How To Master Finger Rolling In Sweep Picking Arpeggios And Make It Easy To Sweep Pick Cleanly & Fast

by Tom Hess


To sweep pick cleanly and fast, you must master the rolling motion with your fretting hand fingers. This technique allows you to play notes on adjacent strings, on the same frets, with the same finger. 

This video shows how to practice the rolling motion to make your sweep picking clean and fast:

Mastering finger rolling is about:

  • Understanding the biomechanics involved in this technique, so you can practice it correctly. This makes your guitar practice more effective and efficient.
     
  • Becoming aware of common guitar practice mistakes that make finger rolling hard to master (and learning how to avoid them).
     
  • Paying attention to the right things when you practice, so that sweep picking fast and clean becomes very easy.

Clean and fast finger rolling also requires you to improve your ear's ability to hear sloppy mistakes at very high speeds. Most guitar players struggle to identify specific notes in their playing that are not clean when they play fast. (This is true with all techniques, not just sweep picking.) Mastering finger rolling develops your ears' mental processing ability that carries over to ALL techniques you play and practice on guitar.

Common causes of sloppy finger rolling include: 

Sloppy Sweep Picking At High Speeds

 

Sloppy Sweep Picking Cause #1: Barring The Notes With Your Finger Instead Of Rolling Your Finger

Your finger must fret each note of the roll one at a time. This allows your sweep picking to be clean even when you play with a lot of distortion or at loud volumes. 

Fretting several strings with one finger (using a barre) causes notes to bleed together and creates a sloppy mess. Watch the video (starting at 2:20) to hear how this mistake makes your guitar playing sound bad. 

Solution: 

Step 1: Isolate the rolling motion and practice collapsing (and uncollapsing) the knuckle of each finger.   

Step 2: Train the roll in the context of actual arpeggios as soon after you learn to do it in isolation. Endless isolation practice creates a gap between your ability to do the technique and your ability to integrate it into your guitar playing. Continue training the roll in isolation, but gradually increase the amount of time you practice the motion in context.  

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using this muting technique.

Learn other sweep picking practice tips that help you master this technique and use it in your guitar playing.  
 

Sloppy Sweep Picking Cause #2: Low String Action

String action (how high your strings are away from the fretboard) determines how easy it is to keep your finger rolling clean. 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.

Solution: Raise your string action slightly. This helps you to release each note of the roll when you are done playing it and only have one note ringing at a time.
 

Sloppy Sweep Picking Cause #3: Inability To Hear Your Mistakes At High Speeds

Your ears must process the notes you are playing in real time and determine where the mistakes are occurring. This makes your guitar practice more effective and helps you clean up your sweep picking.

Training your ears to hear mistakes at high speeds consists of:

  1. Identifying your own mistakes at fast speeds. Merely detecting sloppy playing is not enough. You must know which specific notes are sloppy without having to slow down. This enables you to fix your mistakes quickly.
     
  2. Training your ear to hear music at fast speeds. You can train this skill the same way you train your hands to play fast. One approach is to enter any arpeggio into a tab editor program and play it back for yourself at very high speeds. Set the playback to loop over and over.

This video shows one way to clean up sloppy sweep picking at fast speeds:

Listen to the notes in headphones and focus on one note at a time. This skill is key to cleaning up your guitar playing at faster speeds (no matter if you are sweep picking, playing scale sequences, 2-hand tapping licks, legato licks, or anything else). 

Periodically rotate which note you listen to. Rotate to another note when you have confirmed that the previous note you were focusing on is perfectly clean and articulate. Begin this exercise at 100% of your current top speed and work up to 125-150% of your top speed. This drill helps your ears and brain to keep up with your hands when you play guitar. 
 

Sloppy Sweep Picking Cause #4: Not Tracking Your Progress The Right Way

Most guitarists only focus on the maximum speed of their playing. Few guitarists focus on other elements of technique, such as:

  • How fast they can play something cleanly (without excess string noise or notes bleeding together), consistently, accurately and with both hands in perfect sync.
     
  • The gap between these elements of your guitar technique and your absolute maximum speed.

Your guitar playing speed means little if your playing is sloppy. To master fretting hand rolling, find your top speed of sweep picking cleanly and get that speed near your maximum.

This free sweep picking eGuide helps you implement the tips in this article and master sweep picking easily.


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