Sweep Picking On Bass Guitar

Lesson is designed to help bass players become familiar with a technique mainly thought of as only a guitar technique. Covers major and minor arpeggio shapes on two, three, and four strings. Also covers basics of bass sweeping and tapping.

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The best way in my opinion to approach sweep picking through arpeggios is to start out small out first and work your way up. So the first thing covered will be two string sweeps on bass. Throughout this lesson I will show you arpeggio shapes in the key of D minor and will use a I-VI-VII chord progression(D minor, Bb major, C major) which is an often used and one of my favorite chord progressions. All of these shapes are also movable so they can be played anywhere on the fretboard. The fingerings and downstroke/upstrokes shown are merely my opinion in what is the best way to approach these shapes, you are welcome to do them whatever way feels most comfortable to you.

Guide Key


D = Downstroke
U = Upstroke
1 = Fret with 1st (pointer) finger
2 = Fret with 2nd (middle) finger
3 = Fret with 3rd (ring) finger
4 = Fret with 4th (pinky) finger
T = Tap
P = Pull off
h = Hammer on

Two String Arpeggios (In D Minor)


I Chord (Dm)
   D  D  U  D  D  U  D  D  U  D  D  U
G|----10-14----10-14----10-14----10-14-|
D|-12-------12-------12-------12-------|
A|-------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|
   1  2  4  1  2  4  1  2  4  1  2  4

VI Chord (Bb)
   D D U  D D U  D D U  D D U
G|---7-10---7-10---7-10---7-10-|
D|-8------8------8------8------|
A|-----------------------------|
E|-----------------------------|
   1 2 4  1 2 4  1 2 4  1 2 4
 
VII Chord (C)
   D  D U  D  D U  D  D U  D  D U
G|----9-12----9-12----9-12----9-12-|
D|-10------10------10------10------|
A|---------------------------------|
E|---------------------------------|
   1  2 4  1  2 4  1  2 4  1  2 4
The next shapes I will show you are three string arpeggios for bass, when attempting to figure out these shapes it seemed hard to keep the shape having the root note as the bass note of the arpeggio, so the next following 3 and 4 string shapes are sweep inversions meaning that another note of the chord other than the root is the bass note. These three string shapes are 2nd Inversion Sweep Arpeggios meaning that the 5th of the chord is the bass note.

Three String Arpeggios (2nd Inversion, 5th As Bass Note)


I Chord
   D  D  D  U  D  U  U  D  D  U  D  U  U
G|-------10-14-10----------10-14-10-------|
D|----12----------12----12----------12----|
A|-12----------------12----------------12-|
E|----------------------------------------|
   1  2  1  4  1  2  1  2  1  4  1  2  1 

VI Chord (Bb)
   D D D U  D U U D D U  D U U
G|-----7-10-7-------7-10-7-----|
D|---8--------8---8--------8---|
A|-8------------8------------8-|
E|-----------------------------|
   1 2 1 4  1 2 1 2 1 4  1 2 1

VII Chord (C)
   D  D  D U  D U  U  D  D U  D U  U
G|-------9-12-9----------9-12-9-------|
D|----10--------10----10--------10----|
A|-10--------------10--------------10-|
E|------------------------------------|
   1  2  1 4  1 2  1  2  1 4  1 2  1
Next are four string sweeps, these can be tricky at your first attempt, but with constant practice they are no harder than the rest of these shapes. Also these shapes contain the third of the chord as the bass note making them first inversion shapes.

