Sweeping Arpeggios 101 - The Crash Course

This lesson is aimed at being a simple and effective guide for guitarists who want to start learning to sweep, without all the technical jargon and hours of theory work. This lesson is mainly for intermediate guitarists who are wanting to push their skills that little bit further and add some new ideas to their playing.

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Arpeggio - The sounding of the notes of a chord in rapid succession instead of simultaneously.

What prompted me to write this lesson out is a number of recent seperate inquiries from a few friends and students of mine regarding methods of sweeping arpeggios. Although they were intrigued by the technique, they had been confused by long-winded theory based explainations in books or elsewhere online and they were not sure at all where to begin. In my time I've met some unbelievably experienced guitarists who are so scared of sweeping arpeggios that they let it hold them back, myself included once upon a time. So after sitting down with them and getting them started with a few of the following shapes, they realised that the shapes themselves aren't that difficult, it's just the timing and smoothness or consistancy that takes a bit of practice to get.

I've gathered here a few good chord shapes to arpeggiate and use as sweep picks, but all you need to do to find more is examine other chords more closely to find starting points and root notes, etc. Then just arpeggiate them. Also, starting small is a good idea, as with most things guitar related. So don't jump into the 5 or 6 string sweeps, it'll be easier with smaller shapes over less strings at first.

Handy Hints

- Use a clean tone to get the volumes of each note right, and only then add distortion. The masters of sweeping (Petrucci, Satriani etc) recommend that a clean tone is used when learning sweeping instead of distortion. This is to let the notes evenly sound out so you can hear any mistakes. Distortion/Overdrive will do the opposite of letting you hear any mistake, it will hide them. If you can get sweeping arpeggios fast and consistant on a clean tone, they'll sound immaculate when using distortion.

- When 'sweeping' your pick across the strings, try to let your pick fall or drop onto the adjacent string that is next in the sweeping order, in the same physical motion as the pick we've just used to sound the string out. Don't pick the strings with individual picking movements, that'll only slow you down. When played fast, these shapes all need a fluid, constant hand motion on the way down as well as on the way up, so try to use one fluid movement for the individual directions.

For reference purposes, all of the following arpeggios are written out as ascending to descending. Practice from descending to ascending as well, to avoid boring 'textbook syndrome'.

Key:

V = Downstroke with pick
^ = Upstroke with pick
~ = Vibrato
/ or \ = Slide
h = Hammer-on
p = Pull-off
rht = Right hand tap
rhp = Right hand pull-off

Ok! Here we go. Lets start with a 3 string arpeggio.
e-------15h19p15-----------|
b----17----------17--------|
g-16----------------16ZYABLA~HUYABLA---|
d--------------------------|
a--------------------------|
e--------------------------|
1 2 1 3 1 2 1
V V V ^ ^
Make sure your 1st finger can change from the 3rd string to the 1st string easily enough and stick to the first 3 or maybe 4 notes before trying for the rest. Take smaller bites at each exercise by tackling it only a few notes at a time, then add them together when you're familiar with the whole shape. I've found this approach helps when learning a long lead guitar run or just something a little more complicated.

- D major suspended 4 arpeggio (Dsus4) -
e----------12h15p12---------------|
b-------15----------15------------|
g----14----------------14---------|
d-12----------------------12ZYABLA~HUYABLA----|
a---------------------------------|
e---------------------------------|
1 2 3 1 3 1 3 2 1
V V V V ^ ^ ^
Note which fingers I recommend for this, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I'm not using my 4th finger yet. Let the 4th be free for larger shapes. Play the first 4 notes over and over again with your down sweep. Get them all together cleanly. Then start adding the next notes. After the hammer-on and pull-off, start the up motion of your pick sweep from the 2nd string and use one fluid motion to finish up onto our root note of D.

- Dsus4 with added F# -
e----------12h14h15p14p12---------------|
b-------15----------------15------------|
g----14----------------------14---------|
d-12----------------------------12ZYABLA~HUYABLA----|
a---------------------------------------|
e---------------------------------------|
1 2 3 1 2 3 2 1 3 2 1
V V V V ^ ^ ^
This is pretty much the same story as the Dsus4, but use your 2nd finger to hammer-on the F# on the way up and pull-off to it on the way back.

- Extended D major arpeggio including RHT (right hand tap) and RHP (right hand pull-off) -
e----------12h14h17rht22rhp17p14p12----------------|
b-------15--------------------------15-------------|
g----14--------------------------------14----------|
d-12--------------------------------------12ZYABLA~HUYABLA-----|
a--------------------------------------------------|
e--------------------------------------------------|
1 2 3 1 2 4 rh2 4 2 1 3 2 1
V V V V ^ ^ ^
Notice that I used the middle finger of the right hand for the tap, while still holding the pick between thumb and forefinger. Your picking hand should have ample time in between the down-sweep and the up-sweep to tap the 22nd fret.

