2-String Arpeggios – Sweep Picking Lead Guitar Tutorial
by Tom Hess
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If you want to master sweep picking on guitar, you better put some time into learning 2-string arpeggios.
Here is why:
2-string arpeggios help isolate two of the most challenging aspects of sweep picking:
- Picking hand efficiency (you won’t be able to do fast sweep picking with 2-string arpeggios without it), and…
- 2-hand synchronization on string changes (when you change strings rapidly on 2-string arpeggios, your hands can easily get out of sync).
But the good news is:
Once you refine these elements of your guitar technique, sweep picking fast and clean becomes much easier.
And even if you already play 3 & 5-string guitar arpeggios well… mastering 2-string arpeggios will only make your sweep picking cleaner & faster.
That’s exactly what happened to me once I finally mastered 2-string arpeggios in my playing.
The same happened to thousands of my guitar students whom I helped conquer 2-string arpeggios (and other types of guitar arpeggios).
Now, it’s your turn.
Watch the video below where I show you how to play 2-string arpeggios fast & clean:
Now that you know how to play 2-string arpeggios, here are a few more sweep picking tips to help you improve other types of guitar arpeggios:
Sweep Picking Guitar Technique Tip #1: Refine Your Picking Motions For Guitar Arpeggios. Here Is How:
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…your picking hand.
(And this is even more important when sweeping through 2-string arpeggios).
Here is what I mean:
Fast sweep picking becomes easy if you never stop the momentum of your picking hand. All you do is push the pick through the strings when you ascend through guitar arpeggios…
…and pull the hand back when you descend.
(You saw me do just that in the video about 2-string arpeggios.)
But if you stop the hand’s momentum while you do sweep picking?
Then you’ll never play guitar arpeggios fast and clean. (No matter if it’s 2-string arpeggios or other types of guitar arpeggios.)
Watch this guitar arpeggios video to see what I mean:
Watch your picking hand in the mirror when you practice sweep picking 2-string arpeggios from this article. This way you can see if you are doing sweep picking motions correctly or not.
Bonus tip: Isolate sweep picking motions for your picking hand only. Meaning: don’t fret any notes with your fretting hand. Only do the picking motions of your guitar arpeggios.
(For example: practice 2-string arpeggios from the earlier video in this way.)
Note: keep the picking hand’s momentum going even when your guitar arpeggios contain hammer ons and pull offs.
Here is why:
It’s common for the pick to stop moving (or worse: fly away from the strings) during sweep picking licks that contain hammer ons.
Avoid this! Keep the pick moving towards its next note for the entire sweep picking pattern.
(2-string arpeggios from this article don’t use hammer ons, but this is a good reminder for your 3 and 5-string sweep picking guitar arpeggios.)
Sweep Picking Guitar Technique Tip #2: Avoid Strings Bleeding Together. Here Is How:
Bleeding happens when the notes in your guitar arpeggios ring (bleed) together. This guitar technique mistake sounds especially horrible on 2-string arpeggios. (But it sounds pretty bad on all other guitar arpeggios too.)
This guitar technique error is caused by 2 things:
- keeping the finger down on the note it already played as you put the next finger down.
- sloppy finger rolling. Finger rolling means: sweep picking through 2 or more notes on the same frets, on different strings with the same finger.
Finger rolling can happen in 2-string arpeggios, but it happens most often in other guitar arpeggios (across 3, 4 and 5 strings).
Here is how to avoid this guitar technique mistake in your guitar arpeggios:
1. Release each finger after it played a note. Note: releasing does NOT mean “lifting”. It means relaxing the finger. The previous finger should still touch its string as you play the next note in your guitar arpeggios.
This guitar technique adjustment will help your sweep picking speed and accuracy.
2. Master the guitar technique of finger rolling.
To do finger rolling the right way, your finger should fret each note of the sweep picking roll one at a time.
This keeps your guitar technique clean even when you play with a lot of distortion at loud volumes (and when you play guitar arpeggios fast.)
Do NOT barre the notes of the finger roll during your sweep picking of guitar arpeggios. This is a BIG guitar technique mistake.
Fretting several strings with one finger (using a barre) causes notes to bleed together and turns your sweep picking into a sloppy mess. (On 2-string arpeggios this sounds especially bad, because all you hear is bleeding.)
Instead of barring the sweep picking finger roll, collapse your finger knuckle to fret each note one at a time.
Then rock your wrist back if you need to do a 3-string finger roll during your guitar arpeggios.
This guitar technique fix makes your 2-string arpeggios sound clean, even if you use a lot of gain.
Watch this video to see an illustration:
Question: “Tom Hess, I'm trying to follow your sweep picking advice for finger rolling, but the notes of my guitar arpeggios still ring together. It sounds even worse on 2-string arpeggios from this article. What’s wrong with my guitar technique?”
Answer: Your guitar technique may be fine, but your string action could be too low.
String action (how high your strings are away from the fretboard) can impact your guitar technique.
Having your strings too close to the fretboard (low action) makes it harder to separate the notes of the roll. As you collapse the knuckle, the previous note you played often continues to ring.
(This is true whether you play 2-string arpeggios or other types of sweep picking.)
Solution: Raise your string action slightly. This helps you to release each note during finger rolling so strings ring one at a time. And it will make it easier to do sweep picking without bleeding.
Fix this first before making any other adjustments in your guitar technique. Then assess how much better your 2-string arpeggios sound.
Bonus tip: avoid the opposite guitar technique problem: gap of silence between notes as you do sweep picking. (Especially 2-string arpeggios.)
This happens when you try so hard to avoid strings bleeding together, your notes no longer ring their full length.
This guitar technique error makes your playing (especially 2-string arpeggios) sound choppy and uneven.
