeggios to sweep-picking arpeggios as they’re not as obvious-sounding as when you change to sweep-picking on the fly. I remember my first guitar teacher showing me these exercises in the early 90s, but it was a fair few years later before I discovered the benefits of them.
Alternate Picking Arpeggios provide a gratifying workout for your picking hand, as well as improving your overall hand coordination no end. If you’re new to this technique, it basically involves alternate picking an arpeggio instead of sweep-picking it; that’s really all there is to it. This exercise also adds another dimension to your alternate picking as you’re going from linear scalar-type picking to applying vertical movement to alternate picking.
To get this technique going, I like to start off with a pattern across three strings, then add in the others. There are a couple of benefits here: a) you won’t get frustrated by starting off with a big shape, and b) you’ll practice all the nuances of changing strings on an upstroke and a downstroke.
Here’s the first pattern (we’ll use an A Major arpeggio as you’ll see by pattern 4). Whenever I can, I like to use these numbered diagrams instead of tab or notation as a lot of people seem to like them. Simply follow the number sequence and repeat it ad nauseam using alternate picking starting on a downstroke.
Steve Morse’s 80/20 Rule
I like Steve Morse’s 80/20 rule when learning a lick or run which is to play at slowly 80% of the time without making any mistakes, but play it as fast as you can 20% of the time so that you have the experience of both and they eventually meet in the middle.
Once you’re ripping through pattern 1, or you’re comfortable with it, try pattern 2, again starting on a downstroke and following the number sequence:
Pattern 2 probably slowed you up a little; this is because the picking sequence from pattern one is now reversed. Don’t worry, this is intentional and will help you work through the nuances of alternate picking required to perfect this technique.
For pattern 3 we add another note and reverse the picking of the previous pattern again. Follow the number sequence (1-11 here) starting on a downstroke.
And finally, here’s Pattern 4 which is the complete A Major arpeggio:
At this point you should be fairly comfortable with the technique and be able to execute this arpeggio consistently at a good speed. Try moving it up and down the fretboard to expand the technique to all fret sizes, then you could follow the same procedure for any other arpeggio shapes you like the sound of. If you want a more in depth look at this technique, check out Troy Grady’s reverse engineering of it with the man himself.