Chapter 1: (00:43) Intro
Welcome to the latest installment of the Lead Techniques and Concepts series with Dennis Hodges! Dennis begins this lesson with a performance of an original sweep picking etude.
Sweep picking is a technique that is used to play solos or melodies comprised of rapid arpeggio figures. This technique is found in almost all genres. However, it occurs most frequently in metal, rock, and jazz / jazz fusion music.
In the scenes that follow, Dennis explores the mechanics of sweep picking technique. He begins with the absolute basics and works his way towards advanced material. To prepare you for the etude demonstrated in this scene, sweep picking exercises are presented throughout the lesson. The basic right and left hand components are isolated and explained in detail. Then, these techniques are applied to a practical musical context with the introduction of commonly used arpeggio patterns.
Chapter 2: (08:12) Left Hand Technique
Before you proceed to the exercises presented in this scene, make sure that you feel comfortable with the right hand component of sweep picking.
Left Hand Guidelines
The main reason why guitarists perform sweep arpeggios poorly is because they fail to realize that the left hand component is just as important as the right. Follow these rules to ensure that your arpeggios sound smooth and fluid.
1. The left hand must prepare each finger before the string is plucked with the right hand. The left hand finger must fret each note just milliseconds before it is plucked. Otherwise, an unwanted hammer-on sound might be produced.
2. Each string must be muted after it is played by slightly lifting the left hand from the string. Do not let the strings in a sweep arpeggio ring together! If the same finger is to be used to fret the next string, do not lift it up. Instead, "roll” your finger by lightly pulling it down to the next string. Be careful that you don't create unwanted pull-offs when performing finger rolls.
3. The sweep arpeggio should sound like a series of rapid single notes, not a slowly strummed chord.
Finger Roll Exercise 1
A. Left Hand Component
Many sweep arpeggios call for a finger roll to be performed across three or four strings. Before you attempt to play such arpeggios, first master finger rolls played across two adjacent strings.
This exercise features a roll performed by the first finger on the first and second strings. Begin by fretting the note F# with the very tip of the index finger. Pick this note. Then, roll the first finger down so that the note B on the first string is fretted by the fleshy pad of the index finger. Essentially, you are flattening the fingertip joint as you move from the second string to the first string. Do not keep the first note fretted as you progress to the second note. These notes should not ring together!
B. Right Hand Component
Use the right hand principles from the previous scene as you practice this exercise. Sweep downwards for the first two notes. Remember to keep the pick motion fluid and constant. Then, sweep back up through these notes.
All four notes in the exercise are played as eighth notes. Make sure that all four notes are identical in value. Begin at a slow tempo to ensure that all note values remain perfectly even throughout the exercise. Speed is not a priority at this point! Focus on clear rhythm and keeping the transition seamless from one note in the finger roll to the next.
Watch and listen carefully as Dennis performs this exercise at 00:55. Focus on a different aspect of his technique each time that you watch this example. Watch his right hand, then his left. Imitate the sound he produces as you practice through the exercise on your own.
C. All Fingers
Practice this exercise with all four fingers equally. You may have to spend extra time with fingers two, three, and four before you feel comfortable with this exercise. Typically, the fingertip joint is slightly stronger and more flexible on the index finger than the other three fingers. You will learn how these finger rolls are incorporated within various arpeggio patterns in the scenes that follow.
Also, practice these rolls with all possible pairs of adjacent strings in all areas of the fretboard. The exercise is slightly more difficult at the high and low extremes of the fretboard.
Finger Roll Exercise 2
This exercise features a finger roll performed in a triplet rhythm across three strings. The difficulty level increases significantly with this exercise since weaker parts of the finger must be used within the finger roll. Fret the note on the third string with the very tip of the finger. Then, flatten the joint to fret the note on the B string. The note on the first string is fretted just slightly above the fingertip joint. As you move from one string to the next, slightly drag the first finger down towards the floor. This will ensure that the preceeding note is muted when the following note is struck.
It becomes much more difficult to keep the individual notes from bleeding into one another when rolling across more than two strings. The highest string in each group of three is the hardest to prevent from bleeding into the other notes.
Do not get frustrated! If you take the time to perfect these basic exercises now, your playing will sound much smoother when it comes time to play full sweep arpeggios across the fretboard.
