Sweep Picking Fundamentals

author: nosegrabmaster date: 08/15/2013 category: guitar techniques
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Sweep Picking Fundamentals


Sweep Picking is a technique whereby the left hand frets various notes (usually one note per string) and the right hand performs a "brushing" motion, enabling arpeggio-oriented licks and ideas to be more easily played. Notable sweep pickers include Jason Becker, George Bellas and Yngwie Malmsteen, among others.

Basic Practice Tips

1) Practice with lots of gain! Although many people practise sweep picking with a clean tone, it is actually much more beneficial to practice with distortion (you should still practice clean SOME of the time - not much though!) This is because the distortion will accentuate any slight uncleanliness in your technique, and will aid you in fixing it.

2) Practice with the bridge pickup! The bridge pickup generally accentuates and mistakes you make, and therefore will help to to clean up your technique.

3) NEVER practice sloppily! This sounds awful and will NOT help you get any faster - in fact, it will limit you as it will decrease your levels of control!

4) Stay relaxed! This is more important than you think. If you stay relaxed, playing fast will feel effortless - and vice versa.

5) Only let one note sound at a time! If more than one note is sounding, your sweeping will just sound like you are strumming a chord!

6) Experiment with using your wrist, arm or a combination of both to move the pick. How this is done varies from person to person, so you'll have to figure this one out yourself.

7) Only move your fret hand fingers the minimal amount needed - remember that distance=time!

8) Play the notes evenly! This will greatly help your ability to synchronise the hands together.


To start off, you need to get used to the brushing motion. Make sure that your picking hand just makes one long movement, and NOT lots of separate picking motions - this is vital if you ever want to make serious progress. Whilst picking, your thumb (on the picking hand) should rest on the lower strings to prevent them from sounding out. If you find that you keep sounding pinch harmonics, then you are using too much of your thumb to hold the pick. If you are still having trouble, check out some YouTube videos of good sweep pickers and try to analyse and apply the aspects of their hand position.

For the following exercises, you should constantly keep your fretting hand fingers in place, but aim to use your picking hand to mute the strings that you are not playing. Start off EXTREMELY slowly (such as 60 bpm quarter notes) and increase the speed by 1 bpm for every full minute of perfect playing. If you cannot play cleanly at your current speed, slow right down and analyse what you are doing wrong, before fixing it and then building back up (after you reach around 80 bpm triplets, do not go any faster! This is the fastest effective practice speed - any quicker than this, and your progress will be too slow). After every 30 - 40 mins, measure your new top speed with a metronome and write it down. Mastering this might take a while, but it is the first step to ultimate sweep picking mastery!

Am Am C C


Full Sweeps

After you have a good hold on the previous step (200+ bpm triplets), it is time to start practicing full sweeps! Practice these in the same way as before (60 bpm quarter notes, increase every minute etc.). This time, you need to make sure that only one note is being fretted at a time - this will take some time, but it is a fundamental aspect to doing this properly. Also, make sure to follow the fingerings provided - this is vital to your success.

3 2 1 4 2 1

3 2 1 4
(move up in 3 fret increments)

Advanced Shapes

Now, we move on to the more advanced shapes. These are harder due to two aspects - adding a pull-off, and playing only one note on the lowest string before changing direction. When doing the pull-off, make sure that your picking hand does not stop - it should slow down and then speed back up again after the pull-off. Pay careful attention to the picking sequence shown, as it is important to do it right if you want to correctly execute the direction change.

u u u d d

If anyone has any comments, suggestions or questions don't hesitate to ask! I hope you enjoyed my first lesson, and if this one becomes popular I may do another. Here's a link to the tab you can play along to in order to practice sweep picking. Good luck with your playing!
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