Sweep Picking Secrets

How to get a smoother sweep picking sound without getting in over your head (examples included)

Ultimate Guitar
Alright, so I have only been playing guitar for a couple years, and one of the things that has always bothered me is sweep picking. All of my favorite bands do it, so obviously it was a trick I needed to learn. But every time I tried, I always found a new problem (a note would ring out too long, lose timing, etc). Finally I figured out some easy ways to get you started on the way to sweeping. 1. Set the guitar to the neck pickup position, you can get a smoother sound which is ideal for this trick. 2. Set your hands up for it. Don't jump into a sweep at 17 when your playing legato at 5. Jumping too far will mess up your hands. 3. Don't rely on muscle memory. Pay attention to every note you hit, it will go a long way in helping you shift positions during a sweeping lick. 4. Finally, slow down. I know my biggest problem, and a lot of my friends as well, was rushing into it thinking we had to do it as fast as we could. Slow it down, work your way through it and the speed will come to you. Alright thats all I got. I hope this helps someone out there, even though I'm sure most of you already know it. **** I had comments saying to post some examples. Here you go:
This is a sweeping lick based on D minor. The notes in that scale seem to have an overwhelming popularity in metal (Dropping with the tuning of course, for drop D, it would be D minor, but in drop C, C minor, etc). This shape can be moved to fit whatever key your in, but I like it on 17, I play a lot in D minor. If you play in slow, it has a nice dark feel to it, especially when adding slides. Go ahead and try it out using my tips in the last lesson if you want. Also, if your not quite at 5 string level yet, try it on the top three strings (just the 14 15 13 and 17) it sounds good even then (and seems to be a favorite of BFMV)
This lick is based around an Am7. Coincidentally, it fits in a D minor key pretty well, so like to use this to kinda build into the previous sweep. I'll demonstrate how below:
Alright, so for the last example, I've decided to use a lick that I wrote. It's pretty much an extension of the previous lick.
The tonality here goes Am7, Dm, CM7, Dm7. That's all I got. Hope this is what was wanted.

64 comments sorted by best / new / date

    link no1
    The points are good but it could really do with some fleshing out. Way too short.
    1. It will certainly make it easier (with most pickups) but that's almost a reason NOT to practise that way. 2. Is bullocks. Practising should get that down. 3. The whole point of practising is to build the muscle memory. 4. Is completely correct.
    ^ Pretty much everything I came here to say. Building muscle memory is very important, but obviously you can't rely on it while practising. When playing though, you won't have the time to focus on every note you play. 1. is very important though. You shouldn't practise with a tone that hides your mistakes. That will only make you a careless and sloppy player. You'd rather play with the most unforgiving tone and maybe once in a while try what it sounds like with a smoother tone.
    This is gonna really help, because as much as I love Unearth, their songs have alot of sweep picking (My Will Be Done for insatnce, has a four string sweep). I'm gonna put this lesson to use. Good Job, BFMVMaster.
    I hate to break it to you, but My Will Be Done (if you're on about the intro) is a five-string sweep. There are four-string sweeps in the solo (the part that Buz plays, anyway) but the intro is probably the hardest part as it includes the tapping of the top note as well, so your right hand has to keep bouncing between a sweep and a tap.
    Yea. Jackie Vincent likes to do a bit of that. Thats a whole new ball game, might wanna master the sweeping first. lol
    oh ok. I thought it was a four string sweep, but I keep forgettin that Unearth uses a 7 string guitar. And yes, the intro is crazy hard.
    The lick itself isn't that hard. Getting it to Buz-like levels of cleanliness is the hard part, because his sweeps are freaking godlike.
    If you practise it slower, and get the technique down, I'm sure you'll get there in the end. Learning the intro to My Will Be Done actually helped me get down a song intro I'd written in my head and couldn't work out for ages, so the technique is pretty useful for extending the arpeggios in a sweep without having to shift positions awkwardly.
    Fine points there, though the signing off comment of "I'm sure most of you already know it" on an article entitled Sweep Picking Secrets seems a bit strange. Good stuff altogether though man
    My Last Words
    What about closed-eyes practice ? From what I've heard it enhances the muscle memory (solely relying on muscles instead of muscles and eyes combined). Never tested it tho, but seems legit.
