Guide to Sweep Picking

Learn the basics of sweep picking! This lesson covers the proper technique for the right hand, hand rolling (not finger), 3, 4, 5, and 6 string sweeps, sweep tapping, finger rolling (not hand).

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Ultimate Guitar
Guide to Sweep Picking
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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 the3 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, sofirst 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 theexercise again and again it will come to you naturally. There's really noother 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 hammerons andpulloffs?
e|-----------12H15P12----------------12H15P12--------|
b|--------13----------13----------13----------13-----|
g|--12H14----------------14P12H14----------------14Z-|
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------|
d|----------------------------------------------|
a|----------------------------------------------|
E|----------------------------------------------|
Thislick'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|-----------|
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 stringsweeps 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 eitherway, 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!

272 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    B345T
    At the risk of sounding very stupid lmao.. Are your up and downstroke labels not the wrong way round or am I just being silly?
    ColeBurnsRed
    Lol Chris, yeah I think you have the patter right; Basically for the first 3 notes you do a downstroke, then you hammer to 15 and while doing that you get your pick ready go up, then do 12 13 14 again...or whatever your pattern s ^_^
    Squire_Guy08
    nice lesson, has really helped me with sweep picking. Very hard but in two days I've learned 3 and 4 string sweeps and I've only been playing 2 months! Its thanks to lessons like these that I'm getting good fast. (it's very frustrating too... sometimes I want to smash the guitar lol ^_^)
    fingersofflame
    Lol Chris, yeah I think you have the patter right; Basically for the first 3 notes you do a downstroke, then you hammer to 15 and while doing that you get your pick ready go up, then do 12 13 14 again...or whatever your pattern s ^_^
    Madhur Damn
    Great lesson, still can't do it... Damn stubby Italian fingers... My left hand doesn't like to do the things I tell it to most of the time.
    fingersofflame
    sorry the links don't work guys! I uploaded the files like a year ago and they've been taken down by now ^_^
    fingersofflame
    Sorry for being soooo late. It took so long for the team to accept my lesson that the links are outdated...I've sent the videos to a few of the people who have PM'ed me. Unfortunately, I can't edit the lesson to fix the links, however I have found some very suitable substitutes. The links are below. Video 1 Part 1:
    Part 2:
    Video 2
    Enjoy and good luck! Michael - (FoF)
    fingersofflame
    Dansolmania wrote: Great lesson dude, is really helping with my sweeping. One thing, is the finger numbering on the 2nd string sweeps tab correct ?? seems abit odd
    Yeah the fingering is wrong, I made a typo...when you hammer to 15 it should be your pinky, my bad ^_^ Also when it says "string sweeps" there should have been a number next to it...but no biggie
    fingersofflame
    B345T wrote: At the risk of sounding very stupid lmao.. Are your up and downstroke labels not the wrong way round or am I just being silly?
    Lol I think they added those in, they are incorrect though...I think the idea I had when I wrote this was which way your fretting fingers were supposed to go...idk, I wrote this a year ago and it just got approved ^_^ But yeah, the U's should be D's and vice-versa Michael
    fingersofflame
    It took so long for the team to accept my lesson that the links are outdated...I've sent the videos to a few of the people who have PM'ed me. Unfortunately, I can't edit the lesson to fix the links, however I have found some very suitable substitutes. The links are below. Video 1 Part 1:
    Part 2:
    Video 2
    Enjoy and good luck! Michael - (FoF)
    cjp11
    agghh i can upstroke sweep fine but my right hand always wants 2 pick each note individualy when downstroking
    fingersofflame
    Initially I did have vids for all of the stuff, but I wrote this lesson a while ago and it was FINALLY approved and by that time the hosting site had dumped all the vids...If I can find them again I'll post some links...
    erock82190 wrote: good lesson, this stuff is really hard for me though
    Well if it was easy for you then you wouldn't be reading a lesson on it, now would you? ^_^
    Colton165 wrote: i can do a 3- and 5-string sweep, but i cant incorporate hammer-ons and pull-offs! any tips?
    By that do you mean that you can't do the hammer-on at the end of the sweep or somewhere in the middle?
    BuriedAlive11
    Dude, PLEASE Re-Up that vid (i dnno, to utbue or soemthing lol) i just am Uber curious what you mean with "The Technique shown in the video "
