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Reader questions: cleaning up those noisy sweeps

Today’s reader question is on the perennial topic of sweeping arpeggios. “B” wrote in a couple of weeks ago asking:

reader questions
…Sweeping is fairly easy for me. I have the movements of my right hand sweep down just fine, and I can sort of figure out the Arps. I am self taught of a year or so, a little less and already I have associated myself among the best shredders around. =D Or so my friends say. I have been learning sweeps for about 2 weeks, and I need to know how you make it cleaner, with a distorted sound. I play Technical stuff, if you have ever heard of Necrophagist or something like Abigail Williams, and I can play the sweeps and arps just fine, except I leave all the notes ringing after the sweep on the string.

So, how do I..not do that? I try and palm mute, run my thumb over the strings as I sweep, but I end up making more noise. So I tried playing sweeps on clean just to get the motions down without banging on the strings with my fingers when playing fast. I know I am rambling, but sweeping is so frustrating when you can only hear static. My efforts in trying to clean by distorted sweeps have been destroyed…So as the only person to ever WANT to help me, Thank you.

Oh dear. Two weeks is nowhere near enough time to master a challenging new technique. Our fast-paced culture of instant gratification leads many people to expect to totally kick ass at new skills within an extremely short time. If they can’t manage, they think they either don’t have the “talent” for it or that they must be doing something horribly wrong.

Some skills just take time to develop. And beware: there are plenty of guitarists out there who will lie about grossly underestimate the amount of time and effort they need to master a given technique, just so they will appear more “talented.” This is total bovine excrement. So cut yourself some slack, realize that any skill takes time to develop, and don’t compare your own progress with other people’s.

OK then, without having seen or heard you play, my guess is that you are trying to play your sweeps too fast too soon.

You need to slow way the heck down, and here is why.

If you play very slowly, you can observe what you’re doing in detail and discover the exact source of the noise. It could be coming from either your left hand, or your right hand, or a combination of both. If you slow way down and still can’t tell where the noise is coming from, then ask a friend to help observe you. You might also find that the noisy problem disappears at a very slow tempo. In that case, gradually increase the tempo until the problem starts to occur.

Once you’ve identified the problem, THEN you can work on fixing it.

Sweep like a girl

For what it’s worth, here are some of my own observations about sweeping arpeggio technique.

  • It’s not necessary to mute with the right hand unless you’re going for that Al DiMeola percussive effect. Try letting the heel of your right-hand palm glide lightly over the strings as you sweep to keep them from ringing.
  • As you sweep through the arpeggio, your left hand should finger each note separately as you strike the string with the pick (or play a legato note). As you move to each new note, the preceding finger lifts off the string. So you only actually fret one note at a time. When you do a “bar roll,” make sure to actually ROLL your finger so that only the note you want to play is being fully fretted.
  • I tend to keep my right hand and forearm fairly relaxed and loose, but I’ve noticed that some guitarists sweep with a much stiffer right hand and forearm. You can experiment with different feels to determine what’s right for you.
  • Try practicing with varying levels of distortion, from clean to “more gain than God.” Using a clean sound will help you develop an even pick attack (you can hear if it’s not), whereas using lots of distortion will reveal any sloppiness that you need to clear up.

Just remember that the following applies to almost everything you’ll ever try to play: if you can’t play it at a slow-to-moderate tempo, then you’re not ready to play it fast. Period.

Good luck!

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+ Comment by Sierra Burke
2007-09-04 21:17:46

that’s so funny that B mentioned Abigail Williams… are they well known? I worked with the guitarist, Bjorn Dannov, at a restaurant… for like 6 months. Hah that’s crazy.

thanks for the tips, lori!

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-06 16:53:15

I’ve never heard of Abigail Williams. The only Abigail I know is the Abigail mentioned on King Diamond albums. Weird, I had a dream last night that I met this baby, and the baby was the King Diamond Abigail.

I’ve heard *of* Necrophagist, but have not had the pleasure (?) of hearing their music.

+ Comment by Sierra Burke
2007-09-07 15:00:24

i don’t think that anyone in the band is named Abigail.
Speaking of babies and Abigail, my friend Abigail is having a baby… and she is naming her Norah Jones. Not because of some creepy obsessive fan thing, though. She just likes the name Norah.

I’ve never heard Necrophagist either. But if it’s anything like Abigail Williams, expect lots of constant double bass on the drums, screaming, and fast melodic pounding guitars.

+ Comment by Guitar Noize
2007-09-05 02:53:38

“As you move to each new note, the preceding finger lifts off the string. So you only actually fret one note at a time — even when executing a ‘roll.’”

