Sweep Picking Arpeggios

The sound of sweep picking arpeggios strikes fear in the hearts of young guitarists. Well fear no more! I'm here to show you the secrets behind sweep picking arpeggios!

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First things first there are certain materials that you will need for this lesson: 1) A guitar 2) A pick 3) A metronome(yes, you need a metronome, there is no way around it) I know some of you guys out there are on a budget and can't afford to buy a metronome, however, there are several websites that have free metronomes that you can use. Shredacademy.com has one that's very easy to use. If you don't like that one, just google search metronomes and I'm sure you'll find plenty. Let's talk about the materials you will need. We'll assume you already have a guitar(you probably wouldn't be looking up lessons on sweep arpeggios if you didn't). As for the pick, that's entirely up to you. You WILL need one of course, but for the pick brand and size, it's really up to you. I prefer the Dunlop Jazz III stiffos but if you're happy with a green tortex or a big stubby or whatever else, that's perfectly fine. Now for the metronome. A metronome is a little device(in most cases, although there are the old timey oens that are pretty large) that produces a little clicking noise to help you keep perfect time. Do NOT trust yourself with keeping time in this. You never know what kind of little mistake you might be making. The metronome prevents you from making the mistake of miscounting or getting offbeat. It is absolutely vital to this lesson that you rely heavily on the metronome during practice. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look into arpeggios. Obviously the first question that should be asked is: What is an arpeggio? An arpeggio is simply a chord with the notes played separately. Arpeggios can be alternate picked, sweep picked, picked with all down strokes or picked with all up strokes. Today we're going to be talking about sweep picking them. If you have questions on chords, check out my music theory lessons, they've got a lot of information in them. If you still have questions, you can always message me and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Now, without further adieu, here is the secret to sweep picking! The big secret is.... *drumroll* MUTING! That's right, something as simple as muting. When I first started out with sweep picking, the actually picking part was a breeze but it still sounded horribly sloppy. Finally, John Petrucci explained the problem to me in his book Wild Stringdom. Now that the secret's out, let's analyze the picking technique for those who are new to this form of picking. Basically, all you have to do is drag the pick down across the strings and then pull the pick up the strings again. Think of a broom sweeping the floor. You're not gonna smack the dirt around with the broom, you're going to sweep it into the dustpan. The same principle applies to sweep picking. Imagine that right under the high E string there is a dust pan and there is dust all over the strings and your pick is the broom. So, pick an arpeggio, set the metronome to 80 bpm, and slowly sweep the dirt into the dustpan. It's as simple as that. Now, for decending the arpeggio, you can imagine that there is a dustpan just above the low E string and there is still dirt all over the strings. So sweep that dirt right into the dustpan! Of course, before you tackle these huge 6 string arpeggios, you're going to watn to start small. Personally, I think that 3 string arpeggios are easier than 2, so we'll skip 2 string arpeggios and jump right into three. Before we get into playing any arpeggios, we need to discuss the proper muting technique. When ascending(sonically, not physically, your hand will be moving towards the floor when ascending), you want to make sure you keep your palm very close to the strings so you can quickly mute them as soon as the pick has left the string. You don't want any of the strings to ring out, otherwise it will sound like a strummed chord which is obviously not what we're going for. Another important part playing sweep arpeggios is to keep the left hand moving, make sure that your fingers leave the string as soon as the note has soudned, you don't want your fingers stuck on the G string when they should be at the E string. Now that you've succesfully reached the E string, it's time to descend(once again, you're only descending sonically, not physically). Obviously, you can't mute with the palm of your picking hand, so what do you do? You use the palm of your fretting hand. I use this type of muting when I do legato playing, much like Rusty Cooley. When he descends using legato technique, he doesn't use his pick. John Petrucci also rarely uses a pick when descending in legato. To master this muting technique, plug your guitar into an amp, crank up the distortion but keep the volume down so the neighborhood doesn't panic and call the police, and then try to use legato technique while decending down a scale wihtout using a pick to change strings. Practice very very very slowly. Lower than the metronome can go. Pay close attention to your left hand and what it's doing. When you have succesfully muted the strings while legatoing, give yourself a pat on the back and then get back to work! Apply it to the arpeggio. If this technique doesn't work for you, you can also try using your pinky to mute the strings as you descend. I sometimes use a mixture of both my lefthand and my right hand to mute when descending. Now that we know the muting techniques, let's actually play an arpeggio.
-------12-15-12------------
----13----------13---------
-12----------------12------
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There's an easy one for you. A simple C Major arpeggio. You can really make yourself sound like a shredder by repeating the part on the high E string like this.
