Most guitarists can’t play sweep arpeggios as fast or as clean as they would like. They struggle to improve their technique but in reality, they have no idea where to even begin. This is a problem I see all the time and have helped many of my guitar students overcome.
There are 2 ways to go about improving your arpeggio sweep picking. One will keep you frustrated and sloppy while the other will allow to progress your playing to a whole new level and get enjoyment out of the process.
Which Approach Do You Take?
Guitar Practice Approach 1: Most would assume that, since their sweep picking isn’t fast or clean, that they need to practice MORE arpeggio sweep picking licks. This approach’s biggest problem is that you are ignoring the problems that stem from your bad technique. By avoiding the root of your guitar technique problems, you are only distracting yourself from real improvement. So with this approach you will end up knowing a lot of different licks, but they will all be executed sloppily and with poor technique.
Guitar Practice Approach 2: If you want to make your sweep picking arpeggios cleaner and faster, then you need to take the arpeggio you are working on now and make it its OWN exercise. By doing this you will be able to expose where your exact problems lie (down to the note) and figure out WHY you aren’t playing as fast or clean as you should. This will benefit your guitar playing in 2 ways:
· By correctly identifying and fixing fundamental problems with your guitar technique in this first exercise, you will see vast improvements in your technique (speed and clarity) in ALL of the arpeggios you practice in the future.
· By modifying these standard arpeggio shapes your new exercises will often be VERY unique and cool. You will see your solos improve as you incorporate your new sweep picking arpeggios into them.
To see an example of this second guitar practice approach in action, watch this video about making your arpeggio playing faster and cleaner while turning your exercises into killer sweep picking licks:
How To Apply This Idea Into Your Guitar Practicing To Make Your Guitar Playing Better:
The biggest lesson here is NOT the arpeggio exercises themselves. It’s NOT even playing your arpeggio notes with tremolo (as the video demonstrated). The biggest thing you should take away from this is that you have to use the correct mindset when you approach solving ANY kind of problem areas in you guitar technique.
1. The problems and mistakes in your guitar playing always have a cause. They are never just random. These causes can be identified (and must). If you settle for sloppy guitar playing technique you are hurting yourself immensely.
2. Searching for more guitar exercises will not be the answer to all of your technique problems. Instead, you should understand exactly where your weaknesses lie in your current exercise. This will help you to see which parts of your technique need to be improved thus helping EVERYTHING you play be faster and cleaner.
3. You can modify even the most boring exercises in a creative way. Now you will be able to improve your guitar technique while creating awesome licks in the process.
The video demonstrated an exercise that is just ONE (of many) examples of how to clean up your guitar technique while increasing your overall speed and accuracy. To keep your practice time to a minimum while vastly improving your guitar technique, check out this article on increasing guitar speed.
About The Author: Tom Hess is a highly successful recording artist and guitar teacher. He teaches guitar lessons online to guitarists internationally. Visit his website tomhess.net for more information about learning guit
Have you ever been practicing something on guitar for many months without making a breakthrough? Regardless of how much work you put in, you just can’t make improvements… So you end up becoming disappointed, wondering if you’ll ever be able to play guitar like you want.
Before I help you solve this problem for good, you have to understand that you CAN become an incredible guitar player, just like your favorite guitarists. If you aren’t achieving your guitar playing goals, it doesn’t mean you have no potential, or that you lack natural musical ability. It just means one or both of these two things:
1. You never understood the right steps to take while practicing to play anything you want on guitar (more on this below).
2. No one ever correctly taught you HOW to practice the aforementioned steps. This part is a lot trickier (and self-taught guitarists in particular struggle with this) because it requires a detailed awareness of how to effectively practice guitar. It’s simple to understand WHAT to practice (since these things are often rooted in common sense), but implementing them correctly is not so simple.
Think of your guitar playing as a struggle between two forces: one side being the practice you do to make your guitar playing feel easier, and the other side being the problems that consume your playing (making it harder than it should be). Whenever one side overcomes the other, your goal is split between the following:
To keep making your practicing highly effective, so you can make faster progress (I’ve explained many ways of doing this in my other guitar playing columns).
To move beyond certain challenges that keep you from playing the things you want to play as well as you’d like to play them (this is what I’ll show you below).
To help you completely understand the practicing process explained below, watch this video that demonstrates how this approach makes your guitar playing better. Do this now before you read the rest of this article.