    Yeah, i called it secrets just cause it sounded good with sweep picking. (couldve chose a beter title) They are just little tips to help people get started. advanced players will already know this or have their own methods and really shouldnt even bother reading this.
    Thanks to all for the comments. Sorry, Im using an xbox to write this lesson and comments, so writing tabs would be a little bit difficult. But if you wanna try some of my favorite, and some of the most common sweeps, ill post some up soon. And to everyone who disagrees, these are tricks that i use. these tricks are just to help people out, if you have your own methods, then be my guest, maybe you know something i dont. lol
    I was hoping this wasnt gunna be an expert lesson as i am currently beginner/ intermediate and it turned out to be perfect. Iv noticed that when learning something on guitar i always make tips like this to myself as something to follow because i dont have a teacher. This is just more i didnt think of but make perfect sense. I cant tell if any of this makes sense because im super baked. But thank u to whoever made this.
    And to be 100 percent clear, so everyone knows, These are tricks helped me get better. They dont work for everyone, and some people may disagree. Ive tried sweeping on a steel string, whoever said that is correct, it helps. I wouldve added it, but i was completely spacing and honestly just wanted to do somethin cool for my first lesson. In any case, these are the four things that helped me out most. I didnt even try the steel string until i learned to slow down and pay attention. And Point 1 was actually the last thing i learned, and i put it first cause if you get others down, lesson 1 is probably the least important and 4, to me, is the most important. Anyway, i just wanted to point out that everyone has a valid point, i dont want anyone thinking that i think im better or anything just cause i play different.
    There are some really good points in this article. However there are a few things I think should be pointed out. Practicing sweep picking (or any picking exercise) on the neck pickup should be avoided. The author actually points out why. The neck pickup will smooth out the sound and actually mask some mistakes. Use the bridge pickup. I have no idea what the author is trying to say in point number 2. As for point number three if you are taking your time and starting at a slow tempo, you will be paying attention to every note and by the time you get up to really fast tempos your muscle memory will kick in and you will play every note clearly. As for the examples. I think people just starting out with sweep picking would be better served with 3 string sweep lines on the top three strings. A great line to start with if you are a metal fan would be the opening section of the guitar solo to "Leper Messiah" by Metallica.
    The examples I chose can be easily transfered into 3 string sweeps or 4 string sweeps, somply by removing the bottom strings as needed. And I agree with the 3 string sweep Idea you have. Its much easier than doing 5 or 6. I just used the 5 string sweeps cause (as i already said) they are easily transferable. Also something I shouldve added, If you wanna try something to kinda get into the fel of sweeping and familiarize your hands with the shapes and notes, you could try learning the solo from ''The Last Fight'' by Bullet for my Valentine (its also very simular to the interlude from ''Master of Puppets'' by Metallica). It usess the same basic shapes and notes as your more common sweeps without actually sweeping, so i like to use it as a sortof warm up excercise. Anyway, Ive decided that since my lesson got over 50 percent likes, Ill write another one. So, any suggestions? at least from those who wanna learn more about my style? lol
    Honestly this lesson is terrible. The tips given don't address common issues I've faced with sweep picking. You don't address notes ringing out, accidentally playing natural harmonics when sweeping, finger rolling, etc, and the tips you do give don't really solve anything. I also flatly disagree with you on muscle memory. The goal of any practice session is to play something so much that it becomes muscle memory! I've sweeped so much that I don't have to think consciously about it, and it just works. This is the ultimate goal.
    Sweep picking is definitely tough, but anything is possible with practice! I recommend learning the solo in Trivium's "Detonation". It basically uses all of the basic sweeping techniques and figures.
    Once you've learnt that, move onto the more complex sweeps like the intro in "Beyond the dark sun" by Wintersun.
    Don't use distortion when practicing. When it sounds good on a clean setting, it will sound amazing with distortion.
    My Last Words
    I disagree. Play both! I know, the dist. masks all of your mistakes. However, dist. requires very accurate muting abilities. There are mistakes you can only hear while playing with distortion, and vice versa. Seriously.
    iv been trying to seep pick for 6 years and cant do it. i dont know how you guys do it. i cant gain speed. iv got everything down super clean slowly, but iv never been able to increase actual speed with a metranome.
