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Guitar Technique:
Sweep Picking

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Q: How Can I Get Good at Sweep Picking?

 Are there any tips you could give me about sweep picking?  I'm finding that the technique very difficult to do.  Any help that you could give would be greatly appreciated.
~ Dugan

A: Any technique that is very fast and has a lot to do with speed is the best worked on at a very slow speeds, very perfectly, and using a metronome. The technique of sweep picking is a very difficult one.  It often times must be worked on for hours upon hours, and for many months at a time until seeing very much progress. Very fast techniques like sweep picking, need to be worked on until there is no conscious effort required on the part of the musician to execute the technique. By approaching techniques like sweep picking with very slow, daily routine exercise the technique will start to become something that requires no conscious effort to produce.  If you have to consciously think about doing a technique like sweep picking, you probably won't be getting the speed and perfection that you'll hear from musicians who've mastered the technique.  When you hear the masters of this technique execute it, they produce the sweep runs in a very natural way, perfectly in time, playing them with nothing more than a simple burst of adrenaline. So when you practice sweep picking, please understand that the technique may take months upon months of slow work, before you begin to see the kinds of results that you're after.

What I would suggest that you start with is work dedicated toward the right-hand developing a perfect sweep motion. You can practice this beginning only with two guitar strings played open using a metronome and feeling eighth note rhythms. Once two guitar strings are comfortable, (and perfectly smooth in time), move on to practicing three strings using a triplet rhythm. Once you can do 16th note triplets perfectly in time with a metronome, add a group of notes. Follow my video example of using an E minor triad off of third guitar string for the downward sweep. And, for the upward sweep, use the three note G power cord, inverted with the D note in the base, (as I have shown in the video).

Once, you can play 16th note triplets around 63 to 72 on the metronome using that three note shape, I would suggest moving along to practicing four open strings, (to gain control over the sweep motion of the picking hand). Then, you could try the four note sweep pattern that uses the diagonal shape of a fourth string root Major seventh arpeggio, for the downward sweep, and the inverted power-chord shape we talked about earlier, but this time wrapping up upon the fourth string with the major seven note in relation to that original major seven chord you used for the down-sweep.

Be sure to practice these sweep picking techniques with both a clean guitar tone, as well as an overdriven tone. When you add distortion, the technique becomes slightly more difficult in relation to the meeting that must occur between left and right hands. An often overlooked idea with sweep picking when you first begin practicing it, is how short and detached the fret board hands, fingers have to move off of the strings in order to quickly release the tones being swept by the strumming hand. If the notes of the chord you are sweeping are not released to very quickly, you will effectively end up with a strum instead of a sweep. The addition of the distortion sound during your practice of sweep picking will force you to release your playing fingers very quickly off of the fret board, thus producing a much better sweep sound of each of the individual notes themselves.

Once you've had a chance to practice several different string sets and different chord and arpeggio types using sweep picking technique, (all over the fretboard), I would suggest moving on to incorporating exercises with sweep picking which involve harmony.  In the video example, I demonstrated a movement using fifth string sweeps covering a series of chords in the key of A minor. Try to copy this exercise, and by all means work on creating a number of exercises of your own. Overall, be patient and incorporate the sweep picking technique into a daily routine. It may take a long, long time, (several months or even up to a year), before sweep picking will be an easy technique that you can perform at any given moment during a solo.


Sweep Picking Tab Chart
(Adobe PDF Document)
Sweep Picking Tab Chart
(Powertab Document)