To master sweep picking guitar technique, practice until you can let the notes ring their full length without bleeding.
Sweep Picking Guitar Technique Tip #3: Control Excess String Noise In Your Guitar Arpeggios. Here Is How:
Excess string noise in your sweep picking (whether it’s 2-string arpeggios or other guitar arpeggios) can come from:
1. unmuted lower (in pitch) strings and
2. unmuted higher in pitch strings.
There is more than 1 way to mute string noise in your guitar arpeggios (both 2-string arpeggios and guitar arpeggios on 3 & 5 strings).
However: some sweep picking noise control methods are more effective than others.
The best string muting guitar technique for lower (in pitch) strings is: thumb muting.
What is thumb muting?
As the name implies: it means resting the picking hand’s thumb on the lower in pitch strings when you do sweep picking.
Then your thumb simply slides up (or down) as you play your guitar arpeggios. Thumb muting works equally well for 2-string arpeggios and other areas of guitar technique.
Watch this video to see this guitar technique in action:
Question: “Tom Hess, when I try thumb muting guitar technique, I hear nothing but pinch harmonics on my guitar arpeggios. What can I do?”
Answer: This guitar technique mistake means you are holding your guitar pick wrong. When you do sweep picking with thumb muting, you cannot let your thumb hang over the edge of the pick. This is what causes pinch harmonics.
To do thumb muting correctly, hold your pick between the tips of your fingers (like you would when picking up a pen). This will help the thumb not to hang over the pick edge and give you clear notes on all your sweep picking licks.
Question: “Tom Hess, which guitar technique is better: muting with your palm or muting with your thumb? Or are both guitar technique options equally valid for playing guitar arpeggios?”
Answer: Thumb muting is the better guitar technique.
Here are the main problems caused by using your palm to mute string noise in your guitar arpeggios:
- When you change strings, your palm takes a moment to begin muting the string you just played a moment before. This creates brief moments of unwanted guitar string noise in your sweep picking licks.
The noise occurs for 2 main reasons:
- The flesh of your palm is very soft. This means it takes more time for your palm to cover the strings and stop them from ringing.
- It is not (as) easy to get your palm in the perfect position to consistently mute lower strings in all playing situations.
- When you use palm muting guitar technique to mute unwanted string noise, the natural position of your guitar pick (when not playing) is away from the strings.
Here is why it’s a problem for your guitar technique:
When your pick is at rest up and away from the strings, your picking hand has to move a lot more to play notes.
The more your picking hand moves, the higher the chance of sloppy playing, unwanted string noise and slower picking speed.
To be clear: I know there are many sweep picking masters with great guitar technique who use palm muting to mute string noise.
But thumb muting lets you reach that level of guitar technique with less time and effort.
Question: “Tom Hess, does thumb muting only work for sweep picking (and 2-string arpeggios)? Or can I use it for everything in my guitar technique?”
Answer: Thumb muting works for all areas of your guitar technique (not only sweep picking).
Sweep Picking Guitar Technique Tip #4: Clean Up Sloppy Sweep Picking Using Tremolo Picking. Here Is How:
Years ago, when I first learned how to do sweep picking, I realized I had a huge problem.
At faster speeds, my sweep picking speed wasn’t clean and accurate anymore.
Worst of all:
I knew my playing sounded bad, but I couldn’t tell which of the notes weren’t clean.
That meant, I didn’t even know what to focus on to make my playing sound better.
So, I tried slowing down and gradually build speed. But when I did that, my mistakes disappeared… only to return, the moment I tried playing at my top sweep picking speed again.
This drove me crazy for weeks, until my guitar teacher showed me a “sneaky” solution that fixed everything.
It turns out - when you stop on random notes within the arpeggio using tremolo picking…
… you can “snipe” sloppy mistakes out of your playing one by one, without ever slowing down using basic tremolo picking technique.
And when you get good at it, this way of playing turns regular arpeggios into hair-raising guitar licks.
Check out this video where I show you how to use tremolo picking in this way (in detail):
Note: even though I showed this sweep picking technique on 5-stiring arpeggios, it works just as well for 2-string arpeggios (and even other areas of guitar technique).
Question: “Tom Hess, how many times should I tremolo pick each note when I stop on it in the middle of a guitar arpeggio?”
Answer: It doesn't matter. Go entirely by feel here and don’t bother counting the tremolo pick strokes.
Sweep Picking Guitar Technique Tip #5: Create Guitar Licks From Your Sweep Picking Guitar Arpeggios. Here Is How:
I once had a student ask me how to break out of playing standard sweep picking guitar arpeggios and add new ideas into his guitar playing.
Here is what I told him to do:
Try these same ideas in your own sweep picking and you’ll come up with many new guitar arpeggios that are very fun to play.
Plus: many of the concepts from this video can make you more creative in other areas of guitar technique as well.
Now you know the best ways to practice guitar arpeggios. The next step is to transform the rest of your guitar playing (everything from your guitar technique, fretboard knowledge, creativity and music knowledge), so you can…
…Finally put it all together and feel like a real musician!
I can help you with this inside my Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
Here is how it works:
You tell me about your guitar playing challenges, current skill level, musical knowledge and your goals.
I create a lesson strategy and your lesson materials tailored specifically for you.
As you practice your lessons, I am here for you every step of the way.
I give you feedback on your guitar playing, answer your questions live on video every week, give you unlimited email support and train you in student-only live video classes.
And if you do your best to practice what I teach you at least 30 minutes per day, you almost can’t fail to turn your guitar playing into something you feel really proud of.
To learn more, go here right now: https://tomhess.net/Guitar
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Upgrade your guitar playing with proven online heavy metal guitar lessons.
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