Guide To Sweep Picking

author: fingersofflame date: 05/16/2007 category: guitar techniques
rating: 9.6 / votes: 307 
Hi, welcome to my second lesson, this time on the extremely popular (and feared) technique known as sweep picking (or simply known as sweeping). I'm going to try to keep this simple and leave as much terminology out as possible (I think that it is better if you practice sweep picking with distortion turned on, that way you can hear where you are screwing up).

Defining Sweep Picking

What is sweep picking? First off, sweep picking is a technique which involves the use of the same picking direction to play three or more notes on adjacent strings. Sweep picking allows you to play a large amount of notes at blazingly fast speeds. Players such as Yngwie Malmsteen (Arpeggios From Hell) and JerryC (Canon Rock, Sweeping From Heaven) use this technique all the time to shred through arpeggios. While commonly used for playing arpeggios, once you get it down, sweep picking is actually a very economical technique. Sweep picking is one of those techniques that once you get it down it is relatively easy to do, but getting it down is the hardest part because there are a few tough hurdles you have to jump. For instance, you may have your right(picking) hand's technique perfect, but your left hand is still holding the chords down, or you may have the hand rolling (left hand tech.) down perfectly, but you are picking each individual note, which is a big no no. But either way, sweep picking takes a lot of practice and can become very frustrating to learn at times, but once you know it you'll be glad you did.

Proper Picking Hand Technique

Okay, first things first. You need to get the picking hand used to gliding over the strings. Think of it as a "controlled strum" or a "really slow chord," just say "controlled strum". Either way, I found a video on the net that will briefly show you the proper right hand technique. It is a pretty small file, only 43 kb or something. It is uploaded to a server in Germany, but do not worry it is a fast and safe server. Click here for the 3 second explanation. Okay, you've watched the video now. Really what you should try is placing your left hand over the 12th fret (to mute it) and then use the technique shown in the video to try and get six consecutive "clicks". Like the exercise below.
   U U U D D D U U U D D D U U U D D D  
e|-----x-x---------x-x---------x-x-----| 
b|---x-----x-----x-----x-----x-----x---|
g|-x---------x-x---------x-x---------x-|
d|-------------------------------------|
a|-------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|
Note that not only does this exercise get your picking hand at a proper rythm, but it also teaches up and down strokes, which are pretty self explanatory anyway. When playing this exercise, try to increase your picking speed while still keeping it in time. Make sure you aren't "picking" each string, but gliding, or sweeping over them. Once you have gotten this exercise down and are confident that your right hand has adapted to "sweeping" over the strings and not picking them then you can move onto the left hand rolling technique.

Left Hand Rolling

Rolling? What the hell are you talking about? Remember earlier when I mentioned that you don't want all of your notes to run together? Left hand rolling(which will be referred to as rolling from now on) is a technique which makes a sweep a sweep instead of a chord. When a note is struck, you lift the finger that was holding that note. It should look something like this file: Left Hand Rolling. So with these two techniques combined you get the sound and look of a sweep. Now that you know these two core techniques, we can start some basic arpeggios/triads.