    Um...actually on Eye of The Storm by BFMV (A song i'm currently working on) on the breakdown/bridge part on Pagde's part, he goes from 8 or 10 picking and then 19 high D sting and starts 3 string sweeping. I can't really agree on the second rule cause that's technically string skipping and that's actually beneficial to learn.
    Not sure I fully understood you, but the 'second rule' of the article isn't about string skipping... string skipping is when you are jumping strings while playing (usually alt. picking fairly fast) i.e three notes on the 6th string, two notes on the 4th, three on the 5th and then another three on the 3rd string (to use a natural minor scale run as an example) as you have to 'skip' a string (or several) with the pick in order to keep picking the notes. You're just talking about large position shifts, from what I can tell, although if I misunderstood you - I apologise.
    dude you should really consider adding some example sweep picking licks/ excercises.
    Well, his lessons seems to focus solely on the mental side of playing sweeps, not the technical side. I'll agree that combing the mental with the technical into one article would be cool though.
    What helps is first practicing on a steel string acoustic and mastering it there. After having mastered the sweep on the acoustic guitar, you can sweep professionally on the electric guitar.
    I don't agree on using the neck pickup to practise- so many kids at guitar centres put on a heap on delay and switch to the neck pick up and try to play sweeps really fast. It might sound good to you if your a beginner and haven't got the technique down fully; but sounds like utter shit to people who know how to cleanly sweep. The upstrokes are the hardest part to get down- I recommend playing this exercise really slow as much as you possibly can (even when your watching tv or a movie etc. to get your hand used to the motion) E|-----9-12-9-----| B|---10-----10----| G|-9--- --9--| down, down, down, up,down, up, up When you get faster you would hammer on to the 12 and pull back off to the 9, but practising it's better to get your picking hand use to the upstroke motions. It all comes with practise; you will slowly learn how much/little pressure you need to mute the strings so they don't ring out. But yeah once you've got it all down and sounding clean on the bridge pickup; there's nothing wrong switching to the neck if you prefer the tone.
    I agree, but using the neck is Ideal for beginners. its a smoother sound. Once You get good at that, and are comfortable with sweeping, I agree that its personal preferance. I still use the neck pickup though, I have grown found of the sound. lol
    sorry that tab exercise messed up, it's: E|-----9-12-9-----| B|---10-----10----| G|-9----- 9--| down, down, down, up,down, up, up
    On this lick particularly I would probably hammer the 12 and pull off to nine.
    From everything Ive learned, muscle memory isnt the best way to go. I used to use it for sweeps, but now i watch everything i do, and i have to say my sweeps do sound better. much better. And with muscle memory, combining sweeps takes too much time. even if you know both sweeps, your muscles arent used to doing both in succession, especially if you just learned them, but watching what your doing lets you switch up anytime you like, as long as you know the notes.
    Leather Sleeves
    I think you might be taking the muscle memory thing a bit too literal. If you practice a 3 string sweep for years until it's nailed it's not going to hinder your ability to learn new combinations as long as you have proper technique. The trick, (at least from what I've found), is the synchronization of the left and right hands and the consistency between the up and down sweeping. Besides, it can take years before something's committed to muscule memory.
    You guys are taking this way off hand. My base point here is dont rely on it. like depending on muscle memory isnt a good not a good idea. of course anyone will use it, it comes naturally when you practice. but my point is i practice for at least a year trying to learn sweeping while relying on muscle memory solely, and im saying thats a mistake. Not that muscle memory is completely useless. Again this is for beginners on learning sweeps, not mastering it. This is just to get started.
    "Alright, so I have only been playing guitar for a couple years," "but now i watch everything i do, and i have to say my sweeps do sound better." Several things to unpick here. The first is that people in the first few years of playing tend to come on in leaps and bounds if they practice regularly. Your sweeps would improve massively over a few months whatever you did, so I wouldn't dismiss the benefits of muscle memory on the basis that three months of practicing one way didn't improve your playing as much as the next three months trying another way. This is, of course, assuming that your definition of muscle memory is the same as everyone else's... The second thing to note is that, by watching what you do, you will automatically slow down. I suspect the real reason your sweeps have improved is because you started playing them much, much slower once you decided to pay attention to what you were doing. Point 3, without the first sentence, is very good advice IMO - especially for developing sweep picking. Jumping to conclusions a little here: did your attempts at developing "muscle memory" involve (essentially) tapping broken chords with the left hand whilst raking across the strings at approximately the same time with your pick? It's just that practicing stuff slowly IS developing muscle memory, but in a manner where you can be certain that you're muscles are memorising the right thing.
