Sweep Picking and Arpeggios Part 1 (Guitar Lesson)

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Nick Greathouse

Sweep Picking and Arpeggios Part 1

Nick lays down the building blocks for sweep picking. Precision and relaxation are crucial when it comes to this technique.

Taught by Nick Greathouse in Speed and Technique seriesLength: 21:27Difficulty: 2.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (0:36) Lesson Introduction Sweep picking is a technique that is met with a lot of confusion. In this lesson I will try to clear up some common problems that many beginning sweep pickers encounter, and give you the foundation to eventually play more complex arpeggios.
Chapter 2: (8:48) How to Sweep Pick The correct practice of this technique is essential to developing it.  Sweep picking is a “pushing and pulling” technique with the pick.  The idea is to have one fluid motion of the right hand rather than a separate motion for each pick attack.  When picking from lower to higher strings you can use the weight of your hand to push the pick through the strings.  Conversely, when picking from higher to lower strings the idea is to pull the pick upward through the strings.

You must begin practicing this technique SLOWLY!  Oddly enough, sweeping is something that is easier to do at high speeds rather than slowly, though if you begin trying to play sweeping licks too quickly too soon you run the risk of being inaccurate.  The slow practice of sweep picking is a little difficult because you still have to maintain the momentum you would have if you were playing fast.  The way to do this is to rest the pick on each string as you go up or down (as demonstrated in the video).

Though sweeping is considered a “right-hand” technique (or left-hand if you’re left handed!) what you do with the fretting hand is equally important.  Although you’re generally playing chord shapes with sweep picking, you have to separate all of the notes played by fretting them one at a time (you shouldn’t just hold down a chord shape, then try to sweep it).  The reason for this is that when using high gain sounds definition is lost if notes ring together.

The exercise in this scene is meant for the sole purpose of developing the proper movements for the right and left hands while sweeping.  It isn’t really meant to sound musical (unless you’re playing atonal music!). It is a basic one finger per fret pattern across the four highest strings of the guitar.  Be sure to follow the fingerings and pick indications in the tab, and start slowly.  Separate all of the notes by fretting them individually while pushing and pulling the pick through the strings (resting on each string if going slowly).  Practice with a metronome!  Start out playing 8th notes, and when you feel comfortable with the technique move up to 16th notes.
Chapter 3: (3:56) Arpeggio Shapes In this scene I introduce three arpeggio forms that can be played with sweep picking.  Although I use the same root note for each arpeggio shape, they are all movable, they can be played from any root note, anywhere on the fingerboard.
  • The first form is an A major arpeggio.  It is derived from the A major scale (1,3,5).
  • The second form is an A minor arpeggio.  It is derived from the A minor scale (1,3,5).
  • The third form is an A diminished 7th arpeggio.  It is derived from a Bb Harmonic minor scale (7,2,4,6). This arpeggio is played as a third inversion 7th  chord because the Gb (the seventh of the chord) is the lowest note.
Follow all of the fingerings on the tab in the supplemental content.
Chapter 4: (4:30) Sweeping Exercises There are three sweeping exercises in this scene, they each use one of the arpeggio forms from Scene 3.  The cool thing about these exercises is that you only have to learn one picking pattern and apply it to each different arpeggio form.  The rhythm is all triplets (three notes per beat), and all of these exercises incorporate a pull-off on the first string.  Closely follow all pick indications in the tablature.
Chapter 5: (2:49) One Last Exercise The final lick in this lesson is just something fun and it’s meant to show where this series is going. This is the first time we connect arpeggios shapes moving up the neck. This one is pretty easy because you’re playing the same shape (diminished) repeated every four frets. This lick is in the key of D minor (the saddest of all keys) and the chord that you‘re outlining is C# diminished (the vii chord of D harmonic minor scale). The cool thing about this lick is that you’re spelling out each inversion of the diminished arpeggio as you move up the neck. The rhythm of the arps is a septuplet (7 notes per beat). Follow the pick indications in the tab.
Chapter 6: (0:42) Lesson Wrap Up Thanks for watching! Get comfortable with this technique because in future lessons we will keep building upon this basic idea. See you next time!

