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:
“I just love guitar lessons with Tom, he literally takes the time to make a specific lesson plan and sends you lessons as you need it.”
My last lesson I took with a local guitar teacher before joining Tom, I was struggling with a sweep picking pattern, which was the 5 string root major, I was really struggling to get the rolling technique down. I took it to my guitar teacher and I was like “Help me with this, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.” This is his exact phrase: “At high speeds, it doesn’t really matter if you can play it clean or not, no one can hear it anyway.” At that point, I was just like, “Ah man.” But thankfully, in that same message, he mentioned Tom’s name. Then the doors opened. That very night, I went home and looked at every single lesson Tom had, had my guitar in hand, every YouTube lesson on you know “correct motions”, “play this over chords”... just applied it instantly, and it was instant results within an hour... just from his free stuff. I was like, oh man, I’ve got to do lessons with this guy.
I remember when I first started out with lessons, I instantly jumped on the forum to greet myself, and it’s amazing how there’s like 30 responses. Just like, “Hi welcome.” and stuff... “Hi Dan, great musical tastes”. That made me feel really at home and welcomed into Tom’s forum and community. Every time I’ve had an issue when I was first starting out be it like theory or technique, there’s always been someone there who’s helped. Otherwise it could’ve been this potentially awkward process where I’d have to wait a whole week to get an answer from my teacher, who even then may not have answered it correctly and may have never solved it. Whereas there are guys on there who have been with Tom and have been through exactly what I’ve been through. They know exactly how to help, in what order, what information you need... it’s just a friendly atmosphere really.
Dan Mayhew, Stowmarket, UK
“When I met Tom Hess, I knew that this is the guy. Just going through the evaluation form, all the questions, different questions, and he was digging deeper and deeper into all my goals and all that stuff... and no one has ever done that with me before, so I felt right away that this is the guy.”
The level that I was at before I went to Tom for lessons was that I could play pretty fast, I could play sloppy, I didn’t know nothing about music theory, so I was kind of unbalanced, I was uneven. I was a good player technically, but I knew very little about music theory. So I wanted to even that out, and Tom has helped me, not only evening that out, but also exceeding my expectations. So now I’m playing at a level that I didn’t expect that I could play at. So that’s... I’m very happy with that.
I like lessons with Tom because of the format basically. He gives a variety of formats... not just one format, like video for example, but also pdf files and audio files that you can take with you if you’re doing something else... you have to do labor that day, laundry or whatever... then you can listen to the sessions and while... you can actually benefit when you’re not even practicing, so it’s a no brainer.
Gottfrid Norberg Waxin, Sweden
(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
“I was self-taught, and I thought I am so good because I can do this by myself. I wasn’t looking for a teacher but I knew I was looking for something on the internet, and Tom’s lessons came up. I knew instantly that was the way to go. ”
Tom assigns the lessons based on the hundreds of questions you have to answer before you get to be a student. It’s just amazing how he does it. Every single PDF I received has been such a good value. I know if I practice exactly what he says I cannot fail. It helped me realize I can become whatever I want to become. Just set my goal and I know his lessons and way of teaching will get me there eventually. So far so good... I’ll continue doing this as long as possible, and eventually I’ll become a professional player. I’d just like to thank Tom, he’s so thorough, so professional and such a great teacher... and a good person. I want to keep on working with him.
Sigve Solbakken, Bergen, Norway