Practice the exercise at a very slow tempo such as 50 beats per minute. Play along with Dennis in the lesson video at 04:02 when you feel ready. His metronome is set to 60 beats per minute.
Once again, practice this exercise with all four fingers on all possible sets of strings. Also, practice at various locations on the fretboard.
Finger Roll Exercise 3
This exercise features a finger roll across four strings. Practice without a metronome while you are first getting acquainted with the raw finger mechanics. Once the mechanics of the finger roll become more comfortable, then play in time along with a metronome. The exercise is played in sixteenth notes. Or, you can play it in eighth notes at a slightly quicker tempo. Dennis demonstrates the exercise in eighth notes at 76 beats per minute at 07:40 in the lesson video.
Finger rolls involving four strings aren't very common in the rock genre. However, jazz / fusion players such as Frank Gambale use them with some frequency. Practicing rolls across four strings will make rolls across two or three strings exponentially easier for you.
Chapter 3: (07:18) Right Hand Technique
When learning a new, challenging technique such as sweep picking, it is always best to isolate the right and left hand components.
The following guidelines are taken from lesson 8 of Matt Brown's Phase 2 Rock series.
Right Hand Technique
1. In order to decrease the amount of friction between the pick and the strings, the picking hand must be slightly tilted from its normal position. When performing a down-sweep, tilt your hand towards the floor so that the thumb is pulled slightly away from the strings. This will prevent the pick from getting stuck on an individual string. When sweeping upwards toward the bass strings, tilt the pick in the opposite direction. The wrist, thumb, and index finger work together when the angle of the pick is adjusted. Watch Dennis' right hand in the lesson video for a clear example.
2. Sweep arpeggios must be played with the very tip of the pick only. If too much of the pick makes contact with a string, you run the risk of getting it caught, and the arpeggio will not sound smooth.
3. The pick must gradually “fall” across the strings. In other words, the velocity of the right hand must remain constant as the pick drags across the strings. You must not separate the motion of the pick into individual strokes. Do not momentarily pause on each string!
4. When more than one note occurs on a given string, alternate picking must be used on that individual string. Then, resume picking in one direction.
5. Keep the right hand as relaxed as possible at all times. Grip the pick just hard enough so that it does not fall out of your hand.
Right Hand Exercise 1
The first exercise presented in this scene is designed to get you acquainted with the basic right hand component of sweep picking.
A. Practicing the Exercise
Pick through the treble strings using all downstrokes. Lightly mute each string with the left hand. Remember to keep the velocity of the pick constant through the sweeping motion. Do not pause or freeze the right hand after picking each note. Tilt the top of the pick towards the ground when performing a down sweep.
After the final downstroke is performed on the first string, reverse the direction of the pick. You must alter the angle of the pick when performing a sweep in an upwards direction. Tilt the pick back towards you when performing an up sweep. This will decrease the risk of getting the pick caught up on the string. Watch Dennis' right hand closely at 00:42 for a clear demonstration. Notice how the angle of his pick changes from the down-sweep to the up-sweep. He changes the angle of the pick by slightly adjusting his thumb, index finger, and wrist.
It is important to be able to sweep pick in a variety of different rhythms. Sweep arpeggios can be performed in eighth notes, triplets, sixteenth notes, quintuplets, sextuplets, and thirty second notes. Dennis has notated this exercise in eighth note triplets. For additional practice, apply the remaining rhythmic groupings to this exercise.
B. Exercise Play Along
Keep the rhythm constant. Each note must receive the exact same rhythmic value as the next. Do not leave a pause between the down sweep and up sweep. Practice this exercise at a very slow tempo to begin with. Then, gradually increase the tempo. Dennis demonstrates this exercise at 01:04 in the lesson video. He sets the metronome to 50 beats per minute. At first, listen to him play the exercise to hear how it should be performed. Then, rewind the listen video and play along with him.
Sweep picking is often performed at rapid tempos. Once you can play the exercise flawlessly and comfortably at 52 beats per minute, move the metronome up a notch to around 54. Continue to increase the speed of the metronome as you master the exercise at each individual setting.
Right Hand Exercise 2
This exercise features up and down sweeps performed in sixteenth notes. As more notes are added to a sweep played within a single beat, your awareness of time and rhythm becomes increasingly more important.