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

dredariusdredarius replied

In the words of Adam Sandler "Push it in and out, at a MEDIUM PACE!!"

Marc_XMarc_X replied

This is great exercise, Nick. Got it down now!!. Been practicing it for a few days on guitar and in the bathroom mirror (believe me, it works). You're a great teacher. Looking forward to more of your lessons.

isaokisaok replied

This is a great lesson! I am re doing my sweeping practice with this lessons. It works very well. Thank you Nick!

jasonconfusedjasonconfused replied

I got my down sweeps pretty good but sweeping back up is a challenge :/

trialer1trialer1 replied

omg its still soo hard lol.. but at least i know i can do it haha :)

123zxc123zxc replied

number 1

glubertglubert replied

are there any rock songs you would use sweep picking in?

JustinSletcherJustinSletcher replied

Listen to seize the day by avenged sevenfold, at the end is the best example of sweep picking... synyster gates is insane

marclangemarclange replied

You can, it just depends on the way you use it. Like using it to create a bit of tension then release it and go into an epic bend.

alden1125alden1125 replied

not really rock, mostly metal, intrumental, or shred stuff

gmick88gmick88 replied

Correct me if i'm wrong but aren't the A Major and A Minor arpeggios played in their 2nd inversion seeing as we are starting on the 5th of the triad (E)?

jeremy.busseyjeremy.bussey replied

Yes, those are in the second inversion. I think he just didn't mention it for simplicity, since its a sweeping lesson not a theory lesson.

playaxemanplayaxeman replied

Nope buddy, This is only the last 3 strings. The A and d string are left out. For A maj you must add A string 12 th fret being the A D string 11th fret being the C# Then continue the rest in the exercise For A min A string 12 th fret being the A D string 1oth fret being the C# Then continue the rest in the exercise

clarke1966clarke1966 replied

Excellent exercises Nick! This stuff is really challenging me.

alden1125alden1125 replied

hahahahhahahahah "you can annoy your parents, if you have parents, or annoy your wife or girlfriend if you have one of THOSE.....or boyfriend" i laughed sooooo hard

jobrien369jobrien369 replied

Awesome exercises nick!

chase_1995chase_1995 replied

Good lesson smiles

77337733 replied

hey Nick, just curious - what kind of pickups do you have on your Strat?

bogdansbogdans replied

You are real TEACHER. You really know how to tx your knowledge. Greatings! BogdanS

gontarekgontarek replied

I have done this lesson 2 times in 2 days with 1 solid hour a day of pratice on the lesson. And I went from rough at 80bpm after day 1 to good at 100 on day 2. Thanks Nick. Any timeline on the next sweep lesson?

robcrobc replied

SO WHAT KEY IS IT IN AND HOW CAN it be used???? where is the root ???

gdead84gdead84 replied

awsome lesson man. Its gonna take me time but i really neeeded to know those little details to get me going. soon they will flow like the wings of a hummingbird from hell

pbrad74pbrad74 replied

so, where is the supplemental content?

cdawsoncdawson replied

Up now, sorry about that.. forgot about the weekend upload.

pbrad74pbrad74 replied


mingofallsmingofalls replied

Great stuff Nick, thanks for explaining that exercise in detail!

itsmekeuhitsmekeuh replied

Great stuff Greathouse ! :-p So I was doing this all wrong... I had a big 'aaaahhhh that s how it s supposed to be done ' moment. Great explanation.. great excercices.. I only watched like 15 minutes of it and I already got it ten times better then ever.. not that it is near perfect or anything, but progress is progress ... Thanks a lot Nick!

Speed and Technique

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

This exercise-heavy series serves to improve your playing dexterity, coordination, synchronization of your left and right hand, and speed building in the techniques of alternate picking, sweep picking, and legato.

Alternate Picking Part 1Lesson 1

Alternate Picking Part 1

Nick starts his series with Alternate Picking part 1. Improve your timing, speed, and execution with this important lesson.