Hi Lori, just wondered what you do when the sweep is a pattern like this Gm arpeggio (see Ex.3)?

Surely you wouldn’t try and play the D & G notes seperately by lifting you’re 3rd finger off and replacing it on the G? So when you say roll do you mean roll a barre so that only 1 note is fretted? I’ve never really mastered sweep picking!

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-05 12:03:29

Oops, I will have to fix that clumsy wording. Thanks for pointing it out. Yes, I mean a barre roll. You don’t lift the finger when you bar, well, not exactly. But you still only completely fret one note at a time, even when rolling. That’s where the “roll” comes from. If you just held your finger down in a full bar, like for playing a chord, it would sound like crap.

+ Comment by CapnZilog
2007-09-05 08:10:24

Troy Grady had some good commentary about this and related things on his Website ( Namely, that there’s often a kind of subtle “Muscle IQ” at play that goes beyond what some high-technique players may be consciously aware of because it kicked in subconsciously at some point and that has made all the difference. Believe me, I asked the same questions of Joe Stump back at his little Boston apartment years ago while the man played in front of me, “blurrr, blurrr blurrr – and now, for some CRAZY sweeps! blurrr blurrr blurrr BLURRR!” LOL. And then? He PICKED them, Steve Morse style, without even slowing down. That’s when I started reaching for the smelling salts… ;)

After clearing up a few things and confirming that I wasn’t too far off base, Joe basically said “you know, at some point it just clicks. And from that point on, you’ve got it.” And then you’ve got some pros, like Glenn Tipton, who never seems to really “quite get it.” In fact, more don’t than do, IMHO – very few people have that smooth-as-glass effortlessly self-muting sound like Yng. Lori, whatever it is you made the right neural connections early on, and that’s for certain!


+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-05 12:17:41

I don’t think it’s ever too late to get that click. The problem that I see over and over (not just with guitar, but with any skill) is that people give up too soon because they don’t make the kind of progress they think they should be making.

If it were easy, everyone would be Perlman.

+ Comment by Hugo
2007-09-12 14:10:08

Hi everyone,

That comment just stroke me: “you know, at some point it just clicks. And from that point on, you’ve got it.” That’s exactly what happened to me while learning arpeggios. I’ve noticed that happening consciously (really!) while i was learning arpeggios, earlier this year. I even remember the sensation of that happening, it seems that it was a no-turning back line that was placed somewhere.

I’ve started playing arpeggios very slowly, mainly because the whole sweep picking idea was a brain-stopper for me, I’ve always played alternate-picking, and doing sweeps started to be a bit awkward because there was a different sync technique between the two-hands and also the brain.
So, i first learned the whole sweep picking technique, veeeerrrrryyyy sssllllloooolllllyyyyy…two-string sweeps (B and high E strings) across the fretboard! even at very slow speeds i was making mistakes. After i felt confortable doing sweeps, I’ve started to stablish those “neural conections”(!?)…that is, muscle memory. Here’s how…
When learning a new technique, and in order to not getting bored, i develop the muscle memory while practicing in front of the TV. Some say to not do that, to pay attention on your playing, and it’s really true, but i do this differently:
- I first learn the new technique paying attention to my playing, very slowly;
- Then when i can play it without paying as much attention, since i already figure it out, at that same speed, very slowly, i practice in front of the TV while making the same exercise over and over again…creating muscle memory, without getting bored (paying enough attention to not playing sloppy. If it’s sloppy, slow down a bit);
- After some sessions (or several minutes, hours, days, etc.) the muscle memory start to become established and only then, i really start to develop this technique: working in improving speed while playing cleanly, etc. Paying real attention to it! and stop watching TV altogether! I watch TV only to develop muscle memory and not getting bored, nothing else! As soon as i feel comfortable with the technique i stop doing other stuff while playing.

If i remember correctly, when i learned two-string arpeggios (and sweep picking), it was a trouble of about 15 minutes to learn the sweep picking technique (about 1 pick per second ). After those 15 minutes, i started watching TV, 3 secs per sweep (1 pick per second). You should also rest now and then, since the agility on the finger muscles will suffer for long periods of exercises.
So, practicing, resting, etc. about 3 hours later, i could already pick the guitar and without thinking, i could play the two-string arpeggios, still extremely slow, but i was able to start playing it without much thinking, because i just got the muscle memory for this technique established.
Then, every day i played guitar, i would do those two-string arpeggios exercises for some minutes, and i started to noticed serious improvements…until one day, “it clicked”…and ever since that day, i don’t need to pay much more attention to it like i was in the past…I can finger the arpeggios positions, sweep pick and muting the strings effortlessly. Now, i just have to develop the speed i want for this, because the technique to playing it cleanly and effortlessly is already established. I just need to work on speed.