String Arpeggios

I find that to start the Dm shape is the easiest to start with, so first try this simple upstroke. U=upstroke, D=downstroke:
    U  U  U
e|--------12--|
b|-----13-----|
g|--14--------|
d|------------|
a|------------|
E|------------|
Pretty simple, eh? Well try slowly increasing your speed; start off playing it slow and then increase your speed. Yet again, watch out for a few things. 1)Make sure you're not picking the notes individually; 2) Make sure that you're rolling your left hand; 3) Another hurdle: make sure that your left and right hands are synchronized. This will take some practice, but after you do the exercise again and again it will come to you naturally. There's really no other way to fix this problem except through practice. Anyway, play that exercise until you can play it clean, then concentrate on playing it fast. Once you have speed and accuracy down we can move onto the downstroke.
     D  D  D
e|--12--------|
b|-----13-----|
g|--------14--|
d|------------|
a|------------|
E|------------|
Do the same error checks that you did for the upstroke and yet again, work on playing it clean first, then work on speed, once you have achieved speed and accuracy we can combine the up and down strokes to create a decent sounding arpeggio lick.
     U  U  U  D  D  D    U  U  U  D  D  D
e|--------12--12--------------12--12--------|
b|-----13--------13--------13--------13-----|
g|--14--------------14--14--------------14--|
d|------------------------------------------|
a|------------------------------------------|
E|------------------------------------------|
While it's not too hard, it is a somewhat challenging lick at first. Yet again, run through the same error checks as before (I just realized that I am talking like a programmer, error checks). Ugh, anyway, work on your accuracy and then build up your speed to where there is barely a second in between notes. Once you can do that, building up speed on the larger arpeggios won't be even half as hard. Anyway, once you have mastered the basic 3 string sweep, why don't we add in some hammer ons and pulloffs?
e|-----------12H15P12----------------12H15P12--------|
b|--------13----------13----------13----------13-----|
g|--12H14----------------14P12H14----------------14ZYABLA~HUYABLA|
d|---------------------------------------------------|
a|---------------------------------------------------|
E|---------------------------------------------------|
Nothing too fancy, but it sounds cool and it adds some variety to what you're playing, plus it puts your dexterity and accuracy to the test. Once you have mastered this little trick, you should be able to mix things up a little with not problem. Like below:
     U  U  U   D  D  D  U  U  U   D  D  D   U  
e|--------12--14--------------12--14------------|
b|-----13--------13--------13--------13---------|
g|--14--------------12--14--------------12--14ZYABLA~HUYABLA|
d|----------------------------------------------|
a|----------------------------------------------|
E|----------------------------------------------|
This lick'll really test your dexterity and your accuracy. Yet again, try and play this as clean as you can, and then try and play this lick as fast as you can. Once you can, try this next lick out.
Suggested fingering:
     3  2  1  3  2  1  3  2  1  3  2  1  3  2  1  etc...
e|--------12H14-------------12H14-------------13H15-------------14H16----
b|-----13-------13-------13-------13-------14-------14-------15-------15-
g|--14-------------12H14-------------12H15-------------13H16-------------
d|-----------------------------------------------------------------------
a|-----------------------------------------------------------------------
E|-----------------------------------------------------------------------

e|----------15H17-------------16H18-------------17H19-------------16H18-
b|-------16-------16-------17-------17-------18-------18-------17-------
g|-14H17-------------15H18-------------16H19-------------17H18----------
d|----------------------------------------------------------------------
a|----------------------------------------------------------------------
E|----------------------------------------------------------------------

e|-------------15H17-------------14H16-------------13H15-------------12H
b|-17-------16-------16-------15-------15-------14-------14-------13----
g|----16H17-------------15H16-------------14H15-------------13H14-------
d|----------------------------------------------------------------------
a|----------------------------------------------------------------------
E|----------------------------------------------------------------------

e|14---------|
b|---13------|
g|------12ZYABLA~HUYABLA~|
a|-----------|
E|-----------|
Lengthy, I know, but trust me once you can play it accurately quickly it sounds really really cool and it'll impress more people than you thought. From here on in, doing 4, 5 and 6 string sweeps will be no trouble at all.

String Sweeps


     1  4  3  2  1  3  1  2  3  4  1
e|--------------12H15P12--------------|
b|-----------13----------13-----------|
g|--------14----------------14--------|
d|--12H15----------------------15P12--|
a|------------------------------------|
E|------------------------------------|
The only real challenge here is using the pinky finger, while it's a no brainer for most people, some people get stuck in the habit of never using their pinky, so you need to get out of that habit if you wish to be a decent guitarist! Okay, anyway. So that's 4 string sweeps, not too difficult, though they're not too common either.

String Sweeps

Perhaps the most common sweep, along with the 6 string sweeps of course, 5 string sweeps are relatively easy and are almost dare I say it fun to do. Here is an example of a 5 string sweep:
     1  3  3  1  2  1  3  1  2  1  2  3  1
e|-----------------12H15P12-----------------|
b|--------------13----------13--------------|
g|-----------12----------------12-----------|
d|--------14----------------------14--------|
a|--12H15----------------------------15P12--|
E|------------------------------------------|
A C Major Arpeggio, one of my personal favorites, next to the Am triad. Pretty simple huh? Well try and do this next one.
     1  3  2  2  2  1  3  1  2  2  2  3  1  
e|-----------------12H17P12-----------------|
b|--------------14----------14--------------|
g|-----------14----------------14-----------|
d|--------14----------------------14--------|
a|--12H16----------------------------16P12--|
E|------------------------------------------|
Tricky, tricky huh? Can't play that without those three notes running together can you? Well there is one more technique that you must now, it is a different type of rolling. It is called "finger rolling" which is different from hand rolling. In finger rolling, you literally ROLL your finger accross the strings.