Length: 21:23 Difficulty: 2.0 FREE
Legato Playing Part 1Lesson 2

Legato Playing Part 1

Nick lays down the building blocks for legato playing. Strengthen and improve your left hand skills in Legato Part 1.

Length: 12:53 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Sweep Picking and Arpeggios Part 1Lesson 3

Sweep Picking and Arpeggios Part 1

Nick lays down the building blocks for sweep picking. Precision and relaxation are crucial when it comes to this technique.

Length: 21:27 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Alternate Picking - Part 2Lesson 4

Alternate Picking - Part 2

Alternate Picking Part 2 will build up your technique by adding a second string.

Length: 21:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Legato Playing - Part 2Lesson 5

Legato Playing - Part 2

Nick takes Legato playing a step further with more advanced examples such as full scale patterns.

Length: 33:43 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Sweep Picking and Arpeggios - Part 2Lesson 6

Sweep Picking and Arpeggios - Part 2

Nick teaches you some new sweep picking licks and demonstrates how to connect arpeggios together.

Length: 24:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Alternate Picking Part 3Lesson 7

Alternate Picking Part 3

Nick covers 5 practice sequences in the key of A major that will beef up your alternate picking technique.

Length: 36:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Sweep Picking part 3Lesson 8

Sweep Picking part 3

Nick teaches the basics of sweep picking with exercises that have helped him.

Length: 22:18 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Pentatonic Sequences and TechniquesLesson 9

Pentatonic Sequences and Techniques

Nick teaches exercises and techniques for the B Minor Pentatonic scale.

Length: 21:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Nick Greathouse

About Nick Greathouse View Full Biography Nick Greathouse was born on December 11th, 1980 in Canton, Ohio. He was exposed to many different musical styles from a very young age. Growing up in the "MTV generation" some of his earliest memories involve watching Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Guns n' Roses with his brother and cousin. His mother played piano, sang and filled the house with the sounds of singer-songwriters Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne and Elton John and his father was always listening to country music along with classic rockers Tom Petty and Bob Seger. He never had to look far to hear great music.

Though he was constantly surrounded by music, it wasn't until Nick heard his first Beatles album (Revolver) when he was 10 that he became interested in being a musician. Shortly thereafter, his older brother got an electric guitar which Nick began to play (while his bro was out of the house!). The moment his fingers touched the strings for the first time, he was hooked and had to have one of his own.

Throughout high school Nick took guitar lessons and would jam with his friends as much as possible, his skills on the instrument improved significantly. He would spend hours with his cd player learning Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix songs by ear. But after hearing Steve Vai's album "Passion and Warfare" guitar playing became an all out obsession.

After high school, at age 18, Nick began teaching guitar lessons at a local music store. He also entered the music program at Kent State University where he studied classical guitar with George Bachmann. During this time he performed many solo guitar recitals and also played with the guitar ensemble. When he honed his reading chops to a high level he started playing in pit orchestras and band for local theaters.

Nick took a break from Kent in 2004 when he moved to Hollywood, California for a short time to study at Musician's Institute (GIT). While there he had classes with Daniel Gilbert, Joy Basu, Tom Kolb, Carl Verheyen, and his private lesson instructor Jean-Marc Belkadi.

Nick returned to Ohio in order to finish his college education. He joined a local metal core band called Last Second Decision which was formed by his brother. During his tenure with Last Second Decision Nick began taking lessons from one of his heroes, Cleveland based guitar virtuoso, Neil Zaza. They became fast friends and since then Nick has gone on to perform with Zaza numerous times including television appearances, local club gigs and the holiday spectacular "Neil Zaza's One Silent Night" at Cleveland's Playhouse Square. Nick also appears on the 2007 CD "Neil Zaza's One Silent Night: A Night at The Palace".

Nick is a graduate of Kent State University (BA Music) and continues to teach privately at a music store in Kent, Ohio and also at his home. He is very excited to be a part of the JamPlay team!

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