Learn How To Play Sweep Picking Arpeggios Cleaner Using Thumb Muting
Every day I get multiple emails from guitar players who want to sweep pick faster.
But when I hear them play, it’s obvious that “more speed” is the last thing their sweep picking needs.
Their playing is filled with excess string noise.
What these guitarists need most urgently is…
…to play arpeggios cleanly, accurately, smoothly and in time at a slow speed.
Speed only matters after you have this foundation of clean playing.
Without this foundation, all you have is slop.
To give my guitar students this foundation, I teach all of them a special way of muting string noise called:
I suggest you start using it too.
Watch this video to learn how to do thumb muting the right way:
Click on the video to begin watching it.
The main takeaways from this video:
1. Fast sweep picking means nothing if it’s not clean.
(And if you speed up your sloppy playing, all you get is a Grand-Canyon-size gap between your theoretical top speed…
…and the top guitar speed you’d want anyone to actually hear.)
2. It's really hard to play sweep picking arpeggios cleanly when you mute excess string noise using your palm. It’s even harder, if you bring your picking hand away from the strings while playing.
(Most guitar players do one of these things and end up playing sloppy arpeggios for years without making progress.)
Now that you know why it’s important to put playing “cleanly” over playing “fast”…
Here are the most common questions guitarists have about thumb muting:
Question: “Tom Hess, I hear pinch harmonics when I use thumb muting to sweep pick. What can I do?”
Answer: If you are hearing harmonics, it means your thumb is hanging over the edge of the pick. When this happens, your pick strikes the string you are attempting to play.
To fix it, change the way you hold the pick. Pull your thumb back, so it does NOT hang over the edge of the pick.
This way you’ll only play the string you want to hear with the pick. While your thumb rests securely on the lower strings.
(You can roll the thumb towards the tip of the guitar pick when you do intend to play pinch harmonics.)
Question: “Tom Hess, I am so used to muting with my palm. I’ve been doing it for years. Is it even worth it to switch to doing thumb muting?”
Answer: For most people, the answer is: yes, it is.
Here is why:
Reason #1. Your picking is more efficient with thumb muting.
When you play, you want your guitar pick to stay in the space between the strings.
I call this space:
The String Trench
(Yes, just like in World War 1.)
You want your guitar pick to stay in the trench as much as possible, until it’s time to skip strings.
And when you sweep pick the right way, your pick stays inside the string trench almost all the time.
(This is the #1 reason why sweep picking is the easiest technique you can possibly play on guitar.)
Watch this video to see what I mean:
When you thumb mute, your pick is always at rest in the string trench. (Watch the video at the top of this page to see me show this in detail.)
That means your pick is set up for maximum efficiency (while you are muting excess string noise).
But when you mute with the palm?
Then the opposite happens.
Your hand is at rest naturally with the guitar pick UP in the air. (Outside the string trench.)
And that means:
You have to move more to get the pick back down to the strings. This is very inefficient.
Reason #2. if you mute with the side of palm like many people do, it’s hard to avoid muting the strings you ARE playing.
(Which isn’t a sound you want al the time.)
The result is: your playing stays sloppy (and building speed becomes harder and more frustrating).
Thumb muting helps you bypass this problem.
Want to see how well thumb muting works for other guitarists?
Check out the feedback of my top Breakthrough Guitar Lesson students using thumb muting:
(Dan and Gottfrid are two of hundreds of guitar students I had the pleasure of helping transform their sweep picking (and other areas of their playing) in Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
By analyzing their specific strengths and weakness. And finding gaps that hold you from playing guitar the way you want.)
But back to thumb muting:
Question: “Tom Hess, does thumb muting work for other guitar techniques besides sweep picking?“
Answer: Of course. Thumb muting works for all lead guitar techniques.
I first developed it specifically to help my sweep picking.
(Yes, I struggled badly with sweep picking when I started – you have no idea!)
But I later tried to use thumb muting for other lead guitar techniques…
…and it worked amazingly well!
Watch this video to see an example of how thumb muting works in other guitar techniques besides sweep picking.
Question: “Tom Hess, should I practice thumb muting with a clean tone or with distortion?”
Answer: Distortion. There is this (false) belief that distortion covers up mistakes.
This statement is wildly misleading (to put it mildly).
Distortion can hide weaknesses in your pick attack…
… but it massively exposes any flaws in your string noise control.
Meaning: if you play with a clean tone, sloppy string noise is harder to hear.
Any mistakes you make are less obvious… until you turn distortion back on (and wonder what happened to your playing!)
So, when you practice thumb muting, distortion is your friend.
It amplifies any open string noise and forces you to pay attention to it.
Question: “Tom Hess, how do I combine thumb muting with rhythm guitar palm muting?”
Answer: You don’t. Thumb muting and rhythm guitar palm muting are 2 different techniques. And you use them for different purposes.
Thumb muting is for controlling string noise from the notes you don’t want to hear.
Rhythm guitar palm muting is for muting the notes you are playing (and that you do want to hear).
You can never do thumb muting and palm muting at the same time.
What you need instead is to:
1. Practice and master each technique separately.
2. Practice switching between the 2 techniques while playing.
Here is a good exercise to try:
Switch between a simple arpeggio (say E minor 2nd inversion, 5-string) and a palm-muted E power chord you strum for 4 beats.
This helps you practice switching between thumb muting and palm muting.
Note: do this to a metronome and pay attention to your timing.
Want another sweep picking tip?
Get Someone To Slap The Strings While You Play
Ask a friend or family member to slap the strings (below the notes you are playing).
This is the ultimate test of how well you are muting excess string noise.
If your playing is clean, all you’ll hear will be acoustic thuds from their fingers hitting the strings.
If your playing isn’t clean – you will hear open strings vibrating.
This not only is a great test of how clean your playing is…
it also tells you exactly where your sloppy mistakes are happening (so you can fix them more easily).
And since we are on the topic of playing arpeggios cleanly…
Another common obstacle to clean sweep picking is:
Bleeding (Ringing) Of Notes Of Together
Bleeding often happens when you have to roll your fretting hand finger across strings.
(Finger rolling means fretting notes on the same fret across different strings, with the same finger.)
And mastery of finger rolling (in combination with thumb muting) is key to ultra clean sweep picking.
How do you master finger rolling?
Check out this video where I show you in detail:
Similar to thumb muting, you better work on finger rolling with distortion.
Bleeding of notes together sounds quite normal with a clean tone (but distortion makes it sound nasty).
Now you know how to clean up your sweep picking.
Want me to help you transform the rest of your guitar playing? I can do that for you in my Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
Tell me about your musical goals and guitar playing challenges. And I’ll create a customized lesson plan to get you playing guitar the way you want.
Plus: I’ll track your progress, give you feedback on your guitar playing and hold your hand every step of the way to nearly guarantee your results.
To begin, go to: https://tomhess.net/Guitar