- A minor arpeggio -
e-----------------12h17p12------------------------|
b--------------13----------13---------------------|
g-----------14----------------14------------------|
d--------14----------------------14---------------|
a-12h15-----------------------------15p12ZYABLA~HUYABLA-------|
e-------------------------------------------------|
1 4 3 3 2 1 4 1 2 3 3 4 1
V V V V V V ^ ^ ^ ^
Here is a 5 string arpeggio using all 4 fingers. One of my favourites

- A minor / A#minor / A minor / F minor arpeggio combination use same fingering as the A minor for all shapes in this exercise.
e--------------12h17p12----------------------13h18p13--------------
b-----------13---------13-----------------14---------14------------
g---------14-------------14-------------15-------------15----------
d-------14-----------------14---------15-----------------15--------
a-12h15----------------------15p13h16----------------------16p12h15
e------------------------------------------------------------------ contd.
V V V V V ^ ^ ^ ^ V V V V ^ ^ ^ ^
--------12h17p12-------------------8h13p8------------|
------13--------13---------------9--------9----------|
----14------------14-----------10----------10--------|
--14----------------14-------10--------------10------|
----------------------15-8h11------------------11ZYABLA~HUYABLA--|
-----------------------------------------------------|
V V V V ^ ^ ^ ^ V V V V V ^ ^ ^ ^
This big combo is using the shape we got comfortable with in the previous example of the A minor and encourages the use of continuation of the sweep, ie - into the next shape. Be sure to commence new shape with appropriate picking direction. It's meant to polish your sweeps once you have them down for the most part.

- F major 7 arpeggio -

This odd one (thanks to Lori Lindstruth) involves not only all 6 strings but a few slides too, so you can get the hang of moving around inside arpeggio shapes. That and it's a colourful, interesting sounding arpeggio.
e-------------------8h12/13\12p8-------------------------|
b-----------------10-------------10----------------------|
g---------------10-----------------10--------------------|
d-------------10---------------------10------------------|
a--------8h12--------------------------12p8--------------|
e-5/8h12------------------------------------12p8\5ZYABLA~HUYABLA-----|
1 1 4 1 4 2 2 2 1 4 4 4 1 2 2 2 4 1 4 1 1
V V V V V V ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
Ok, the final sweep we're going to go over in this lesson is similar in textbook fashion to the larger combination we did earlier, but it's covering all 6 strings. I'm starting with an up-sweep and lowering the whole shape by a semitone, followed by a key change to finish.
e-18p13--------------------13\12---------------------------------|
b------14----------------14-----13--------------------13p12ZYABLA~HUYABLA----|
g--------15------------15---------14----------------14-----------|
d----------15--------15-------------14------------14-------------|
a------------16p13h16-----------------15p12--12h15---------------|
e------------------------------------------12--------------------|
4 1 2 3 3 4 1 4 3 3 2 1 1 2 3 3 4 1 1 1 4 3 3 2 1
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ V V V V ^ ^ ^ ^ V V V V V
That's about all I have to offer in the way of sweeping arpeggio advice. Beware of people telling you it has to be done a certain way. We all have different shaped hands and fingers and at the end of the day if the notes are all there, nobody can tell you that you're doing it wrong. Hell, even if you do have the notes wrong but you think it sounds good, go for it and tell everyone to get effed.

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    insmarine951
    1st w00t great lesson bro, im really gonna practice these sweeping exercises and really nail my sweeping today
    Pedrofarol18
    This is the best article about how to learn the sweep picking arpeggios. the tabs are very detailed (down/up strokes, fingers...) I've been playing this exercise tabs for 1 hour and i've already improved my sweep picking speed and smoothness! Thank you very much for this! =)
    kermitdf
    i've been looking for somewhere to start with sweep picking great article, very informative
    MWriff
    Thanks alot man, the best thing about arps are the fact that you can make amazing music while your practicing! Cant beat it.
    j uu ice24
    ya this is great. i never had to confidence to even try arpeggios and in 5 hours i went from nothing to something pretty good. THANKS!
    pluplik
    Tom Hess recommended that start first with distorsion and it makes sense cause u can hear any unclean sound when u play with dist.
    stryde41
    when on the first sweep,when it reaches the hammer on pull off part,do u still pick that string or do u just go back up
    kylegowns
    for all you that want an audio sample here is a video of Matt Heafy covering 2 or three of these arps.
    hoppy_pantera
    iv bin sweeping for bout 3 months now n that is a reli good lesson for any beginners to sweeping, and good advice to
    Muzak
    btw, if any metal fan wants a nice, rather difficult sweep to practice, the solo in lamb of god's grace is pretty good incorporates the right hand tap on the 22nd fret also.
    Muzak
    wow. i've never liked sweep arpeggio's. but even just half an hour and i picked up heaps! great lesson! tyvm
    kavnar
    I've just switched to playing with ernie ball 'not even slinky's (i think they're like 12-58's.) Because i play in drop b tuning for my band. It's starting to get really difficult to get the full ring from my notes. Would it be easier to switch to lighter strings? Or should i stay persistant?
    debooger10
    how come when i let go of the 1st string on the 3 string arpeggio it rings out on open and how do i stop it
    Marky2199
    is there any way we can get tempos for these examples and even possibly audio examples so we can make sure we are playing these examples the right way? But as it is, this is one kickass article and it has really helped. My sweeping has never sounded so clean! Thanks alot!
    gavz_verdikt
    Amazing lesson. The sweep technique is pretty hard to master, especially with the last parts. It would be nice if you supplied some YouTube links to help, maybe?
    Phe4rTheGod
    I love sweeping articles...this is the funnest technique to play...and the most jaw-dropping...