Finger Rolling

I guess the best way to explain it is: 1) you push the tip of your finger down on the 4th string, strike the note. 2) release the tip of the finger and push the middle part of your finger(adjacent to the middle of the fingernail), strike the note. 3) release the middle of the finger and push the end part of you finger, the first joint from the nail, down. 4) Release the finger and continue the sweep. 5) To go back simply reverse the process; it will take some practice. Actually it will take a lot of practice, and it is a pain in the ass to learn and be able to pull it off clean, but it is much more efficient and looks better.

String Sweeps

Here is an example of a 6 string sweep tap, though to be honest it is very similar to 5 string sweeps, if not identical. But either way, here is an example.
     1  2  3  2  1  1  3  1  1  2  3  2  1
e|-----------------12H16P12-----------------|
b|--------------12----------12--------------|
g|-----------13----------------13-----------|
d|--------14----------------------14--------|
a|-----14----------------------------14-----|
E|--12----------------------------------12--|
See how similar it is to the 5 string sweep? Now one last thing: Sweep Tapping.

Sweep Tapping

Sweep tapping is nothing special really, it sounds and looks cool, but it's not all that hard to do. Here is an example of a sweep tap.
                          T
e|-----------------12H17-19P17P12-----------------|
b|--------------14----------------14--------------|
g|-----------14----------------------14-----------|
d|--------14----------------------------14--------|
a|--12H16----------------------------------16P12--|
E|------------------------------------------------|
See, not too difficult! By now you should be able to sweep fairly well, so I leave you with this final lick.
e|--------------------------------------------------------------------12H15
b|--------------------------------------------------12H15-------12H15------
g|--------------------------------12H14-------12H14-------12H14------------
d|--------------12H14-------12H14-------12H14------------------------------
a|--------12H14-------12H14------------------------------------------------
E|--12H15------------------------------------------------------------------

e|P12-------------------12H14-------------13H15-------------14H16---------
b|----15P12----------13-------13-------14-------14-------15-------15------
g|----------14P12H14-------------12H15-------------13H16-------------14H17
d|------------------------------------------------------------------------
a|------------------------------------------------------------------------
E|------------------------------------------------------------------------

e|-----15H17-------------14H16-------------13H15-------------12H14---------
b|--16-------16-------15-------15-------14-------14-------13-------13------
g|--------------15H16-------------14H15-------------13H14-------------12H14
d|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
a|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
E|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                T        T          T
e|-----12H14-------------12H14-16P12H14-17P12H15---17P12H15P12-------------
b|--13-------13-------13---------------------------------------13----------
g|--------------12H14---------------------------------------------12-------
d|-------------------------------------------------------------------14----
a|----------------------------------------------------------------------15P
E|-------------------------------------------------------------------------

e|-----------------12H15P12-----------------|-----------------12H16P12----
b|--------------13----------13--------------|--------------12----------12-
g|0----------12----------------12-----------|-----------13----------------
d|0-------14----------------------14--------|--------14-------------------
a|--12H15----------------------------15P12--|-----14----------------------
E|------------------------------------------|--12-------------------------

e|--------------|-----------------12H17P12------------------|
b|--------------|--------------14----------14---------------|
g|-13-----------|-----------14----------------14-----------0|
d|----14--------|--------14----------------------14--------0|
a|-------14-----|--12H16----------------------------16P12---|
E|----------12--|-------------------------------------------|
Congratulations, now you can(or should be able to) sweep pick. So this concludes my second lesson, I hope that it was useful to you and you enjoyed doing it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
More fingersofflame lessons:
+ Right Hand Fret Tapping Guitar Techniques 06/01/2006
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