Sweep Picking Tutorial – How To Sweep Pick Fast & Clean
by Tom Hess
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You’ve come to the right place.
This sweep picking tutorial will show you how.
To learn sweep picking...
...you’ve got to get crystal clear on 2 things:
1. What exactly to focus on when you practice sweep picking
(So you do the correct motions when you sweep pick on guitar.)
2. What mistakes to avoid as you learn sweep picking.
(This way you can begin to sweep pick cleanly and fast sooner rather than later.)
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I also show you 7 of the deadliest mistakes guitarists make when they try to sweep pick on guitar.
These mistakes make it hard to sweep pick fast.
Ready to begin?
Watch this sweep picking video tutorial video:
Now that you know what to do when you learn sweep picking and what mistakes can slow down your progress as you practice sweep picking, here are 5 more sweep picking tips that help you sweep pick fast and clean:
Finger rolling can make or break your ability to sweep pick cleanly and sweep pick fast.
What is finger rolling exactly?
It’s a technique for playing multiple notes on the same fret, across several strings with the same finger.
When you do finger rolling correctly as you practice sweep picking – sweep picking fast and clean becomes easy.
But when you practice sweep picking (and do finger rolling) incorrectly?
Then you end up with a lot of bleeding and sloppy noises that makes it impossible to sweep pick cleanly at higher speeds.
The key thing to remember about finger rolling is:
It’s NOT “barring”. In other words, you need to fret notes one at a time – not all at the same time.
(Sadly, many guitar players incorrectly refer to finger rolling as “barring” when they give or get advice on how to practice sweep picking.)
Here is the right way to master finger rolling that allows you to sweep pick cleanly:
Here are a few more advanced tips for practicing sweep picking when focusing on finger rolling:
- practice sweep picking with distortion. Distortion compresses the sound and makes any sloppy playing very easy to spot and fix. This gives you instant feedback on how clean your finger rolling is as you are trying to learn sweep picking.
- don’t play finger rolling faster than the other notes in your sweep picking arpeggio exercises. All notes within an arpeggio need to ring for the same amount of time. Focus on this as you practice sweep picking. The same applies to hammer ons and pull offs that may happen during the arpeggio.
As you’re learning to sweep pick on guitar, listen for the rhythm of the notes and keep them even.
Watch this video that shows you how:
- practice finger rolling on the same fret with multiple fingers, focusing on making the transitions seamless and clean. This is a fantastic drill for learning to sweep pick on guitar. You’ll know you are doing it right if the transition from one finger to another is not audible. If it is – you are going too fast and need to slow down to regain control.
Know anybody who loves the sound of sloppy guitar playing? Me neither.
That’s why, as you’re learning to sweep pick on guitar, I recommend you use not 1, not 2, but THREE excess string noise control techniques. All 3 reinforce each other – helping you to sweep pick cleanly and fast.
Here are the string noise muting techniques I recommend:
1. Thumb muting.
Thumb muting means: you rest your picking hand’s thumb on the lower (in pitch) strings – muting them.
Then, as you are sweep picking, slide your thumb up and down the strings, allowing you to sweep pick fast and cleanly.
Find out how to play clean sweep picking arpeggios for lead guitar.
Play Fast Sweep Picking Arpeggios
Play lightning fast arpeggios using
a sweep picking rolling technique.
How To Fix Unclean Guitar Playing
Fix sloppy playing by reading this article about muting string noise.
Question: “Tom Hess, what’s the advantage of doing thumb muting while learning to sweep pick on guitar? Isn’t it also possible to mute excess string noise using my palm as I practice sweep picking?”
Answer: Palm muting is an inferior way to mute string noise compared to thumb muting.
Here is why: when you palm mute, your pick is at rest up away from the trench of the strings. This makes it very hard to sweep pick fast (because you are not able to maintain a consistent, continuous sweep picking motion).
But when you do thumb muting?
Then your guitar pick’s natural point of rest is inside the trench (space) between strings. That does 2 things:
- it become easy to sweep pick cleanly (at any speed).
- it becomes easy to build speed as you practice sweep picking (because you are moving the pick properly when training sweep picking motions).
Question: “Tom Hess, why do I hear pinch harmonics when I practice sweep picking using thumb muting?
Answer: If you’re hearing pinch harmonics when you are trying to learn sweep picking with thumb muting, it means you are holding your guitar pick improperly. To do thumb muting the right way, hold your guitar pick 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.