-------12-15-12-15-12------------
----13----------------13---------
-12----------------------12------
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Once you get that up to speed the friends that were laughing at you for playing at 80 bpm will now look more like this -->> :O The best way to get these things up to speed is to practice at your starting tempo(80 bpm) and then play it 10 times perfectly. After you've accomplished that, you get to increase it by 1, or the lowest ammount your metronome will allow. Is that extreme? Yes. Is that overkill? Absolutely. Do you have to do it? Definitely. The point of this is to make sure that you play the arpeggios not only at high speeds, but cleanly at high speeds. Well, teaching guitar techniques without video is definitely challenging but hopefully I've managed to write a decent lesson. If any of you have questions you can always message me. If this lesson did not help you at all, I should have a youtube video up soon on sweep arpeggios. You can subscribe to my channel at www.youtube.com/ironwolg good luck and keep shredding!

34 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    JoyDivisionxD
    JoyDivisionxD wrote: Good lesson I have a problem though... When I release my finger from the G string 12th fret, the strings open, how would I stop this from working?
    the string rings as if it's open*
    ironwolg
    JoyDivisionxD wrote: JoyDivisionxD wrote: Good lesson I have a problem though... When I release my finger from the G string 12th fret, the strings open, how would I stop this from working? the string rings as if it's open*
    the muting technique will vary depending on whether you are ascending or descending. in the case of descending, you should try to keep your first finger as close to the neck as possible, so close that it is actually touching the strings you have previously picked. if you are ascending, use your palm to mute the strings. make sure you practice it very slowly and experiment with different muting techniques to see what works for you. video lesson on this is coming soon. sorry guys, i've been swamped with school work and searching for a job. unfortunately, i can't make music my job right now unless you guys would be willing to pay for some of my lessons haha
    RockRolla
    Thanks for this lesson,I actually started to work on sweep picking today.Great lesson,hadn't thought about the muting part of it.I also need to get a metronome.Also,as they say,THANKS,til your better paid!
    JoyDivisionxD
    Good lesson I have a problem though... When I release my finger from the G string 12th fret, the strings open, how would I stop this from working?
    Guitar guy Ben
    really good lesson, but i 've got a little problem: i can sweep really fast downwards (pretty clean) but when i play upwards i don't know how to mute the strings and they kinda ring out and it doesn't sound good. that thing with the middle-finger resting on the index finger doesn't work for me ... hope you can help me out, thank you (;
    ironwolg
    Guitar guy Ben wrote: really good lesson, but i 've got a little problem: i can sweep really fast downwards (pretty clean) but when i play upwards i don't know how to mute the strings and they kinda ring out and it doesn't sound good. that thing with the middle-finger resting on the index finger doesn't work for me ... hope you can help me out, thank you (;
    muting when decending is something that really just comes natural for me, what you need to do is make sure that part of your fingers on your fretting hand are touching the string you previously picked, that's what mutes them in the legato and sweep picking techniques. it's very difficult to explain in a lesson like this, so i should be doing a sweep picking video for youtube soon and i will post the link somewhere on here. i'm also thinking about making an instructional DVD at some point. any suggestions on what i should cover in that?
    Kirk21
    Great Lesson there! After reading your tips, I was able to sweep pick a whole lot better especially when I tried using a metronome. Although I still find it quite hard to mute while descending. Anyways thanks a lot and I can't wait to see your video.
    ironwolg
    Kirk21 wrote: Great Lesson there! After reading your tips, I was able to sweep pick a whole lot better especially when I tried using a metronome. Although I still find it quite hard to mute while descending. don't worry man, you'll get it. i've just got a new macbook so i'll be able to post the video very soon. Anyways thanks a lot and I can't wait to see your video.
    SOAR1
    Hey ironwolg, nice lesson but I want to know something. Why did you call that arpeggio a C Major arpeggio? Isn't it a D Major Arpeggio, that is if your in standard tuning?
    rg18
    ... I wouldnt listen to him if i were you guys. Youre best off lifting your finger off the fretted note that you plated last rather then muting... thats the REAL way to sweep pick...
    SOAR1
    Oh my god! You don't know what you are talking about. OF COURSE YOU ARE SUPPOSED LIFT YOUR FINGERS OFF THE FRETTED NOTE, IT'S NOT LIKE HE IS SAYING "PLAY THE CHORD BUT MAKE SURE TO MUTE THE NOTE THAT YOU JUST PLAYED". ONCE YOU LIFT YOUR FINGER OFF OF THE FRETTED NOTE QUICKLY YOU WILL GENERALLY GET FEEDBACK SO HE IS SAYING TO MUTE THAT STRING SO IT DOES NOT SOUND SLOPPY.
    ironwolg
    ironwolg wrote: Kirk21 wrote: Great Lesson there! After reading your tips, I was able to sweep pick a whole lot better especially when I tried using a metronome. Although I still find it quite hard to mute while descending. don't worry man, you'll get it. i've just got a new macbook so i'll be able to post the video very soon. Anyways thanks a lot and I can't wait to see your video.
