Hi, and welcome to the master class on sweep picking. Sweeping is an awesome technique that guitarists use to play arpeggios rapidly. When executed properly, a blazing sweep arpeggio sounds very lethal. In order to sweep properly, it is going to require a lot of time and patience on your part. I will do my best to guide you down the path to becoming a sweep picking monster. Only with discipline, hard work, patience, and lots of practice will you be able to master this technique. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.
Sweep Picking 101 – The Basics
Let us go over some fundamental sweeping exercises that will help you develop your technique.
PLAYING TIP: when you are shredding, you should always use your neck pick up. It is a lot cleaner and more articulate than the bridge pick up.
3 String Sweeps
We will start by working with some 3 string arpeggios. These are probably the easiest arpeggios to get started with. The first thing that we are going to do is work on descending arpeggios. In my opinion, it was always easier to sweep up strokes evenly than down strokes. Here are some exercises to develop your up stroke sweeping.
Well, what goes up, must come down. So let’s work on the down picking portion of a sweep arpeggio. Remember to let gravity guide your down strokes. The hardest part of down picking a sweep arpeggio is making the strokes consistent. If you practice these few exercises religiously, then you will save yourself many problems in the future. Another thing to remember is that it is ESSENTIAL to always start out slowly and never try to increase speed until your ready to do so. DON’T EVER FORGET THAT. You can’t play with fire if you don’t have a nice pair of fire proof gloves on.
Again, I can not emphasize enough the importance of mastering those few simple exercises. Once you have these under your fingers, you will be ready to move on. Now we are going to take a look at combining these motions to form continuous licks. The first example is a C major arpeggio.
Now lets try something harder. Here is a cool diminished arpeggio shape. The picking on this one is significantly difficult, but if you can get through this one good, then you are well on your way to becoming a sweep picking monster. Pay careful attention to the picking on this bad boy.
Here is a lick that is even harder. The trick here is to roll your first finger on your left hand, back and forth, to mute the other strings from ringing. These type of arpeggios can be very difficult at first. I assure you that if you take the time to master them now, it will make the 6 string monster sweeps a lot easier to tackle. With out further delay, here we go!
After you work through all of these examples, you should have a good understanding of the basics of sweep picking. Lets move on to some bigger shapes.
5 and 6 String Sweeps
Here is where the fun begins. Make sure you’ve got a good foot hold on your 3 string arpeggios before you even think of getting into these. The 5 string sweeps can be difficult at first, but aren’t nearly as hard to learn as the 6 string ones. Let us start by playing through some standard 5 string sweep patterns.
PLAYING TIP: I highly advise you to break each of these arpeggios down into 3 note sections. If you can play all the 3 note sections in a big arpeggio, then you shouldn’t have any problem Remember, to learn the 3 note sections upwards, and then downwards. An example in a C major arpeggio would be:
- play C E G
- play E G C
- play G C E
Follow the pattern through how ever many octaves you are attempting. Do the same thing descending.
Do this exercise with every other arpeggio shape. It is a great way to get them really fast and fluid. You will also find any snags in your arpeggios easily with this exercise. Usually there is only 1 section of 3 notes that will give you difficulty. Once you find it, you can isolate it and practice it. Once you iron out that snag, you’ll be blazing those arpeggios like a madman.
Do you have the fragmented arpeggios down yet? If yes, great! It is time to approach the 5 string ones. Here are some of the major and minor forms. Just for your information, you can use any of these forms in any key signature. Just change the root note. I am only putting these forms in different keys so that they map out in what I think are the easiest places on the neck to learn to sweep. It is harder to learn to sweep in the lower registers of the neck, where the frets are bigger, as well as the higher places where the frets are really small. It is easier to learn in the middle and then move to different spots on the neck.
The arpeggio shapes with the pull-offs and hammer-ons are harder to do because you don’t keep the consecutive picking motion flowing. You are really going to have to practice these ones slowly to get the picking to flow naturally.
In the next example, we are going to put arpeggios to all of the chords in the key of D. This is a great exercise to help get sweep picking under your hands fluidly. The goal here is not to play this exercise at 100 notes a second, it is to play the arpeggios cleanly at a moderate tempo.
Got the 5 string ones down? Great! Bring on the 6 string carnage. These shapes are going to kill you if you don’t have the previous material down. So, If you don’t have the prior material mastered, go no further. Here are some 6 string shapes:
Got that down? Awesome! Now it is time to have some fun. We are going to start adding position shifts to make some killer arpeggios. These can get really ugly if you don’t take the time to learn them slowly.
