How To Play Awesome Sweep Picking Arpeggios Guitar Licks With Ease

by Tom Hess

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When you hear the words “sweep picking” or “arpeggio guitar licks”, what comes to your mind?

You’re probably thinking you need to play advanced lead guitar licks.

…or to play really fast and develop your lead guitar technique to a high level, right?

If you’re thinking that, you are not alone.

However, you’re BZZT – wrong!

That’s because you can easily play awesome arpeggio guitar licks even if you’re not able to do sweep picking fast (yet).

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And you can do it even if your lead guitar technique isn’t at an advanced level (yet).

Take for example the arpeggio guitar licks in the video below.

These are very simple sweep picking licks that help you play better lead guitar.

Anyone can do them with even a basic grasp of sweep picking.

Check it out and see for yourself:

Want to know even more ways to create awesome arpeggio guitar licks even if you are still getting your sweep picking chops together?

No problem.

Arpeggio Guitar Licks Tip #1: Practice All the Inversions Of Each Sweep Picking Arpeggio You Learn

What the heck are inversions? And how can you use them to play better arpeggio guitar licks?

Very simply: when you are playing arpeggio guitar licks in your lead guitar solos, you are simply playing chords one note at a time.

Take for example the C Major sweep picking arpeggio. Its notes are C E and G.

You can play the C major sweep picking arpeggio starting from note C (C E G).

From note E (E C G) or from note G (G E C).

This means: you can connect the 3 sweep picking shapes (each one starting from one of the notes in the chord) to create very long arpeggio guitar licks with very little effort.

You don’t need to have advanced lead guitar technique to do this. All it takes is a bit of fretboard knowledge. 

That said, the sound of your arpeggio guitar licks won’t change all that much, no matter which notes of the chord you start the sweep picking shape.

Question: “Tom Hess, why don’t inversions change the sound of arpeggio guitar licks, but they do when I'm strumming all notes of the chord together?”

Answer: It’s because when you strum all notes of a chord, you get to hear how all the notes sound at the same time. This way, the lowest sounding note of the chord (that you start on) makes a big difference in the sound of the chord.

But when you play arpeggio guitar licks (using sweep picking lead guitar technique), you only hear one note at a time. So, the sound of each inversion shape sounds (mostly) the same.

How To Play Awesome Sweep Picking Arpeggios

Arpeggio Guitar Licks Tip #2: Use 2-1-2 Arpeggio Guitar Licks

If you take away my guitar skills and force me to get better at sweep picking arpeggio licks from scratch... 

I’d begin with what I call:

“2-1-2 arpeggio licks".

Here is why:

2-1-2 arpeggio licks are almost stunningly easy to play at very high speeds.

And when you learn them... have the foundation to get better at sweep picking fast arpeggios and reach any level your heart desires.

While the major & minor arpeggios (which almost everyone learns first) make it really hard to keep your hands in sync.

(That's why I'd only learn major & minor sweep picking arpeggios afterwards.)

What are 2-1-2 arpeggio licks?

They are 3-string cluster sweep picking arpeggio licks where you play...

2 notes on 1 string, 1 note on the next string 2 notes on the string that follows.

Watch this video about fast sweep picking arpeggio licks and I’ll show you how to play them:

Question: “Tom Hess, why then do almost all guitar players learn the lead guitar technique of sweep picking starting with traditional major and minor sweep picking shapes?”

Answer: It’s because of 2 things: tradition and music theory. In music, major and minor chords are considered “easy” concepts. So beginners learn them first. Because of this most lead guitar teachers think the arpeggio guitar licks that use major and minor sweep picking shapes will also be easy.

But as anyone who has ever tried to learn lead guitar technique of sweep picking knows – they are anything but “easy”.

Those shapes are hard to play because of:

- the fretting hand stretch (on the lowest and highest pair of notes)

- the interruption of the sweep picking guitar technique motion with the hammer on (and pull off),

- the finger rolling motion that comes up in many standard major/minor arpeggio guitar licks

These elements make sweep picking seem like a hard guitar technique for many intermediate lead guitar players.

Plus: When it comes to helping you play better lead guitar - lead guitar technique pedagogy lags far behind other instruments.

Very few things in the realm of lead guitar technique have been tested and to find out what works best.

This is why when many guitar teachers teach sweep picking guitar technique (and arpeggio guitar licks) to their students…

… they often teach lead guitar licks that make “musical” sense, but make very little “guitar technique” sense. Which is why sweep picking guitar technique takes a lot longer to learn than it should.

All the more reason to have fun building your guitar technique using 2-1-2 arpeggio guitar licks.

Arpeggio Guitar Licks Tip #3: Combine Sweep Picking Guitar Technique With Melody

Is it possible to make arpeggio guitar licks sound melodic during your lead guitar solos?

Or do you always have to choose between playing with fast guitar technique or playing with melody?

To answer, let me tell you a quick story:

When I first learned to play lead guitar arpeggios, all I wanted to do was shred as fast as possible.

The result?

I developed my guitar technique and built a lot of speed…

...and quickly got bored.


My lead guitar solos lacked real emotion and didn’t impress anyone except other lead guitar players who cared about guitar technique.

Eventually I found a teacher who taught me to combine fast arpeggio guitar licks with melody.

This helped me to start feeling like a musician – not just someone who had good guitar technique.

I’ve since taught hundreds of my own students to combine fast guitar arpeggio playing with melody too.