    I don't understand what's wrong with using muscle memory to memorize positions. It works well for me when playing legato oriented licks.
    I do really hate to be the one to do this, but I can't help myself. That guitar in the picture looks amazing, could anyone point me in its direction? maker, model, anything? Thanks. As for my real opinions on the article, I say good on you for making it, and when people say muscle memory is important, as to when you're saying it's not, i think you're talking about two separate things. The muscle memory I believe you're referring to, bfmvmaster, is where people get too used to playing a single lick and it interferes with their ability to play any others. I believe the other are referring to the muscle memory involved with simply learning to sweep pick in general. sure it involves learning basic riffs/licks and engraving them into your hands (so to speak) but just like chords and scales, you can easily learn to play other things and the muscle memory helps you do so in nearly every way. Also at that point it does come down to how good your actual memory and muscle memory is. I know I personally can only remember so much in my head, and that does affect my playing in some ways, so everyone has different ways of dealing with things. Anyway, yeah. about that guitar.... xD
    tell me about it, I can sweep pick, but I'm only good with a certain pattern, I've been trying to play Unbound(the Wild Ride) by Avenged Sevenfold. I thought "Yeah, I just learn sweep picking and I'm going to breeze through this! " WRONG! D: I was so use to a certain pattern, that every time I tried to play the sweeps, i ended up failing EPICALLY!! So yeah, don't go down that same road, try to make new patterns (Or find some on the internet, such as these)
    It was definitely hard for me at first but it got easier to do, besides, it's better to learn that now or you're going to have a hard time with creativity when you go farther cause, the more you know, the more you can apply
    go to the video section of this website and get a real sweep lesson. nickammonsmusic.com
    5.3 rating tells me this: guys who have been playing guitar for 12 years hate it because "there's no easy way to learn guitar" and instantly start looking for flaws. Beginners think "I can learn sweep picking in one day with this" and use it as their personal guitar gospel. Conclusion: probably pretty helpful, but as with all things guitar, it will take time. worth reading
    I actually find that if you use the bridge pickup your mistakes are highlighted more, and it forces you to perfect the technique. For gigging, by all means use the neck pickup, but when practicing I highly reccomend the bridge pickup. Keep shredding \m/
    also check out the last chapter of the hal leonard guitar shred book, that book improved my playing tenfold while i can't sweep very well, i honestly haven't put much time into it, but am going to since rust in peace solos are my goal the sweep section is very well written even uses Hangar 18 as an example, it's also great for legato, alternate picking/rhythm and tapping.
    dont get caught up in sweep arpeggios too much, kiddies, there are far more important things to learn first
    Like speed and string skipping, but also String skipped arpeggio's are a great way to make a simple chord progression sound interesting.
    Nice lesson dude. How long have you been playing for? 'Couple of years'??? How have you got to this level and knowledge after a 'couple of years'? Could you write an article on your experiences and how you keep pushing yourself? Really wish there was more of this on the net!! Anybody got any links or blogs?
    Yea for the first year i didnt even play much. but i had this friend kyle who really pissed me off. he liked to brag alot and wouldnt ever teach me shit. so i literally dedicated hours a day to being better than him. i looked up all the technical shit, studied everything, keys, modes, etc. After learning scales everything just kinda fell into place. well, that and pretty much being forced into playing lead after only a year of practice. Anyway, needless to say i eventually got better than kyle. he sounded badass back then, but come to find out it was just minor pentatonic shit. basic stuff. due to me not having a job for a 2 years, i had nothing better to do but play, so i sunk my whole day into job applications and playing guitar. lol back on point, the key to being dedicated is to have somethin to strive for. a goal. i wanted to be the best around. and now i play at a level where i can keep up and even show a thing or two to some of the veterans around here. im still not the best. but im gettin there. oh and learn alot of styles. i used to only play metal, but i started playing blues, country, and anything i feel. even classical. it just expands the way you think. lol
    Im afraid its no secret my friend but it is on the right track nice lesson
    I dont understand what the letters mean that are in between numbers for example: 3p0 I don't get what 'p' is HELP