Four String Arpeggios (1st Inversion, 3rd As Bass Note)


I Chord (Dm)
   D  D  D  D  U  D  U  U  U  D  D  D  U  D  U  U  U
G|----------10-14-10----------------10-14-10----------|
D|-------12----------12----------12----------12-------|
A|----12----------------12----12----------------12----|
E|-13----------------------13----------------------13-|
   2  1  2  1  4  1  2  1  2  1  2  1  4  1  2  1  2

VI Chord (Bb)
   D  D D D  U D U U U  D D D U  D U U U
G|--------7-10-7------------7-10-7--------|
D|------8--------8--------8--------8------|
A|----8------------8----8------------8----|
E|-10----------------10----------------10-|
   3  1 2 1 4  1 2 1 3  1 2 1 4  1 2 1 3

VII Chord (C)
   D  D  D  D U  D U  U  U  D  D  D U  D U  U  U
G|----------9-12-9----------------9-12-9----------|
D|-------10--------10----------10--------10-------|
A|----10--------------10----10--------------10----|
E|-12--------------------12--------------------12-|
   3  1  2  1 4  1 2  1  3  1  2  1 4  1 2  1  3
Lastly, I would like to include the basics of adding tapping to your sweeping. This example is still using the I-VI-VII chord progression, and in each shape the note tapped is the root note of the chord. This example is just using the three string sweep but will work with any number of string sweep.
   I(Dm)                       VI(Bb)                VII(C)
G|-------10h14T19P14P10------------7h10T15P10P7------------9h12T17P12P9-------|
D|----12----------------12-------8--------------8-------10--------------10----|
A|-12----------------------12--8------------------8--10--------------------10-|
E|----------------------------------------------------------------------------|
Unlike the rest of the previous shapes, you have no choice in these but to hammer on and pull off when you reach the G string in order to tap the high root note. Before this lesson is ended I will leave you with something other than a three chord progression to practice these with. This is a three string sweep&tap arrangement of Pachebel's famous "Canon" that I wrote it's a little tricky and takes some reach in spots but enjoy! This is also in Guitar Pro format if you would prefer it that way
G|-------11h14T19P14P11--------6h9T14P9P6-----7h11T16P11P7---|
D|----12----------------12---7--------------9--------------9-|
A|-12----------------------7--------------9------------------|
E|-----------------------------------------------------------|

G|-----2h6T11P6P2-------4h7T12P7P4------------------|
D|---4------------4---5------------5-----4h7T12P7P4-|
A|-4----------------5------------------5------------|
E|-----------------------------------5--------------|

G|-----4h7T12P7P4-------6h9T14P9P6---|
D|---5------------5---7------------7-|
A|-5----------------7----------------|
E|-----------------------------------|