    wow that last comment turned out wrong lol
    ironwolg
    robburciaga wrote: hey, great lesson! ive been sweeping a little before i read this, and i realized im muting a different way than i have read throughout the whole thing (plus comments); is it ok if i mute each string one by one using the left hand finger that had just played that note? i mean i.e hitting a note and it being muted by my finger actually releasing pressure off of the string. i think it may seem to work for me? also, i dont understand why sweeping is considered so hard to do by the general guitarist public, because (granted im not pro at it,) its not really that hard for me it just takes practice getting up to speed- or maybe im just muting wrong? some help please =)
    as long as your muting style isn't a hinderance to the execution of the arpeggio i say it's right. guitar is a very personal thing so what works for one person may not work as well for you so if your muting technique works well for you then go for it and use it but if you find one that works better feel free to move on to that technique
    robburciaga
    hey, great lesson! ive been sweeping a little before i read this, and i realized im muting a different way than i have read throughout the whole thing (plus comments); is it ok if i mute each string one by one using the left hand finger that had just played that note? i mean i.e hitting a note and it being muted by my finger actually releasing pressure off of the string. i think it may seem to work for me? also, i dont understand why sweeping is considered so hard to do by the general guitarist public, because (granted im not pro at it,) its not really that hard for me it just takes practice getting up to speed- or maybe im just muting wrong? some help please =)
    blakeg14
    Very good lesson. Great tips! I can't quite get the finger positions right, or the going back up.
    ironwolg
    blakeg14 wrote: Very good lesson. Great tips! I can't quite get the finger positions right, or the going back up.
    just keep practicing slowly and don't give up, you'll get it soon. find the fingerings that work for you and practice that
    ironwolg
    CrosingTheSpasm wrote: I have been able to get the picking motion almost up to speed but it sounds sloppy, this is what will help me probably. However, the metronome is useless if you don't tell us how fast we should be going. Are they 32nd notes, 16th notes? Is this 4/4 timing, 2/4, 3/4? Just a little more explanation please.
    i reccomend starting in 8th notes in 4/4. always start simple when learning something, then you can change it up and make it more complex as you progress.
    Kortez3000
    ironwolg wrote: Kortez3000 wrote: Is it okay to mute with the picking hand still? I mean I try not to play sloppy with regular picking but I sometimes mute with the side of my thumb. Absolutely. Mute it any way that you can. If the arpeggio comes out clean, stick with your muting technique.
    Thanks!
    ironwolg
    Kortez3000 wrote: Is it okay to mute with the picking hand still? I mean I try not to play sloppy with regular picking but I sometimes mute with the side of my thumb.
    Absolutely. Mute it any way that you can. If the arpeggio comes out clean, stick with your muting technique.
    CrosingTheSpasm
    I have been able to get the picking motion almost up to speed but it sounds sloppy, this is what will help me probably. However, the metronome is useless if you don't tell us how fast we should be going. Are they 32nd notes, 16th notes? Is this 4/4 timing, 2/4, 3/4? Just a little more explanation please.
    imperialfury
    for the 12-15-12 on the high e string do you pick up or down on the 15?
    SOAR1
    I am somewhat proficient at sweep picking and I would personally recommend to pick up on the 15 because, like in alternate picking, its easier to counter the downwards motion that you created by sweep picking downwards. Hammering on is easier however. But if you really want to pick I would personally recommend to pick upwards.
    ironwolg
    imperialfury wrote: for the 12-15-12 on the high e string do you pick up or down on the 15?
    well, you can hammer it or pick up or down, whichever is your preference, i typically hammer it
    Rasmus.S
    I like the lesson. The first one I've seen yet to actually talk about muting. Lot's of cred to you for that. But however there are many more techniques used to mute. My typical example is that you hold your middle-finger resting on the index-finger and at the same time muting when going upwards. For downwards you can use the side of your thumb to mute.
    ironwolg
    Rasmus.S wrote: I like the lesson. The first one I've seen yet to actually talk about muting. Lot's of cred to you for that. But however there are many more techniques used to mute. My typical example is that you hold your middle-finger resting on the index-finger and at the same time muting when going upwards. For downwards you can use the side of your thumb to mute.
    yeah muting was always the problem i had and when i realized it i was able to sweep like it was nothing, which is why i wanted to put that in the lesson. i never really experimented too much with muting, i just used what worked for me. thanks for posting your muting techniques
    IrishShred
    nice article...heres a little pointer 1. try and envision the pick as a "stick banging off a fence as you walk along the fence" rather than the broom analogy it has helped me a lot 2. let the pick come to rest on the next string as you finish playing a note...let it build up some pressure. watch this stuf at very slow speeds...and it will seem to disapear as you get faster
    PlagueOfPhoenix
    I'm Quite Proud Of You, ironwolg. This Is A Great Lesson For Those Who Just Try To Sweep Fast And Not Show It's True Beauty.
    ironwolg
    PlagueOfPhoenix wrote: I'm Quite Proud Of You, ironwolg. This Is A Great Lesson For Those Who Just Try To Sweep Fast And Not Show It's True Beauty.
    This lesson will work for anyone who wants to use sweep arpeggios. The application of the technique is left to the reader. However, I will talk about arpeggio and chord progressions in my next lesson then they can learn how to use them properly.
    Kortez3000
    Is it okay to mute with the picking hand still? I mean I try not to play sloppy with regular picking but I sometimes mute with the side of my thumb.