Powers Of 4: Developing 4-String Sweeps

Developing 4-string sweeps to spice up your lead playing.

Ultimate Guitar
Hello, UG community! A few months ago, I wrote a column where I explained one approach to breaking out of pentatonic box shapes by playing three-notes-per-string licks beginning on the second degree of the natural minor and avoiding the root note. It's been a while, but I'm back with another technique to help my fellow guitarists color their lead playing: the 4-string sweep arpeggio. The idea seems simple enough: a sweep picking pattern that only crosses four strings. However, I believe these arpeggios are really underrated weapons in the guitarist's arsenal. In this article, I will explain my approach to 4-string sweeps and present some of my favorite patterns for using this technique. (Note: this article is not intended to be an instructional in beginning sweep picking. There are dozens of articles on UG devoted to helping players reach that milestone. Support the people who take the time to help developing guitarists by reading and reviewing their articles!) Most players begin sweeping by learning simple 3-string patterns, usually an A minor arpeggio like the one illustrated in Figure 1. From there, they advance to 5-string shapes, then 6-string patterns. Looking at that progression, one could understandably feel as though something is missing. And that's a shame, because 4-string arpeggios are an excellent way to augment one's phrasing. Figure 1: 3-string sweep, Am
5-string sweep, Am
Many 4-string sweeps require the guitarist to move their fingers in ways that may not seem as fluid, especially if they are used to the 3-and-5-string shapes outlined above. Utilizing these shapes effectively will require - as with all new techniques - time, practice, and patience until they can be played cleanly. *For clarity and consistency, all examples given will be in the key of CMaj/Am, with the exception of Figure 5. Figure 2 illustrates the first 4-string shape I developed. It most closely resembles the A minor sweeps presented above, and works well in a C Major/A minor or D minor context: Figure 2: 4-string sweep, Am
The sweep in Figure 3 is a bit more unusual, as it is best played using only the index, pinky, and middle fingers. The shape follows a C Major convention: Figure 3: 4-string sweep, C maj
The pattern in Figure 4 is probably the most difficult to accustom one's fingers to out of the whole bunch. It resembles an A minor shape but fingering the E on the fourth string (D string) can be a bit tricky: Figure 4: 4-string sweep, A minor
So, there you have it: three 4-string arpeggio shapes to get you started! To see how you can apply them, here's a link to a short video I made where I play a series of 4-string sweep sequences. My guitar is tuned down a whole step, which puts my playing in the key of C minor:
YouTube preview picture
To see how extensively these shapes can be used and moved around the fretboard, here is a long 4-string sequence illustrating some of the basic patterns I cycled through in the video. Played with the guitar in standard tuning means these arpeggios are in the key of D minor: Figure 5: D minor

A]-------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------


As you can probably hear, these patterns lend themselves to some really beautiful, technical-sounding melodies and can be combined with other arpeggio shapes - as well as other techniques like tapping - to create more intricate passages. I hope you are able to apply them to your own lead work, and add this really excellent approach to arpeggios to your musical toolkit. Please review and comment: constructive criticism and support is always appreciated! Fortune willing, I'll have another lesson up soon!

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I can't sweep for shit, but I'll be practicing some of these for sure.
    Your avatar scares the shit out of me!
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    Nobody recognizes that meme? Google part of what Mind_Reader7 said. Go on, I'll wait.
    you have no room to talk. i really am in the armed forces **** stick, so DO NOT degrade the people who maintain your freedom. hold your own tounge ass clown.
    Great article! I had never really thought about working with just 4 string shapes as opposed to 3 or 5 string shapes. Good stuff.
    for my bass brothers, or anyone interested in a finger workout really! I play this in G# standard, BTBAM-style. G]-----12-h-13-h-16-p-13-p-12----- D]-----10-- ---10----- A]-----11-----11----- E]9-h-12-----12-p-9-----
    i love how the video has a muffler or w/e its called on the neck to help with extra noise -_- good article though
    Yeah, I can play those sweeps very cleanly without the use of a dampener but I wanted to be sure everything sounded flawless. Besides, even the pros use string dampeners in their instructionals!
    thank you sooooo much that c major shape finally allowed my to get the second half of the first solo of Hangar 18 learned, you are forever in my debt.
    Sweeps sounds so cool, but my right hand and left hand just never seem on the same page when I try to speed up. This lesson has me jonesin to keep trying though.
    Just keep working at it! I remember how frustrating it was to pull off even a 3-string sweep, and I was so stoked when I could finally do it. The effort is absolutely worth the reward. It's really easy to go from a 3-string to a 5-string pattern, too. Once you get the basic idea to translate to your playing, it'll take off. My advice is to make sure you start off slowly, working on right and left hand coordination. That is absolutely essential for sweeping and alternate picking. Metronomes are your friend.
    el tigre
    I've practiced sweeping for so damn long, and I have gotten nowhere. I hope this will help.
    ...is it just me or are none of these sweep patterns outlining the chords that hes mentioning? like the first ones a Dminor9 kinda thing, the second ones an Aminor thing...or is he just talking about the shapes? im very confused
    If you read the article CAREFULLY, you will see that I have placed each diagram of these patterns within an appropriate harmonic context, providing a key and chord structure for the three main 4-string shapes.
    Well thanks UG, for reminding me that I still have a veeeery long way to go, and that I still can't sweep properly... Nah, jk, it's a well written article, and I'll save the link for when I get my shit together around sweeping...
    In figure 3 & 4 you have them the wrong way round.. figure 3 should be Am And 4 Cmajor... figure 5 sounds sweet too!
    it sounds very near to the first solo of hangar 18, in fact, there is a squence wich is exactly the same
    That' the second time someone's mentioned the "Hangar 18" solo with regard to this lesson. Which is very strange, because I don't even like Megadeth lol. Most of these patterns were very Jason Becker-inspired, though.