Sweep Picking Tutorial – 2-1-2 Shred Arpeggio Guitar Licks
by Tom Hess
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If you take away my guitar skills and force me to learn sweep picking from scratch…
I’d begin with what I call:
“2-1-2 arpeggio guitar licks".
Here is why:
2-1-2 arpeggios are almost stunningly easy to play at very high speeds.
And when you learn them...
...you have the foundation to sweep pick as fast and clean as 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 arpeggios afterwards.)
What are 2-1-2 arpeggios?
They are 3-string cluster arpeggios where you play...
2 notes on 1 string, 1 note on the next string 2 notes on the stirng that follows.
Watch this video and I’ll show you how to play them:
After you get the basics of sweep picking down, what’s next?
Here are 4 more advanced sweep picking elements that help you play hair-raising arpeggios licks fast and clean.
Sweep Picking Element #1: Finger Rolling
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Fretting 2 (or 3) notes on the same fret, on different strings… with the same finger.
The #1 challenge with finger rolling?
It’s keeping the notes ringing separately from each other with no bleeding.
Many guitarists (even those who can play scales with eye-popping speed) struggle with finger rolling and avoid it as much as they can.
But rolling is simple when you isolate its mechanics and practice them the right way.
Watch this video to see what I mean:
Now you understand how releasing the note you just played is critical for keeping notes from bleeding together and ruining your arpeggios.
Make it a priority to focus your attention on muting properly with your fretting hand by releasing pressure off the fret, but not allowing your finger to raise off the string entirely.
In addition to the exercise in the video, try this additional approach to clean up your arpeggios even faster:
Fret any note on the fretboard.
Pick the string continuously while gradually releasing pressure in your fretting hand. Eventually, the note will become muffled because there is not enough pressure to get it to sound clearly.
Pay close attention to this amount of pressure. Move back and forth between using a lot of pressure and just enough pressure to sound the note.
Then play through any sweep picking arpeggio while keeping this in mind.
As you sweep from one string to the next, think about how much pressure you are using to mute a note while moving to the next one.
Going through this simple exercise helps you to better pinpoint the subtle movements in your fretting hand to more quickly master rolling technique.
If you want some help with this, I can help you in Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
Here are the results my guitar students are getting after I helped them with their technique (and other areas of playing):
Sweep Picking Element #2: Hearing Mistakes At Fast Speeds Without Slowing Down
Here is how to do it:
Choose an arpeggio you want to play faster and cleaner.
Start playing it over and over. Then follow these steps:
Step 1: Find the exact metronome tempo at which your mistakes first appear.
Step 2: Set the metronome 5-8 beats per minute below that tempo.
Step 3: Choose one note to focus on in the arpeggio. Ignore the other notes (even if they aren’t clean).
Stay focused only on the one note you should listen for.
Step 4: Repeat the exercise until the note you are focusing on is consistently clean (9 times out of 10).
Step 5: Rotate your focus to listen to the next note in the arpeggio.
(As you do it, ignore the note you were focusing on in steps 3-4. Focus only on the new note you should be listening for.)
Analyze that note and make sure it is perfect.
Step 6: Repeat steps 4-5 until every note in the exercise is clean.
Step 7: Increase the metronome tempo by 5-8 beats per minute & repeat the entire process.
Common Mistakes To Watch Out For While Practicing Sweep Picking:
Mistake #1: Some notes of the arpeggio are played slower or faster than others.
Watch out for when your notes are not rhythmically in time. When you have to slow down to play one or more notes in an arpeggio, it means you haven't mastered them as much as the others.
Mistake #2: Using separate picking motions for each individual string.
Make sure your sweep picking motion is all one big movement across the strings. Picking individual strings with separate pick strokes makes playing clean arpeggios at fast speeds nearly impossible.
Mistake #3: Noise is coming from unplayed strings or missed notes.
Knowing how to mute effectively is critical for clean sweep picking.
Did you know that most guitar players mute incorrectly by using palm muting?
This makes it harder to prevent string noise because it causes your hand to move up and away from the strings.
What should you do instead?
Use thumb muting technique.
This means muting the strings below whichever string you are playing on with the side of your thumb (rather than your inner palm).
Using thumb muting wastes no extra motion in your picking hand and eliminates any noise from strings below the one you are playing on.
Here is what it looks like:
To prevent addition string noise from unplayed strings, use the side of your fretting hand index finger to mute any strings above the one you are playing on currently.
Sweep Picking Element #3: Combine Sweep Picking With Tremolo Picking
Challenge yourself to stop on any note in the arpeggio using tremolo picking.
Why do this?
1. Stopping on random notes with tremolo breaks up the flow of the sweep picking motion. This challenges your 2-hand synchronization.