Note: although the video above shows how to practice guitar correctly using only a single context, the generalprocess for solving problems applies in the same way to EVERY technique and guitar style (from shred guitar sweep picking to blues double stop licks, to fingerstyle acoustic licks).
Start playing whatever you want on guitar by following these steps:
Step One: Act As A Doctor While Practicing Guitar
The crucial mental error many guitar players commit while practicing is looking for a way to fix symptoms (what they think are the problems) in their playing, rather than trying to solve the real root causes (actual problems). This is even more common among self-taught guitarists, who were never shown effective ways to practice guitar. As you saw in the video demonstration above, it’s very simple to incorrectly diagnose a problem and falsely assume that you know its cause, only to throw away tons of time practicing the wrong things – making almost no progress at all.
The best way to stop wasting time on mere symptoms of problems and to really improve your guitar skills, is to get feedback from an expert electric guitar instructor who can analyze your technique and pinpoint the exact things that are keeping you back. In addition to giving you the immediate fix to your guitar challenges and frustrations, working with a teacher will help you become your own guitar teacher and solve guitar playing problems by yourself. This is easily the greatest benefit of guitar lessons, and is the reason why guitar players who learn with a great teacher quickly become killer players.
This is not unlike going to a doctor with some symptoms of not feeling well or having certain aches in your body. Rather than prescribing medicine for the top level symptom of any issue you have, a great doctor tracks every symptom down to its root causes and treats it, causing you to feel much better (getting rid of all the symptoms at the same time). Of course, doctors aren’t born with knowledge of how to solve health problems – this knowledge is gained and learned. The same can be describe your guitar playing: even if you struggle with correctly identifying the causes of your biggest guitar playing problemsright now, you definitely CAN overcome them and (over time) become your own guitar playing doctor.
Step Two: Transform Any Problem Into A Self-Sufficient Guitar Playing Exercise
Once you’ve identified the problem that is preventing you from playing what you want on guitar, your next move is to find out how to correctly isolate and fix it. As you observed in the video above, spotting the specific issue (the hammer on and pull off in that particular example) was NOT enough on its own. The next step is to place the problem into the original context to transform it into a self-sufficientexercise. “Self-sufficient” meaning: you do not have to look for great guitar playing exercises to fix it – the problem itself BECOMES the exercise you must work on.
Step Three: Don’t Stop Drilling…Until You Strike Gold!
Once you identified the exact problem that must be solved to move your guitar playing forward and you correctly transformed it into its own exercise, you now have to practice the problem until it’s solved.
The mistake that most guitarists make in this step of the process is not completing enough quality repetitions of the exercise to develop guitar playing habits to take the place of the old ones.
Version One: Some guitar players stop working on the exercise prematurely – they get bored, lose their focus and quit after practicing for only a few minutes… never to come back to the exercise again. So they simply never complete sufficient repetitions of the exercise to improve their guitar playing.
Version Two: Others will move forward through strong discipline and willpower to end up practicing the exercise for many hours at a time. Although they perform many repetitions of the exercise, the qualityof each repetition begins to decline as they play the exercise over and over, eventually losing focus. Read this column about practicing guitar in a mindless manner to learn more about this.
The right way to create a good habit is by continually practicing guitar in bursts of concentrated effort for several minutes at a time. Instead of practicing the same exact exercise for many hours on end, practice it for several minutes at a time, many times throughout the day, gaining tons of volume (repetitions) over the course of a week.
Version one of the mistake above frequently happens with guitar players who never use practice schedules. Their practicing is cluttered and random (and it shows in their playing).
In contrast, version two of the mistake above happens frequently to guitar players who don’t know the nuances of correctly training the body and the mind to play guitar. Instead, they attempt to build their practice schedules with linear guitar practice methods using a spreadsheet or a calculator (huge mistake!).
To steer clear of both mistakes, you must be aware that teaching a human being to play guitar is much different than programming functions into a computer. It’s for this reason that you must utilize aneffective guitar practicing schedule that is made for getting big results.
Now that you know what is required for playing whatever you want on guitar, begin applying the advice provided in this article (and in the additional resources given throughout) to make your practicing more effective and your guitar playing much more easy.
If you still have a hard time attaining the results you desire from your practice time, you will achieve your guitar playing goals faster by working directly with me. Check out this page about guitar lessons onlineand tell me about the greatest guitar playing struggles you currently face.