Follow all of the important rules listed under the first exercise when practicing this exercise. Make sure all of the notes receive the same rhythmic value. Play the exercise along with a metronome to monitor your rhythm and speed progress. Practice the exercise on your own at a slow tempo such as 50 beats per minute. Then, return to the lesson video and play along with Dennis at 03:15.
If you are having a hard time feeling sixteenth notes at a slow tempo such as 60 bpm, try playing the same exercise in eighth notes at a faster tempo such as 80 or 100 beats per minute. Dennis demonstrates this concept at 04:00 in the lesson video. His metronome is set to 80 beats per minute. Eighth notes played at this tempo are the equivalent of sixteenth notes played at 40 beats per minute.
Right Hand Exercise 3
The third exercise features up and down sweeps played in quintuplets. Within this rhythm, five notes of perfectly equal value are played to a beat. You may find it helpful to count a five syllable such as "university" or "hippopotamus" as you play this rhythm. Each syllable corresponds to a single note in the quintuplet note grouping. Every note in the pattern must receive the exact same rhythmic value. Do not play two sixteenth notes followed by three sextuplets or vice versa!
This is one of the most difficult rhythms to play. Do not neglect this rhythm! If you begin to practice it early on, you won't find yourself struggling with it down the line. Fives and sevens are the most difficult groupings since an odd number of notes are assigned to a single beat.
Begin by practicing the exercise on your own at a slow tempo such as 50 beats per minute. Then, return to the lesson video and play along with Dennis at 05:20.
Right Hand Exercise 4
This exercise involves all six strings. Down and up sweeps are performed across all six strings in a steady sextuplet rhythm. Do not play this exercise as a broken strum. Each note must be picked individually while retaining a fluid pick velocity throughout.
You can play this exercise in eighth note triplets at a faster metronome marking if you are having problems counting six notes to a single beat. Count "1 trip-pl-let 1 trip-pl-let, 2 trip-pl-let 2 trip-pl-let, 3 trip-pl-let 3 trip-pl-let 4 trip-pl-let 4 trip-pl-let " for a full measure of sextuplets.
Practice the exercise along with Dennis at 06:23. Count the rhythm in your head along with the metronome before you begin to play. Make sure you are counting and feeling the rhythm correctly before you begin. Notice how it takes Dennis a few beats before he settles into the tempo. Counting several measures before you play will help eliminate this problem.
As you incorporate these exercises into your daily technical practice routine, do not always play them in the order presented in the lesson. Skip around between the various rhythms. For example, play sixteenth notes, then sextuplets, then triplets, then quintuplets. This will challenge your rhythm and counting skills. You will receive the maximum benefit from your practice time if you practice these exercises in random order.
Chapter 4: (09:25) 3 String Triads
Most sweep picking patterns outline a triad or some sort of seventh chord. Before you tackle seventh chords and triads that span multiple octaves, you must first learn how to sweep through simple, three string triads.
Spelling Minor Triads
A minor arpeggio takes the first, third, and fifth notes from the natural minor scale of the same letter name. You learned how to spell triads in the first lesson of this series. For example, the E natural minor scale is spelled as follows: E, F#, G, A, B, C, D, E. An Em chord is spelled E, G, B.
Minor Arpeggio 1
Dennis first demonstrates a movable, minor arpeggio shape that can be transposed anywhere along the treble strings. He demonstrates this shape as an Em arpeggio played in seventh position. The root note on the third string indicates which chord is being played. Make sure that the notes that comprise the arpeggio do not bleed into one another. Lift up each left hand finger as soon as the next note in the arpeggio is picked.
Since this arpeggio pattern consists of three notes, it lends itself well to a triplet rhythm. Play through this exercise at a slow tempo in all possible keys.
Minor Arpeggio 2
The notes within Minor Arpeggio 1 can be inverted to form a new three string, minor arpeggio shape. Dennis demonstrates this shape as an Em arpeggio played in 12th position. Within this pattern, the third of the chord, G, is played as the lowest note. When the third of a chord is played as the lowest note, the chord is played in "first inversion." The root of the chord, E, is played on the first string. Use the note on the first string as a reference point when transposing this arpeggio shape.
Minor Arpeggio 3
The final three string minor arpeggio shape is played in second inversion. This means that the fifth of the chord is played as the lowest note. Dennis demonstrates this Em arpeggio in 15th position. Once again, this arpeggio shape can be transposed to the remaining 11 possible minor chords. Use the root note on the second string as a guide when transposing this shape.
