Always start with the basics when learning a new technique. Nailing them and creating a strong foundation is essential for making good, quick progress.
Do not dive right into large 5 and 6 string sweep shapes/passages - This is a huge and very common mistake!
The Picking Motion
Mute the strings by covering them with your fretting hand.
Now using your wrist (or forearm if you would prefer - both methods work) begin by downpicking the G string. The trick here is not to pick like you would usually, but to pick through the G string and let your pick land up against the next string, in this case, the B string. So, you play the string and the pick immediately falls through and lands on the next.
Now play the B string with another downstroke and immediately land on the high e string.
Downpick the high e and get ready to turn around.
Pick the high e with an upstroke this time and let the pick immediately land up against the B string.
Upstroke the B string and land against the G string.
Upstroke the G string, do not land against the D string, turn around again to repeat the exercise.
Let that pick fall through the strings!
That same part of your hand that you use to mute riffs is the same you use to mute lower strings that have just been swept. Try this open string muting exercise to get a feel for palm muting in a sweep picking context.
Place your palm mute on the strings near the bridge. Get it so that the D string is muted by your palm but the G string is not.
Pick the G string and let your pick fall and land against the B string.
Now pick the B string and let the pick fall and land against the high e string. At the exact same time as you do this, you want to shift your palm mute up to mute the G string.
Now pick the high e string and again, instantly move your mute up to mute the B string.
The palm mute chases the notes you just swept and silences them when a higher string is played. That is its purpose.
If you can execute this exercise with 3 distinct and separate notes sounding out then you are muting well.
Clean Note Transitions
You also need to make sure that your fretting hand is transitioning between notes cleanly. This aided with a good palm mute is what creates a clean sweeping technique.
Fret the 12th fret on the high e with the index finger and play with a downstroke.
Now all at the same time you want to: unfret the 12th fret but do not take your finger off the string, fret the 13 fret (with middle finger) on the B string and upstroke it.
Next, all at the same time, unfret the 13th (do not take your finger off the string though) and palm mute it, fret the 12th fret on the high e and downstroke it.
Keep going back and forth between these two notes, fretting one and instantly unfretting the other, always keeping both of your fingers in contact with the strings. And whenever you return to the high e then your palm mute should catch the B string.
2-string and 3-string sweep examples
Use the picking motion, the palm mute, and the clean note transitions to play your first 2 string and 3 string sweep arpeggio shapes. Remember what you have learned and follow the picking instructions provided.
If any of this has been unclear then check out my video lesson below!
By Alfred Potter