The key here is to really concentrate on the picking and the position shifts. Practicing those slowly and getting them fluid is very important. If you don’t, you will just end up with a mess of sloppy trash!
Before we get into the insane stuff, I’m just going to talk about a few things. All that I’ve really covered in this master class so far is basic major/minor/diminished shapes. I didn’t get into anything theoretical like modal arpeggios or some of the complex chord extension ideas that are possible. This master class is about technique, not being able to rip it up in the modes of harmonic minor over some odd time signature and chord progression.
It is your job as a musician to unlock these gateways for yourselves. I can just show you the technical path to your own creativity. Having a mastery of the sweeping technique is just like having a new power drill to add to your musical tool box. How you use it is up to you. If you use it is up to you. I do however encourage you to take the time to learn to sweep pick. It is just like having another color on your artists palate.
With that said, it is time to have some really fun and take a look at some rather challenging stuff. Let’s move on hey?
INSANE GUITAR – Sequencing Arpeggios
When it comes to sweep picking, sequencing is pretty much the pinnacle of the technique. There are really only a handful of players out there that really capitalize on this technique and use it in their music. Sequencing can be extremely hard for someone who has even a solid sweeping technique.
The shapes and the picking can be really awkward. The arpeggios become much harder to pull off cleanly and fast. But, if you can do it, or want to learn how, then your definitely going to have fun and are in for a challenge!
Once you start sequencing arpeggios, tons of new possibilities open up to you. It is definitely worth the time spent practicing to obtain skill at this. But remember, music isn’t a competition, it is an art form of inner expression. It is cool to be able to sweep all over the neck in a pyrotechnic fury, but if your not going to ever use it musically, don’t waste your time.
The first example that I’ll use is from a song I wrote many years ago called “Fortress of the Titans.” Some of you may have seen this lick before, as I’ve tabbed it out many times in the past. I do think that this is a great lick to practice sequencing arpeggios with. On a first viewing the lick looks really simple. But, if you try playing it up to speed, you’ll quickly find it really hard to play cleanly and fluidly.
Pay really close attention to the position shifts. That is where things tend to get messed up the most. The really hard part about this lick is keeping it going 4 times in a row with out getting really sloppy on the shifts. Now that we’ve had an introduction to sequencing, lets try something different.
Here is a cool lick from a D to an A.
Here is a good lick to practice sequencing in major arpeggios, but with different neck positions. This lick is in A.
Now, let’s expand on that idea. More fun with moving around in 1 arpeggio. Quite a lot of shred for just 3 notes hey?
The last example is a lick in D minor. It consists of descending 4th not patterns. The hard part about this one is the 2nd group of 4 notes. It is tricky to play cleanly at warp speed.
These licks should give you a good idea of how to sequence arpeggios. I could go on and on writing out lick after lick, but that isn’t any fun. What is fun is taking the time on your own to explore the technique and use it in your songs. Sequencing opens up countless variations you can play over chord progressions. When writing licks like this, analyze the chord changes and see what arpeggios you can play over the top the chords. Then string all the arpeggios into one long lick. It makes for some insane shredding!
I encourage you to take the time to explore possibilities of modal arpeggios and adding extension notes to them too. You can come up with some really neat stuff.
A Different Approach
Something that I do when sequencing arpeggios is add circular picking into the equation. I use my fingers to control some of my movements in my sweeps. It is sort of an odd hybrid approach to sweeping. A good example of a lick that I do this on is the main lead to “Fortress of the Titans.”
Most people I’ve seen sweep pick do so with most of their motion coming from the arm/elbow. I use my wrist and my fingers most of the time. This is something you may want to experiment with. Give it a try, you might like it??
There are so many different ways you can play sweep patterns and so many ways you can construct arpeggios, that it could be a 1,000+ page book. Mess around with creating your own shapes. You’ll find what works best for you eventually. Certain patterns will work better than others for you. It is your job to figure this out for yourself.
Hopefully you’ve gotten a grasp of the technique if your a beginner. If you are somewhat decent at sweeping, then I hope you’ve got enough to bring your playing to the next level. If your a sweep picking veteran, then I hope you got some cool ideas. If anything, I hope you at least learned something from this master class. Have fun with the technique and good luck with your playing!