This arpeggio can be fingered a few different ways. When playing techniques such as sweep picking that are build for speed, always use the stronger, faster fingers.
Connecting Arpeggio Shapes
Repeat each arpeggio shape for several measures along with a metronome. Then, move up to the next inversion and repeat the process. Gradually increase the speed of the metronome as you become more comfortable with this exercise. You will eventually need to play sweep arpeggios at all possible tempo ranges.
Spelling Major Triads
A major arpeggio takes the first, third, and fifth notes from the major scale of the same letter name. For example, the E major scale is spelled as follows: E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E. An E major chord is spelled E, G#, B.
This arpeggio can be fingered two different ways. The most appropriate fingering will depend on how the arpeggio is used in the context of a lick. Practice this arpeggio by rolling with the third finger on the second and third strings. This roll can also be performed by the second finger. Regardless of which finger performs the roll on the second and third strings, the note on the first string is always fretted by the index finger. Devote equal practice time to both fingerings. You will need to use both fingerings later on down the road.
Compare each minor chord shape to its major counterpart. This time around, the third of the chord, G#, is fretted at the 13th fret of the third string within the first inversion major chord. Now, the index finger must roll across the first and second strings.
When performing this arpeggio, leave your first finger planted across the 16th fret. Then, roll back and forth between the tip of the index finger and the section just above the fingertip joint. This is much easier than jumping the first finger between the first and third strings.
Practicing Major Triads
Practice each major triad with the same process that Dennis outlined for the minor triads. Play each arpeggio shape for several measures. Then, proceed to the next inversion without stopping. Apply this exercise to the remaining eleven major triads in the chromatic scale.
Doubling the Lowest Note
The note located one octave above the lowest note in each pattern can also be added to a three string arpeggio. Regardless of which pattern is used, this note is always located on the first string.
Within a sweep picking lick, notes on the same string are always played with either a hammer-on or a pull-off. Use a hammer-on when ascending the one octave pattern and a pull-off when descending. This will allow you to play the arpeggio with maximum speed. Otherwise, alternate picking must be employed. Adding this picking pattern destroys the fluidity of the right hand.
Watch carefully at 08:20 as Dennis provides a demonstration of an extended E major arpeggio in root position. The first three notes are picked with fluid downstrokes in an eighth note triplet rhythm. The remainder of the notes, beginning with the pull-off, are played with fluid upstrokes.
Using Other String Groups
On your own time, determine where all of the arpeggios presented in this scene can be played on the remaining string groups. Dennis gets this process started by demonstrating how to play the E major arpeggios on the second, third, and fourth strings.
Chapter 5: (13:07) 2 Octave Arpeggios
In the last scene, Dennis explained how to play a three string sweep arpeggio. He also demonstrated how to extend these arpeggios to span a full octave. In this scene, he demonstrates triadic arpeggios that span two full octaves.
You must master the exercises in the previous scene before proceeding to the arpeggio patterns presented in this scene.
2 Octave Em Arpeggio (Root Position)
Hammer-ons, pull-offs, and finger rolls become even more important when playing 2 octave arpeggio shapes. Notice how a hammer-on or pull-off is applied when two notes are played on the same string. Within this arpeggio, the third finger must perform a roll from the fourth string to the third string.
Be careful that you do not accidentally hammer-on to the second string with the third finger when descending this pattern. Do not let the third finger make contact with this string! Otherwise, the arpeggio is converted into a major arpeggio. This will sound awful when played over an E minor chord.
Practice all 2 octave arpeggios in the following rhythms: eighth notes, triplets, and sixteenth notes. Dennis has written each pattern in triplets under the "Supplemental Content" tab. Always practice these patterns with a metronome. Do not worry about speed at first! Focus on perfect rhythm and a smooth, connected sound. Then, gradually increase the tempo.