2. When you can do it fast – you can create truly terrorizing guitar licks
Watch this sweep picking video to see what I mean.
Question: “Tom Hess, my tremolo picking seems to be inconsistent. I can only play fast for a moment before it breaks down. How do I move my hands faster?
Answer: Moving your hands faster does not help you tremolo pick with better consistency or more speed.
Instead, it’s critical to use efficient movement in your pick attack to strike the string with more frequency in less time.
Observe how this works by watching this video demonstration:
First, grab a heavy pick that won’t bend when you strike the strings. While holding your pick, keep it angled towards the head of the guitar. This helps reduce your picking movements.
Fret any note on the fretboard and begin slowly picking it over and over. As you do this, watch your picking hand, NOT your fretting hand.
This helps you not only feel but visually see when your picking hand is picking efficiently.
Gradually increase the rate at which you strike the string, focusing on making as little extra motion as possible. At some point, you will find your max speed before everything begins break down.
Take note of this speed in your head.
Now is where the magic happens.
Instead of picking in a continuous stream of notes, tremolo pick the note at or just below your max speed while doing the following:
- Tremolo pick the string three times.
- Insert a brief moment of rest.
This approach helps you mentally process what your picking hand is doing much more easily.
Over time, your tremolo picking becomes more and more consistent.Note: This can be done in any amount of note groupings you want. Add more notes or increase the tempo over time to raise the challenge and get even better.
Sweep Picking Element #4: Combine Sweep Picking With 2-Hand Tapping
Many people struggle with sweep tapping.
But you don’t have to be one of them.
Here are 4 simple steps that make sweep tapping feel easy and sound good:
How To Use These Sweep Picking Elements To Play Killer Guitar Solos
Simply understanding and mastering the technical aspects of sweep picking are just one piece of the puzzle.
Don't overlook the most important part of learning these things on guitar - Being able to use your skills to express yourself by making great solos, licks and music.
Use these tips to take what you learned in this article and transform it into guitar playing that expresses your thoughts through music showcases your own unique style:
Tip #1: Leave some breathing room between the notes of your arpeggios.
You don't need to constantly play your arpeggios as fast as possible.
This is like having a discussion with someone where you never stop talking, don't listen to the other person or give them any room to process what you are saying.
Think of your guitar licks like sentences made up of words (notes) rather than just groups of soundwaves made from techniques you mastered over time.
So, how do you do this exactly?
Start by thinking more like a singer.
Singers are great at creating very memorable melodies in their vocal lines.
Every note they sing has to count.
This is different from how we normally think as guitarists because we are used to memorizing patterns and working on techniques. This results in tons of wasted notes.
Singers waste much less notes on average because they are focusing on creating great melodies and are generally less worried about things like fast speed or complex techniques.
Think more like a singer by:
- Inserting varying lengths of rest after you play an arpeggio.
This gives you time to think about what you want to play next, while giving your phrases more room to breathe.
- Not always playing through arpeggio patterns using the same note rhythms.
You know someone is doing this when every time they play an arpeggio they sweep up and down the same pattern continuously. This becomes boring and repetitive very quickly.
Tip #2: Squeeze more expression out of your arpeggio licks.
Develop the musical phrases you create while soloing with arpeggios much more before adding other notes or ideas.
“If you can make one note sound amazing, you can make 1,000 notes sound amazing.”
Applying this idea into your sweep picking approach not only makes your overall lead guitar playing sound better, it makes your arpeggios stand out in a sea of boring licks.
Step One: Choose any sweep picking arpeggio you are familiar with (you don't need to be able to play it super fast).
Step Two: Break the arpeggio into sections of 1-3 notes per section. Divide it up any way you wish.
Step Three: Improvise with the first section of notes by repeating it continuously many times for a minute.
Each time you repeat the section, apply any of the following techniques to the note(s) to add more musical expression:
- Vibrato using your fingers
- Vibrato with the tremolo bar (if you have one)
- Slides that slide into the target note from above or below
- Tremolo picking
Step Four: Move onto the next section of notes and repeat step three until you’ve played through every section.
Step Five: Repeat step three by playing through the entire arpeggio pattern (all sections combined).
Note: Don't forget to apply the concept from tip #1 above by using different rhythms and adding rests at random times.
After practicing this exercise with a single arpeggio, your sweep picking quickly begins to sound like awesome music rather than robotic exercises.Use this to enhance the expression of all your favorite sweep picking arpeggios as well as to improve your ability to think of cool soloing ideas in the moment.
You now know how to boost your sweep picking speed. the next step is to do the same for your fretting hand. I show you how in my free eGuide: “Mastering Fretting Hand Finger Independence”. Download it today & start playing faster & cleaner than you ever thought you could.
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.Improve your guitar playing with online guitar lessons with a great guitar teacher.
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