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I've recently started looking at the sweep technique on guitar.

How would one go about replicating that on bass?

Please keep in mind that I do not use a plectrum, and wouldn't want to sacrifice finger style to master this technique

Some related questions:

  • Would one use a downstroke? What finger?
  • Would you play a fast, multi-string type pluck (faster than simple arpeggio), using all right hand fingers?
  • Is this even possible on a thumb bass? How does action affect sweep-ability?
  • How does one sweep back up?

Any tutorials, suggestions or video clips (ideal) would help in exploring this.

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3 Answers 3

I've got a couple techniques that I use to 'sweep' 3 to 4 strings. Try (on a 4-string) putting your ring finger on the E string, middle finger on the A string, and pointer finger on the D string. When in this position, hold the notes, for example, E7 A9 D9, then successively hit each string starting with the E string. This is a sweep up - you can also do the same thing down by putting your ring finger on the D string, middle finger on the A string, and pointer finger on the E string.

You can incorporate a fourth string and your pinky finger also... its just a little more difficult because your pinky finger isn't that long and you need to adjust your wrist angle to pull it off.

Another technique I like to use is to sweep up like described above and then with the pointer finger, sweeping back down all the strings. E7 A9 D9 A9 E7. You can also do the reverse by sweeping down like described above and then back up with your finger nails. D9 A9 E7 A9 D9.

It's hard to explain in words, but you can hear me using these techniques in some of my songs. There is a link in my profile... if you are interested, listen to Karmageddon and The War. The techniques are also used in the other songs, but not as heavily. Don't really mean to "plug" my music, but it is relevant in this case I suppose.

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In order to sweep-pick, you need to have both an up- and a down-stroke. Fingerstyle bass really only has upstrokes (with the fingers). I think the closest you could get to actual sweep picking on bass would be to imitate Victor Wooten's double-thumb slap technique.

In this technique, he uses his thumb sort of like a pick. He slaps the string in a downstroke direction like everyone else does, but then he also slaps it in an upstroke direction as well. This is how he's able to get such fast slap runs. You could develop this technique as well and then apply sweep-picking principles to it.

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I've seen that on his training vids. Thumb for down makes sense, still trying to figure out up. Unless one does that with the top-side of the thumb. Would love to see techniques like this dissected in video. –  Anonymous Jan 26 '11 at 6:45

The basic idea of a sweep picking is that you don't go past your next note. It's more like slow strumming. This allows you to pick much faster than with alternate picking, but it only is applicable if each picked note is on the next string (either up or down). Note that you can play multiple notes per string with hammer ons and pull offs.

To experiment with sweep picking and your fingers, I'd use my thumb on down strokes and a finger on up strokes. The particular finger probably doesn't matter, but start with whichever one you are most comfortable. Consider the picking as a strum with a brief pause between strings. The key is that your finger / thumb should not go past a string without picking it.

I'm not sure if this would have any distinct advantage over using a "multi string pluck" as you describe it.

Do a search for "sweep picking exercises" and you'll find tons of exercises to start off with.

I don't play bass or fingerstyle guitar, so I'm kind of guessing here, but I see no reason why you couldn't use fingers for the technique. There may well be better techniques though.

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