Want to learn how to improve your picking technique so you can play faster? You don’t need to look up brand new exercises for guitar… you’ll only need to make one simple adjustment. Use this simple concept from now on to improve your picking technique, and enable yourself to effortlessly play faster on guitar:
1. Whenever you ascend while playing strings on guitar (go from a heavier string to a lighter string), ALWAYS use a downstroke – regardless of the notes that came before or after what you are playing.
2. While descending strings (moving from a higher string to another string below), play with an upstroke.
(…you can still use alternate picking while playing several notes on a single string).
This idea is referred to as “directional picking”. I teach this to all my correspondence rock guitar students to help them become faster players. Many guitarists would (falsely) refer to this technique as “economy picking”. However, this term is a name for a separate technique (more on this below). The main thing to understand here is, of the three most known picking techniques (alternate picking, directional picking and economy picking), directional picking is by far the easiest to learn and master in order to develop insane guitar speed.
Here are four main reasons why directional picking is the best way for you to become a faster guitarist:
Reason #1: You use much less movement – this translates into FASTER guitar picking speed
As you play scales with three notes on each string it’s not necessary to skip over strings (as you would need to with alternate picking). Rather than doing this, you simply move directly to the next note by picking in its direction (as described above).
Here is an example of an ascending scale that displays this (the symbol means “downstroke”, while means “upstroke”):
In the diagramsabove, the red indicators surround two downstrokes in a row when the scale is changing strings with directional picking versus alternate picking.
Notice: to develop incredible guitar speed using directional picking, you have to properly complete string changes with two consecutive down/up strokes and avoid a frequent mistake guitarists make when they initially use this technique. If you do it incorrectly (like most people when they begin), your guitar picking speed will not achieve its greatest potential. Check out the video below to see a demonstration of this idea to one of my guitar students who is just learning it for the first time:
Reason #2: You guitar practice become more efficient so you can build speed faster
After checking out the video above, you observed how directional picking uses similar picking motions used in sweep picking lead guitar technique. In other words, while practicing directional picking, you are also working to improve sweep picking. By practicing sweep picking, your directional picking becomes more clean and articulate.
Certainly, this does not mean you can neglect sweep picking practice altogether just because you are working on it with directional picking – it merely means that practicing each technique in isolation (directional picking and sweep picking) carries over to the other technique. Study the sweep picking video below and observe how the string changing motions from directional picking translate directly into sweep picking:
With this in mind, practicing exclusively with alternate picking will NOT help you master sweep picking (and sweep picking will not help you master alternate picking). So you must invest additional practice time into mastering both guitar techniques separately.
All of the concepts discussed above make directional picking a great technique to work on when you feel like you don’t have time to practice guitar and/or want to play faster as soon as possible.
Reason #3: Directional picking vastly IMPROVES your accents and picking articulation
You may have heard the claim that alternate picking enhances the accents of your downstrokes while directional or economy picking are more quiet and limit you to playing with weak articulation. Fact is, accents and articulation come through better control of your overall technique, NOT by using downstrokes versus upstrokes. This is one reason why the claim above is wrong.
Here is some reasoning to show you why this false claim is TOTALLY misguided and why reality is the opposite:
*You can articulate any note using either an upstroke or a downstroke, whenever you want. To see for yourself, choose any note on guitar and play it with a downstroke… then immediately play that same note using an upstroke (but played with additional force). Chances are, you could easily do this. And if you could, then you already know that you don’t need to use a downstroke to have the note be accented. Accents and articulation are accomplished by having good control over your overall picking technique, NOT by focusing on downstrokes vs. upstrokes.
*The concept of alternate picking (strictly making ALL downstrokes be heavily accented and ALL upstrokes not accented) is very restricting. Since any note can be accented with any type of pick stroke, there is no true advantage to forcing yourself to play in the same manner all the time. On top of that, whenever you need to pick a different way (by articulating an upstroke or having the accent fall anywhere other than the downbeat), your playing will feel very awkward.
However, if you practice using directional picking (where accents can fall on any pick stroke), you won’t run into the problems above. You will learn to articulate notes either on downstrokes or upstrokes and will not be limited to doing so only on the downbeat. So directional picking provides more options for articulating notes in any manner you desire…IF you master control over BOTH downstrokes and upstrokes. After helping tons of students become killer electric guitar players, this has been the case for every one.
The main reason why guitarists who exclusively use alternate picking make the claim above is their upstroke articulation is weaker than their downstroke articulation. Therefore, when they try directional picking, it feels weird to them to use upstrokes for accents, and they have to come face to face with the weaknesses in their guitar picking technique. Instead of taking on their technical weaknesses to improve their technique, many merely choose to move back to their comfort zone and claim that “directional picking limits one’s articulation”.