Watch this video about playing lead guitar solos & I’ll show you in detail:

Question: “Tom Hess, can arpeggio guitar licks themselves sound melodic too even without combining them with other lead guitar ideas?”

Answer: Of course. You have all the same lead guitar phrasing techniques at your disposal to add to your arpeggio guitar licks and play better lead guitar.

For example:

- lead guitar slides. (Simply add them to your sweep picking arpeggio guitar licks as you saw me do at the start of this article).

You can add ascending slides, descending slides, backslides (where you play a note, slide up or down from it and then quickly return back to the original note)…

… or rearticulation slides (where you play a note and then slide right into it).

- creating breaks in the pattern (play only the ascending or the descending part of your arpeggio guitar licks to give your sweep picking guitar licks a unique sound).

- adding tremolo to notes of your arpeggio guitar licks

- bending into notes of your sweep picking patterns.

- changing up the rhythm of your arpeggio guitar licks

… and more.

Believe it or not, sweep picking guitar licks can even be used in blues lead guitar! Yes, blues!

That’s because sweep picking has nothing to do with playing guitar fast. it’s simply a way to play chords one note at a time… and it just so happens to lend itself very well to ultra-fast playing.

(By the way, if you want help with making your sweep picking faster and cleaner – see this free sweep picking eGuide)

You can play arpeggio guitar licks (yes, using sweep picking) with the chords of the 12-bar blues progression.

Question: “But Tom Hess, will the bluesy arpeggio guitar licks sound like traditional blues in this case?”

Answer: Probably not. If you want to play traditional blues – you need to use traditional blues guitar licks. But that’s not the point. The point is, you can make arpeggio guitar licks (and sweep picking lead guitar technique) work in blues. (Even if it doesn't sound like traditional blues lead guitar technique.)

Arpeggio guitar licks will easily fit into the context of blues and will sound good.

Watch this video to see what I mean:

Arpeggio Guitar Licks Tip #4: Combine Sweep Picking Guitar Technique With 2-Hand Tapping

Here we begin to depart from only playing arpeggios slowly and begin playing arpeggio guitar licks somewhat fast.

But fear not:

These sweep picking guitar licks are very easy to play, because 2-hand tapping is very easy to add to your guitar licks.

The secret is in: “thinking like a slacker”.

See what I mean in this video:

Note: as you do sweep tapping, avoid “distorting” the rhythm of the notes.

This is where you may take an arpeggio that ought to be played in 16th notes (or triplets)…

…and play the hammer ons, pull offs (and tapped notes) much faster than the other notes.

There are 2 problems with this:

1. It makes your playing sound bad.

2. It’s nearly impossible to speed up arpeggio licks where you play some notes faster than others.

Good news is: this is very easy to fix.

Simply practice with a metronome and focus on making all notes last the same length (including hammer ons, pull offs and tapped notes).

The same problem often happens when you play regular arpeggio guitar licks (with no tapping).

But just like with sweep tapping, this rhythm distortion issue is very simple to fix. Simply follow the steps above.

Arpeggio Guitar Licks Tip #5: Make Sure Your Arpeggio Guitar Licks Are Free Of String Noise

The best way to mute string noise in arpeggio guitar licks is to use thumb muting.

Thumb muting means: you rest your picking hand’s thumb on the lower (in pitch) strings – muting them.

Then, as you play your arpeggio guitar licks, you slide the thumb up and down the strings you are not playing, to keep your sweep picking clean.

Question: “Tom Hess, why do thumb muting in my arpeggio guitar licks? Isn’t it also possible to do clean sweep picking using palm muting?”

Answer: Palm muting is an inferior way to mute string noise in arpeggio guitar licks compared to thumb muting.

Here is why: when you palm mute your arpeggio guitar licks, your pick is at rest up away from the strings. This means it takes longer for your guitar pick to get back inside the trench of the strings to play the next note.

But when you do arpeggio guitar licks with thumb muting?

Then your guitar pick’s natural point of rest is inside the trench (space) between strings. That means it’s easier to build guitar speed (because your pick doesn't have to move very much to play fast). it also means the notes in your arpeggio guitar licks are way more likely to be consistently muted.

Question: “Tom Hess, when I try to play arpeggio guitar licks using thumb muting, I hear pinch harmonics during my sweep picking practice. What am I doing wrong? 

Answer: This means you are likely holding your guitar pick incorrectly. To do thumb muting the right way (and make it easy to play arpeggio guitar licks fast), hold it between the fingerprint of your thumb and index finger.

This is how you would pick up a pencil from a desk. This position keeps the thumb from hanging over the edge of the pick and makes it easy to avoid unintentional pinch harmonics.

2. Cover the higher (in pitch) strings with your fretting hand’s index finger. Use the underside of your index finger to lightly touch the higher strings. This gives you an extra layer of noise protection.

3. You can also touch the higher (in pitch) strings using your picking hand’s ring finger or pinkie finger. This gives your guitar speed yet another layer of protection against string noise and helps you play guitar fast and clean.

Now that you know how to play awesome arpeggio guitar licks, what’s next?

I want to help you double your guitar speed while cutting your practice time in half. Sounds unbelievable, I know. But I can show you how simple it is - for free. Simply download a free copy of my "Double Your Guitar Speed" eGuide and I'll show you how.

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Tom HessAbout 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.

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