C. Transposing the Pattern
All of the shapes presented in this scene are movable shapes. They can be transposed to the remaining eleven minor chords. At 02:53, Dennis slides the entire pattern up a half step. This creates an F minor sweep arpeggio. Practice this shape in all practical positions. If your guitar has 24 frets, you can practice this pattern one octave higher. D minor is the highest arpeggio that can be played on a guitar with 22 frets. For guitars with 21 frets, C# minor is the highest two octave, root position arpeggio that can be played. This arpeggio pattern becomes more difficult at the high and low extremes of the fretboard. It becomes increasingly more difficult to perform the stretch between the notes on the first string as the pattern is shifted lower on the fretboard. When playing in higher positions, accuracy becomes more of an issue due to the small space between each of the frets. Also, the strings float higher above the frets as you move closer to the bridge. This factor will potentially slow you down. This is one reason why most shredders prefer relatively low action.
D. Alternate Fingering
This root position pattern can be fingered differently. Sweep picking master Yngwie Malmsteen typically plays a root position minor arpeggio with an alternate fingering. This pattern begins with the second finger on the root note. Then, the note G is played on the fourth string instead of the fifth string. Next, the ring finger hammers onto the 9th fret. The rest of the arpeggio pattern remains the same.
The "Yngwie" fingering for each arpeggio is listed in the second measure of each line under "Sweeping - Advanced" in the "Supplemental Content" section.
Dennis' fingering is more practical when playing low on the fretboard. The Yngwie version is slightly more comfortable when playing high up on the fretboard. This fingering tends to sound better too when played in high positions. Notes on the low strings sound strange when played high up on the fretboard.
Two Octave Em Arpeggio in First Inversion
This particular pattern is quite difficult to play because of the finger rolls involved. The third finger must roll between the notes on the fifth and fourth strings. The first finger rolls across the third, second, and first strings. It also features a wide stretch between the first and third fingers on the fifth string. Unfortunately, there is no alternative way to finger this arpeggio.
Repeat the same process listed above when practicing this pattern. Practice the arpeggio in a variety of keys, rhythms, and tempos. Pay careful attention to where the root notes are located within each inverted arpeggio pattern. The location of the root note becomes very important when transposing the pattern to a new key.
Two Octave Em Arpeggio in 2nd Inversion
This is the easiest two octave arpeggio since it contains no finger rolls.
The notes on the fourth, third, and second strings can be fingered an alternate way. Try fingering these notes with the middle and index fingers respectively instead of the ring and middle fingers.
2 Octave E Major Arpeggio (Root Position)
When learning the major patterns, compare the fingering to the parallel minor pattern. This will help you memorize each pattern in the most efficient manner.
This pattern features slurs on the fifth and first strings. The second finger rolls to fret the notes on the fourth, third, and second strings.
Jason Becker Fingering
Fret the root note with the second finger. Then, play G# on the fourth string. Next, hammer up to B with the third finger. Now, the third finger must roll across the fourth, third, and second strings. Some players have an easier time rolling with the third finger, because this joint is slightly more flexible. If this is the case for you, use this alternate fingering.
2 Octave E Major Arpeggio in First Inversion
This pattern features slurs on the fifth and first strings. The third finger rolls across the fifth and fourth strings at the 14th fret. The first finger rolls across the highest two strings at the 12th fret.
2 Octave E Major Arpeggio in 2nd Inversion
This shape is used multiple times in the guitar solo to "Selkies" by Between the Buried and Me. Click here
to listen to this song.
Barre the first finger across the high three strings. Roll to the appropriate note as necessary. This is much easier than jumping your first finger between the third and first strings.
Performing Sweep Arpeggios
You must know each of these inversions equally well in order to seamlessly play through a progression consisting of sweep arpeggios. An example of such a piece is provided under the "Supplemental Content" tab. Also, visit Matt Brown's 11th rock lesson for a transcription of the intro to "You Enjoy Myself" by Phish. This intro consists solely of sweep arpeggio patterns.
Chapter 6: (00:32) Wrap-up
Focus on the basic fundamentals of sweep picking before advancing to more complicated material. Developing this technique is like building a house. You must start with a strong foundation. Otherwise, the upper structure will topple.
Practicing the Etude
Before you pick up your guitar, analyze the chord progression in the etude. Determine which pattern is used for each arpeggio. Then, begin the piece at a very slow tempo such as 60 beats per minute. Gradually work your way towards the tempo Dennis demonstrated in the first scene of the video.
Preview of Next Lesson
Right hand tapping technique will be covered in the following lesson. A similar approach will be taken with this material. Dennis will explore the basics and work his way toward complex tapping applications.
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