*When you make string changes with directional picking, by playing two notes going in the same direction, these notes are more accented, due to the momentum and follow-through of the picking motion (watch the video above to see this).
Think about this motion in terms of boxing. Boxers are told to throw punches that go THROUGH their opponent in order to get maximum power in their punches. This is the same thing that happens with directional picking when you switch strings by playing two continuous upstrokes or downstrokes. You pick using momentum from a previous note to follow THROUGH the next note. This makes it much more loud and articulate (when you choose to make it this way).
When you only use alternate picking during string changes, you must go around the next string, kill all momentum and then reverse the motion to perform an upstroke. This is a complete waste. Additionally it keeps you from taking advantage of the momentum from the previous note because of the inefficient picking path.
Reason #4: Directionalpicking is a powered-up version of alternate picking
Most people who are against directional picking defend alternate picking, while ignoring the obvious: in most guitar playing scenarios, directional picking and alternate picking are completely the same. Whether you are playing on a single string or using two or four note per string scales, your pick will usually move in PRECISELY the same manner with directional picking or alternate picking.
The only scenario where directional picking separates itself from exclusive alternate picking is during 3 note per string scales, where it is logical to do so for the reasons stated above. As a result, directional picking has ALL the advantages of alternate picking, with none of its disadvantages.
Directional picking is NOT a separate picking technique and doesn’t require learning new picking patterns or relearning the way you play guitar. The only adjustment you must make in your guitar picking technique is what I talked about at the beginning of this article. With a little practice, you can apply this change into your everyday technique and build your guitar picking speed fast.
That said, even with all this information in front of them, many people decide not to take advantage of this technique, because of several false rationalizations…
False Rationalization #1: “I’d like to get good at alternate picking first and then change to directional picking”. This argument makes no sense because it makes no sense to practice a technique that 1. is less efficient and 2. you must unlearn/change later ANYWAY. It makes much more sense to simply begin using directional picking – gaining all the advantages of alternate picking, without any drawbacks.
False Rationalization #2: “Directional picking means you have to figure out picking patterns before you play them.” If you believe this, then you are conflating “directional” picking with “economy” picking. Economy picking is a technique that requires switching strings using a sweep picking motion at all times – thus causing you to plan how many notes per string you must play in every phrase.
Directional picking is not like this – you simply use the 2 rules I gave you at the top of the article. Then, you will alternate picking notes when it is the most efficient path to the next note, OR use sweep picking on string changes when it is the most efficient path to the next note.
False Rationalization #3: “Directional picking makes it harder to perform string skipping/inside picking because the pick has increased chances of hitting the string being skipped.” This argument is not valid in the same way that the argument that directional picking has weaker articulation is invalid.
Directional picking is not to blame for making anything more difficult, it only exposes the weaknesses in your ability to play cleanly in some situations. These situations include continually picking inside a pair of strings and playing specific styles of string skipping that exclusive alternate pickers stay away from. When you understand weaknesses, you have a decision to make – you can master them and gain control to play how you want OR you avoid them and continue the lie about directional picking supposedly making string skipping harder.
Consequently, correspondence rock guitar students who learn directional picking from me, always have an easier time learning string skipping/inside picking than strict alternate pickers.
False Rationalization #4: “My favorite guitarist plays very fast with only alternate picking, and I want to play like him. Therefore, I will continue using only alternate picking”. If you think this way, know that:
*Directional picking is precisely the same as alternate picking in just about every scenario…only made MORE efficient when possible. So it only makes it faster and easier for you to increase your guitar speed.
*There is no doubt that many people play guitar fast while exclusively using alternate picking… however, you also can’t deny the obvious inefficiencies of this technique. So while you definitely CAN learn to pick fast on guitar while exclusively using alternate picking, you will build the same degree of guitar speed much faster, with little effort and frustration if you use directional picking.
False Rationalization #5: “Directional picking is only for rock/metal guitar players, it won’t work for my playing style.” Think again. Just because directional picking makes it simple to develop insane guitar speed, this does NOT mean it is unusable in non-rock/metal styles. Its most critical benefit is that it makes your overall picking more efficient so you can play better in any musical genre.
Now that you understand why directional picking is a crucial technique to add into your guitar playing, I want to teach you HOW to master it so you can reach your guitar playing goals in the quickest, least difficult and most straightforward way possible. Check out this page about effective guitar lessons and get started reaching your musical goals.