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How to do a Muted Sweep on Guitar: A Paul Gilbert Exclusive

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Sweep picking is a technique that often conjures visions of pyrotechnic guitar solos performed at top speed with dazzling agility. While sweep picking can certainly come in that form, today we’re going to learn about a simpler, yet tactful way of enlivening your pick attack and single note lines: muted sweeping. Read on to learn what the muted sweep is and how to use it.

What is the muted sweep?
 
The muted sweep is a form of muting that adds power to the pick attack of single notes, often used in rock and blues guitar solos, with and without distortion. While it is primarily a right hand technique, the left hand also plays a role.
 
To perform the muted sweep, you’ll want to choose any fretted note on the B or high E string. Next, lay the heel of the right hand and the fleshy part beneath the thumb across the strings close to the bridge and scrape the pick downward in a fluid motion, sounding the chosen fretted note on the B or high E string.
 
When executed properly, the muted sweep will produce a rapid, ‘card in bicycle spokes’ thwack leading into the actual fretted note. When performed with ample distortion, it almost sounds as if the note is tearing through the amp, adding ferocity and character to otherwise unadorned single note lines.
 
Now that we know how to perform the muted sweep, let’s take a look at how to combine it with bends, pre-bent notes and vibrato to get the most out of the technique.
 
Sweep and Bend
 
Perform the muted sweep as described above, and when the pick sounds the fretted note, bend the string to the desired pitch. Practice this technique with half and whole step bends. Once you’re able to produce accurate bends every time,  you’ll want to incorporate the bend and release technique by releasing the bent string back to the pitch of the original fretted (unbent) note. 
 
Next we’ll learn how to incorporate pre-bent notes for even more variety.
 
Bend, Then Sweep
 
Now it’s time to perform a muted sweep into a ‘pre-bent’ note. Choose any note on the treble strings, bend it, and then scrape the pick across the muted strings to sound the pre-bent note. Finally, release the string back to the original pitch.
 
Last but certainly not least, let’s discuss how to combine vibrato with the muted sweep.
 
Shake It Out
 
Vibrato is a series of slight bends and releases which creates an oscillation in the pitch of a fretted note. To add vibrato, sound the string and move it up and down across the fret wire in a wavelike motion. 
 
Vibrato is ‘wide’ if the pitch of the fretted note oscillates more than a quarter tone, and ‘narrow’ if it oscillates less. Practice vibrato in the same way the you would practice any half or whole step bend, aiming for consistency. 
 
Once you’ve achieved an accurate and reproducible vibrato, combine it with the muted sweep technique to really make your solos and single note lines come to life.
 
Put your time in the woodshed, and you’ll surely see great results. Good luck!
 
Not a member of Paul Gilbert's Rock Guitar school yet? Check out his free lessons and sign up today!

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