Introduction To Sweep Picking

author: Falling7Rain date: 05/03/2010 category: guitar techniques
rating: 7.2 / votes: 9 
Sweep picking is probably the most difficult of all guitar techniques. I recall before I got the hang of it that it used to piss me off like crazy; my favorite songs were rendered unplayable cause of this one technique. So, for me, this was the easiest way to get a hold of it. First step, choose a sweep picking passage from any song. That passage will teach you how to become proficient in sweep picking. When I first started, I used the intro to the song Alaska by Between the Buried and Me. The first thing you should do, is grab a tab of the song you want to play. Start off playing at the slowest speed you feel comfortable. For me, I started off playing at quarter speed. When you practice playing, don't pick every note; try to do the sweeping motion, even if it feels weird. Go as slow as you have to, and kick the speed up once you feel comfortable. A good point that I heard (although I didn't do this) is to use a metronome. They do more than help you keep rhythm. They encourage you because everytime you change the bpm you can tell you're improving. Now, if you do this for a while, believe it or not you'll probably get stuck at around half speed. The reason why is because you most likely haven't considered the most important part of sweep picking, this would be left hand right hand synchronization. Try holding down one fret at a time while playing through the passage. While it sounds like this will make it more difficult, this will actually make the passage easier to play. For instance, try any standard 3 string sweep:
|----15-19-15----------15-19-15----|
|--16---------16----16----------16-|
|15--------------15----------------|x(how ever many you want)
|----------------------------------|
|----------------------------------|
|----------------------------------|
Play the first 15 on your g (or corresponding string, if you're in a diff tuning) with your index finger, and then place your middle finger on the b16 but at the same time lift your index finger from g15. Then lift and put your index finger on e15 and hammer on e19 with your ring finger and pull off and go down the same way you went up. Start off slowly if you have to, but you'll probably find that playing like this where both your left and right hand are in constant motion is much easier than any other way. Now, go look at the original passage you chose. Try it again while keeping your left and right hand synchronized and continue playing it as fast as you comfortably can. Tricky things: Sometimes, a sweep shape won't be very user friendly. For instance, let's look at this one shape from Obfuscation that shows up:
|---------------15-|
|------------16----|
|---------17-------|
|------18----------|
|---18-------------|
|16----------------|
So, how would you maintain synchronicity in this shape? Well, sometimes you won't be able to move your left hand around in the same sweeping motion as your right, but what you can do is roll pressure. What I mean by that is, when you have the three fingers down on the bottom 16 18 18, apply pressure with just one finger at a time, so that even though your hand is static, it feels like your left hand and right hand are mirroring each other. In fact, even if you held both the 18's down with one finger, you could roll the pressure down that finger and the same concept would still hold. So, while thinking about maintaining a sweeping motion in both hands, continue practicing the passage you chose out for yourself. It might take weeks at max, and one session at the very least, but you'll get it down. You might feel like you just wasted a ton of time learning just one passage of one song, but after you master just one sweeping passage, you'll find every other passage is wayyy less intimidating. You'll keep getting better the more you practice, and eventually everything will be easy for you. Finishing note: One thing that you'll find extremely helpful is practicing all the standard shapes. You don't need to memorize them, but be comfortable with playing all of them super fast. Most sweeps will just be translations of these shapes. I used this list. If you play a 6 stringer, it's the same thing but ignore the low b string. Have fun! You can find some good songs for practicing sweeps on my youtube channel.
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