63 comments sorted by best / new / date

    TriggeringMetal
    This is awesome, but it's pretty hard if you are not used to using a pick (I've always been playing with my fingers, Cliff-Flea-Victor style ).
    killtrend
    this is really cool, I think bassist should tap the swept arpeggio but hey, personal preference (plus I'm guitarist) Go check out Protest the hero if you wanna hear a great bassist (dose sweeps and taped arpeggios )
    Anthony Hackney
    man i really liked the lesson it was tricky to get down, but once you get it it opens up a lot of cool ideals or at least it did for me.you should try it in (a) man its even cooler...once again thanks
    FUT55
    i find that its easyer to play the first four string figure incorporating my third finger for the first and third notes. Does that matter?
    FUT55
    any one know any songs that would be good for practicing this?
    twistedphysics
    this is awesome...i can just about do 4 string sweeps and im about to try it with tapping my band is gonna be so pleased
    6stringbassist
    Great lesson. I'm not a fan of major arpeggios, but the lesson is nice. I have a six string bass, so I use guitar sweeping lessons. Maybe do a right hand technique in conjunction.
    Borna
    One question, i dont use a pick, Is it still possible to sweep?
    killertowel
    One question, i dont use a pick, Is it still possible to sweep?
    yes i do that i just need to work on fluidity i use my thumb for down picks and fingers for up picks
    metallicamadmik
    TriggeringMetal wrote: This is awesome, but it's pretty hard if you are not used to using a pick (I've always been playing with my fingers, Cliff-Flea-Victor style ).
    hells ****in yea man, reppin cliff! cliffs the man!
    Rufusftw
    This can be fun lol i have the bass guitar lesson with billy sheehan showing you how to do this too awesome stuff
    Pitbullz13
    evening_crow wrote: Hahaha sweet. I am no bassist but this looks like fun.
    You would think it is! But I just tried it. It hurts like crap. -.-
    megaluisdeth
    Does anyone have the Guitar Pro File for the "Canon" sweep tap. Send me a message if you do.
    megaluisdeth
    megaluisdeth wrote: Does anyone have the Guitar Pro File for the "Canon" sweep tap. Send me a message if you do.
    Never mind, I tabbed out the whole lesson and also the Canon lick at the end. Message me if you want a GP5 file of it.
    handsanitizer
    Supercool. I was actually looking for bass PICKING lessons (as in, the plastic thing you can strum with) when I found this. I didn't read very carefully at first and I thought the "sweeping" motion was supposed to be from up/down strumming. I've been a bass player for years and have generally used an open-hand style and even though I didn't use this lesson for its intended use, I would highly recommend trying to play through this with a pick as one of the more challenging aspects of pick-guitar style is keeping the "up/down" rhythm when switching strings (in other words not resorting to a disproportionate amount of downstroking). But very interesting lesson as it is intended. I would recommend Victor Wooten's "Classical Thump" for conceptual expansion & practice.
    handsanitizer
    Although now that I've read more of the comments I'm not so sure. But with a pick, I would practice doing the "up/down" stroke even when switching strings even though that doesn't seem practical, because its good practice and forces you have a more musical approach. If you're going to do Wooten-kind of stuff you're better off just using your thumb 90& of the time with your index & middle as needed, only my opinion.
    i_shred_metal
    Pitbullz13 wrote: evening_crow wrote: Hahaha sweet. I am no bassist but this looks like fun. You would think it is! But I just tried it. It hurts like crap. -.-
    hahaa build up those callouses man \m/
    michaelmindy18
    Excellent lesson! I've got all three of the four string ones down, and can play them at a nice steady pace. Watch some videos on sweeping on guitar for more tips. Such as start very slow and play to a metronome :p
    mls01913
    I just started playing a month ago and this is great practice. I was just trying to learn songs but this is cool, not really sure what you mean by sweeps though. I use a pick and finger pick to practice both. Just saw comment above will look for guitar sweeps
    Qallen94
    sick lesson, I enjoy a good bass sweep. Nice concept with tapping btw.
    Metal5115
    Good for shapes Don't understand why you didnt just upload the GP the website though
    edgeyyz
    this is good if you play with your thumb or a pick, which wasn't mentioned, which probably confused a lot of people, like me initially, who finger pick all of the time. Cool nonetheless, I'll try it with a pick.
    East_Coast_Sink
    This lesson could use some work such as giving suggestions on how to use your plucking hand otherwise it just looks like you took a guitar lesson and removed 2 strings
    drunken ninja
    East_Coast_Sink wrote: This lesson could use some work such as giving suggestions on how to use your plucking hand otherwise it just looks like you took a guitar lesson and removed 2 strings
    the same principles of sweep technique on the guitar apply to the bass, you just have to get used to the larger string spacing and thicker strings, the choice of practical arpeggio shapes are limited however.
    drunken ninja
    Silverwolf wrote: you do downstrokes with your thumb, and upstrokes with your 4 fingers right?
    you can use whatever you feel comfortable with, theres no rules. its a lot easier with a pick though
    Spyder1010
    I'm new at bass though I've been playing guitar for 19 years. 13 of those were mastering fingerpicking with Classical guitar; so I'm a shoe-in for playing bass. I have a working knowledge of slap/pop technique and now I found something killer for when I decide to use my Dunlops! Ya'll know what those are, I like this sweep picking exercise cuz it gives me one more thing in my arsenal! My band will be pleased!www.myspace.com/Third Man on the Match!