    buddastrat
    That's a horrible lesson. Are you 13 or something? You need some instruction, me thinks. Your U's and D's are mixed up. That's not a Dm shape at the 12th fret, it's an Am. The fingering on several patterns under string sweeps is horrible. I only skimmed this crap but man, it's goofy.
    fingersofflame
    difitzio wrote: I play the acoustic only... Is sweep picking an important technique for that too or is it mainly for the electric? If anyone has advice post it cheers
    Well in the beginning of Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria he sweep picks on the acoustic ^_^ It is a little tougher to do on the acoustic due to the big differences in neck action, however it is doable, so if you want I would give it a shot, though I can't promise that you'll be successful or ever use it on an acoustic.
    TheSixthWheel
    Hey dude, good to see more development on a subject that has been filled with confusion and smoke and mirrors in the past. In my time I've met some unbelievably experienced guitarists who are so scared of sweeping arpeggios that they let it hold them back, myself included. Good job on the lesson though. However, on top of the correctional comments others have made I'd like to say that the masters of sweeping (Petrucci, Satriani etc) recommend that a clean tone is used when learning sweeping instead of distortion. This is to let the notes evenly sound out so you can hear any mistakes. Distortion/Overdrive will do the opposite of letting you hear any mistake, it will hide them. If you can get sweeping arpeggios fast and consistant on a clean tone, they'll sound immaculate when using distortion. Also, most of Yngwie Malmsteen's 'Arpeggios From Hell' is economy picking, not sweep picking. Cheers though, good to see people finding this lesson very helpful!
    mattzillah
    thanks alot i've never been big on drills but sweeping is a skill that got me goin been playin guitar for 15 years (party style a lil open mic) but what ya did for me in this lesson was great thanks alot bud peace out
    mattzillah
    true that on clean pickin though these riffs "sixth" i noticed way more and was more satisfied with my results after strummin clean i'm gonna look into this "economy picking" malmstreem is a robot for sure!!! and the links at the top of the page don't work but maybe their just outdated either way i get the concept thanks again
    ultimaterocker6
    Jw, its me being silly but why does this... U U U e|-----12--| b|-----13-----| g|--14-----| d|-----| a| -----| E|-----| say upstroke.
    Thnikkamann
    Great lesson, really helped me out! I never understood sweeps until I read this. Thanks!
    Riffer_maddness
    Damnit i cant get my right and left hand to time right together oh well i dont really need a whole lot of sweeping skill it would just be fun to know
    Metal_Mage
    pierre_aw90 wrote: in the last 3 string exersice .. if you only hammer on then there is no sweep going back up on the bottom string and again goin down there would be no contact on the top string ? that doesnt seem like sweeping to me because if you miss a string then you have to use a picking motion so then it ends up being wierd single picking pattern or something?
    I was wondering the exact same thing.
    ticklemeemo
    wow, sweeping really isnt as hard as i thought. i can do that last one pretty well actually.
    Funeral Moon
    First off, great lessson man. I was really struggling with sweeps before I read this. Now, I kind of get the hang of basic 3 string sweeps. But I've got a question. e|-----12H15P12-----| b|-----13-----13-----| g|-----14-----14-----| d|--12H15-----15P12--| a|-----| E| -----| When you sweep downwards, do you sweep the 12th fret again after the hammer-on and pull-off, or do you continue the sweep by starting at the 13th fret of the b string?
    toine
    i have a problem: when i try to sweep pick the strings that i release are ringing when i go down. e.g. e-----8--12 b-----10(0)-- g-----9(0)----- d-----10( 0)----- a-12(0)----- e----- plz tell me what i do wrong?
    Heckinsweeper33
    I love you..... seriously. This made me a swewep picker and its great. Everything i learn is now easy to play in sync too. Im starting a religion of awesomeness and your the god. seriously thanks bro
    Heckinsweeper33
    oh yeah and one more thing. Def film a vid of yourself doing this. Some people might still not know what it is or how to do it. Thanks! (>'' >)
    ShatterSpirit
    Dude, seriously, excellent lesson here. Sweeps have been puzzling me for a while, I didn't know about the finger rolling thing, or at least how to do it. Thanks to this lesson though, I'll be able to do fast sweeps relatively soon! Thanks for the awesome lesson dude.
    Boulala
    YOU SHOULD SERIOUSLY CONSIDER TEACHING FOR A LIVING (unless you already have) this is by far the easiest and most helpful lesson i have come accross in a long long time! thankyou!
    shadowfender42
    nice for some reason (i guess because ive been practicing on my own) sweeps come kind of naturally to me but this really helped me refine and understand the technique to it