+ Comment by Guitar Noize
2007-09-06 05:04:18

You’re absolutely right Lori, the reason I haven’t got sweeps down is because I get bored sitting down and practicing really slowly for hours on end, but thats what you have to do, and not just once, you have to keep your skills going by repetetive practice.

But I spent so many years at music college and university I got sick of playing and didn’t pick up a guitar for 7 years after completing my music degree so I think sometimes you have decide how much time and effort you are willing to put in without it becoming a chore… if it you don’t feel like playing scales, play something you enjoy and come back to it another day. Just my 2 cents :smile:

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-09-06 16:55:10

You definitely shouldn’t force it if it feels like a chore. Sometimes though, the hardest part is to just get started. Once 5 minutes goes by, you start to enjoy it.

+ Comment by Küsu
2008-09-20 14:41:11

For all those impatient Guitar Players out there.

I’m playing the guitar for more than 15 years now and i’m far from mastering it. I can cleanly sweep the arpeggios with a tempo of 120. If i pick faster, i have to rely on luck :)
The real skill is to perform with the guitar. A clean and perfect performance with 120 bpm is better than a trial on 150 bpm with some noise.

take your time and enjoy the music.

+ Comment by Jaysinn Solo Shredder=)
2009-07-28 00:01:22

Hey Lori I had a ? Ohh by the way you rock :cool:

I”ve been doing arpegio’s for over a few years now my self and i’m self taught also i have alot of noise and scratchyness in my sweeps but when i play them slow i get like it to sound perfect but when i shred my sweeps alternet pick it really fast it has a lot of string noise i cant come up with a happy medium to fix it any help would rock.

Ohh and could you post some more arpegio’s for us i only now liek 12 or so i get bored with the major minor switch ups looking for something to break up my practice ruteen Thanx!!

Jaysinn!! :guitar:

+ Comment by denisgiann
2009-10-29 11:40:52

Two are the main things when you want play fast and clean.Too much pressure when fretting and the strings and…not too much finger independence.Most guitarists uses way too much pressure when they play and they crash the frets.Try to fret a string lighter and lighter until the sound is muffled.Now fret it a little bit harder and presto…this is the pressure you should always play and practice.Nothing more nothing less.In that way your fingers will move faster cause they wont have to relax(at least not that much) first then leave the string and fret the next.You must have a fairly relaxed feeling when you play..if you dont having are pressing too hard.
Second but as important is finger independence.The point that each finger can move without the other ones even flinge.When you try to play llghtning fast with your right hand and you see you left halph arsing halph legatoing without having time to fret the notes properly then you know that your fingers are not trained enough to play at this speed and your hands syncing goes out the window.Simple as that.
OF course none of those things can be trained without playing slowly enough to play perfect(and play at medium speeds for some minutes without rest to gain indurance).The most difficult thing perhaps is to train your ego first(or more precise…leave it….flabby and
For sweeping iam not an expert cause its been a month since i have started learning it(i was always alternate pick everything) but i can sweep at low and almost medium speeds clean already cause i train slow enough to have the sweeping sequence down.That is….pick and fret the first note release the pressure slightly drag the pick to the next note fret it at the same time you are picking it…release the pressure slightly etc etc….you have to seperate notes at any cost…i personaly can sweep twice as fast or more during the descending motion but the dedcending motion feels more natural to me to almost everything i do on the guitar(cause you can mute easier i believe when you are descending when alternate pick…play legato…or almost anything) but the point is to find your weekness and train them seperately.Try for example the rolling tech only playing just on two strings.Play the first note with the tip of the finger..then collapse the second knuckle to sound the first note muting at the same time the previous one….check if the notes are clean and seperate.Then try the rolling tech on three strings…etc.if you play slow enough with the minimum amount of pressure so your hands wont fly away from the fretboard separating the notes muting them exactly after you play them then iam sure that anyone can sweep at an arpeggio at a decent speed clean.
Hope it helped.

+ Comment by Virtus
2010-01-11 14:05:41

Thx Lori for mentioning exactly the important and interesting part about slightly muting the string during the downwards movement. Almost nobody is talking about this little detail when explaining how to sweep…

Thx for the nice homepage and the tips!


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