Watch this video to see how:
2. Cover the higher (in pitch) strings with your fretting hand’s index finger. Use the inner side of your index finger to lightly touch the higher strings.
This gives you an extra layer of noise protection as you practice sweep picking and makes it easy to learn sweep picking cleanly.
3. You can also touch the higher (in pitch) strings using your picking hand’s ring finger or pinkie finger. This gives your sweep picking yet another layer of protection against string noise and helps you to sweep pick fast and clean.
As you learn to sweep pick and begin sweep picking fast, you’ll quickly realize something profound:
Being able to sweep pick fast can get boring (not just for you, but for anyone who hears you play) if all you do is play arpeggios up and down.
The solution is: as you practice sweep picking, create guitar licks that integrate (combine) arpeggios with other guitar techniques.
This makes your sweep picking licks sound more like music and less like exercises.
A great idea you can use as you practice sweep picking is:
Combining sweep picking with scales and scale sequences.
This allows you to practice sweep picking in real-life musical contexts.
Here is one example of how to learn sweep picking in combination with scales:
As you practice sweep picking in combination with other techniques, pay particular attention to the transition point. The transition point is a fragment consisting of the last few notes of the arpeggio and the first few notes of the scale sequence you are integrating with your arpeggio.
Make sure that those notes are clean and your body stays relaxed as you play them.
In those ‘transition point’ moments (between the sweep picking arpeggio and another technique you are integrating it with) also pay extra attention to muting excess string noise.
That kind of practicing will help you not only to learn sweep picking, but also use it in your guitar licks and solos.
Question: “But Tom Hess, I feel overwhelmed when trying to integrate sweep picking with other licks and techniques. There are so many possible licks and techniques to combine sweep picking with!”
Answer: You don’t need integrate sweep picking with all possible guitar techniques and licks. Either practice sweep picking integration with specific licks that happen in guitar licks and solos you are playing…
… or practice sweep picking integration with any random licks you want. Either way, integration will have a lot of carryover into all areas of your guitar playing.
Here is one of my favorite tips that’s useful for learning to sweep pick cleanly and coming up arpeggio licks as you practice sweep picking:
As you practice sweep picking exercises, stop on random notes in the arpeggio using tremolo picking.
Why do this?
2 reasons: if you can stop on a note in the middle of an arpeggio using tremolo picking, while keeping the notes clean…
… it means you have full control over all the notes of the arpeggio and you are well on your way to being able to sweep pick fast and sweep pick cleanly.
On the other hand, if you lose control over the notes when you attempt to stop within the arpeggio using tremolo...
… that means you still have ways to go in your quest to learn sweep picking and need to slow down a bit more to get your sweep picking under control.
That said, as you continue to practice sweep picking and you get better at combining sweep picking with tremolo, you can turn your sweep picking + tremolo exercises into awesome sounding guitar licks.
Here is a video demonstration of how to do this:
Note: as you do tremolo picking, keep your guitar pick inside the trench of the strings between notes. This is key to doing tremolo picking fast and making your guitar licks (that combine sweep picking and tremolo) sound good.
To truly learn sweep picking, you need to not only practice sweep picking until you can sweep pick fast…
… you need to get good at coming up with creative arpeggio guitar licks you can use in your solos.
Here are some tips for doing this:
- Practice sweep picking using all inversions of basic major and minor chords (on 3 and 5 strings). This helps you to practice sweep picking all over the fretboard instead of playing only isolated sweep picking shapes.
Combine sweep picking with 2-hand tapping. This helps to give arpeggios a more fluid/legato sound. And it requires you to have flawless coordination between your 2 hands as you switch between sweep picking, 2-hand tapping and back to sweep picking.
- Practice sweep picking in only one direction. For example: only practice sweep picking ascending parts of an arpeggio. (Or learn sweep picking by only sweeping the descending parts of an arpeggio.)
Playing these variations lets you isolate the parts of arpeggios you find hard to play and work on being able to sweep pick cleanly through them.
- Extend arpeggios beyond basic major and minor triads and learn sweep picking patterns for 7th chords.
Check out this video to hear what these ideas sound like:
Now that you know the best ways to sweep pick on guitar, the next step is to transform the rest of your guitar playing into totally awesome top-level playing, even if you are stuck right now or are having self-doubts about your potential.
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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.Become an awesome guitar player by taking lessons with the world’s leading online guitar insructor.
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