Sweep Picking II

This lesson will teach you how to sweep pick, and hopefully in more detail than the previous ones.

Ultimate Guitar
Well, when you watch someone sweep, it will almost look like they are strumming, but their fret hand looks like they are picking complex patterns. From the looks of it, it may seem very complex, but the concept is actually quite simple. Now, don't jump ahead and say "Oh, yeah! This might be easy!" On the contrary, sweeping is a very advanced guitar technique that can take tons of practice. The concept is easy, but the technique can take a while to get used to. Now, if you don't have patience with it, you will probably never learn it. So, that being said, let's get started!

Well actually, you first need to know that sweeping is most commonly associated with arpeggios. Almost all sweeping is done with arpeggios, though some advanced sweeping techniques use lots of legato runs while still in a sweep, it can get pretty complex. All right, I guess we can start now.

Firstly, this may seem like a bunch of gibberish at a glance, but I'm going to show you where to place your finger and on which frets relative to an arpeggio/exercise. So bear with me. Now, Figure 1 is a simplified Am arpeggio.

When sweeping arpeggios, fingering is very important. At this point, you may want to use a different fingering, but when we move on to the full sized arpeggio, it will make more sense.
Figure 1:

So, looking at Figure 1, you will first place your ring finger on string 3, fret 14. This is where the sweep will start. In order to sweep, you need to have a good strumming form (so if you don't, practice moving your wrist, when strumming, in a fluid motion, so that the motion doesn't come from the upper arm or elbow. You'll know it when you get it down). Ok, so begin the strumming motion there, and as soon as you strike the string, position your middle finger on the 2nd string, 13th fret, but at the same time take off your ring finger so the other string doesn't ring out (the arpeggio will not sound very good if it rings out). Now apply that same "technique" as you move to the 1st string, 12th fret with your index finger. That's the downstroke. Now for the upstroke.

Here, you will start with your pinky on the 17th fret. Strike the strings upwards and pull it off of 17 to 12. Important! Do not start the upstroke here. It is a simple pull-off only. When you move to the 2nd string, 13th fret, using the same method you did for the downstroke (muting, etc.) you will start the sweep here. Continue to the 3rd string, 14th fret. There's one full sweep! Don't be discouraged if you can't get it yet. It can take a while to build up the technique to play them fast enough.

To maintain a fluid sound, it is imperative that you do not repeat the 1st note of the arpeggio (here, it is on the 14th fret, 3rd string). Figure 2 shows you how it should be continuated.

Figure 2. Notice that the first note is note repeated. A ^ denotes the skipped string.
D|----------------- ^ ------------ ^ ------------ ^ ---------------
Here's where things get more complex and where fingering is very important - Full (or mostly full) arpeggio shapes. Figure 3 is the full Am arpeggio. 
Figure 3: 

The fingering here will be the same for the last 3 strings, but what about the other 2? Well, to start it off, take you index finger and put it on the 12th fret, 5th string. When you begin the sweep, hammer on to the 15th fret from the 12th with you pinky. I know, your pinky. If you are not used to using and stretching your pinky, I would suggest using it more often 'cause it is used a lot in shred. Now, here's a hard part. Take you ring finger as you get to the 4th string and barre both the 4th and 3rd string on the 14th fret. Now to pull off the same fluid muted sound, you must execute a finger roll.

Start with the tip of the finger when striking the 4th string and "roll" it down to the 3rd string, effectively muting the 4th string. Then proceed as usual and then back up the arpeggio. You must be preparred when you get to the 3rd string. You must start off with your finger "already rolled" and roll is up to the tip. And just strike the 15th fret 5th string to complete it.

When you start it over, make sure you start with the hammer on and not from the fifteenth fret. Sometimes you may accidentally pull off from 15 to 12 on the way back up. This is fine, but may be a little harder as your instinct will tell you to hammer back on to 15 when going back down. Instead just start on fifteen. Either way, take time to make it sound good and practice on clean!

Here are a couple of songs that have fun sweeping parts in it. Enjoy! And be patient! 
"Liar" by Yngwie Malmsteen:
B|-----6---6--------9----9-------10---10--------13----13--------| X2




Altitudes by Jason Becker:









Now that's just part of the songs of course. I hope you enjoyed my lesson and found it helpful. If you are still not getting it, PM me or ask me a question and I'll try to help you out. Hopefully everyone will find this a bigger help.

54 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Try to mute the strings as you go up and down so that they won't ring out. The biggest problem is usually that third string, so I just mute with my thumb when it gives me problems. You definitely should not be pulling the string off like that, just simply lifting it off. Just keep practicing getting it smooth and clean and you'll get it.
    I found a problem with some of the sweeping patterns. Some don't follow some of the basic rules of sweeping. In order to change direction in a sweep you need 2 have an even number of notes per string and to keep going in the same direction you were going in you need an odd number of notes per sting.
    For the Altitudes part.. Do you have to use pull-offs? Because I have the tab of that song and there aren't pull-offs used for the sweeping part. It's alot easier on your way though.
    Do whatever you feel the most comfortable with or what you feel sounds best. In this case, it is only a minor detail that is not very noticeable if you play it either way.
    Wow. great lesson, I have been playing for about two years, and was ready for something new, this would be it. thanks
    GREAT lesson. but if u want a seriously devious sweep challenge...then try to learn Jason Becker's Serrana. It'll blow you away. \m/
    hey man ive been playing guitar for a little over a year now, and this tutorial has really helped get quicker at my arpeggios and sweeps.. i been practicing at Figure 3. i can get it ok but i need to work on my speed.. its fun playin Fig 3. twice then play the exact same thing but move it all down one fret, play that twice then go back up again... it sounds kinda eerie OH OH i need a lil help... sumtimes wen im taking the my finger of the string to play the next string, i accidently play the string ope (like im pulling off into nothing) is there sumthin im doin wrong or is it just practice?.. either way ima keep practicing ty
    dude i wanna learn this bad cuz my bro's like a pro at it but like you said it takes patience so i will definitly work at it thanx for the tips tho man
    drumguyonguitar wrote: *sigh* this is hard...lol Yeah, it can definitely take a lot of practice. Just keep with it and one day it will "click."
    He's right dude. 2 weeks of practicing and I got the click!
    drumguyonguitar wrote: DarkLink1080 : i have been wanting to sweep so bad for about a year but it's really hard to stay focused on it is there anything that you know of that could help me concentrate on it? this is a great lesson Learning to sweep can take a very long time and it is very easy to get discouraged, as it may seem like you are making no progress. My advice would be to sit in front of your tv, or something along those lines, and practice patterns over and over, working on muscle memory. Just don't give up, whatever you do.
    actually you don't want to work on muscle "memory" because that won't help teach you how to come up with sweeps on your own so you should rather just work on fingering positions and try to get it down as smoothly as possible in which case will help you in the future with newer and different sweeps.
    I once learnt a piece of classicle music very quickly - ten minutes - because someone played it in front of me. Is it possible for you to post a short video of 'sweeping' on the site?
    Nice lesson, sweep picking makes an easy impress technique, and a lot of guys just need some material to work through. this is great, keep more coming...
    This may sound dumb, but is there a certain weight of a pick that is better for sweep picking, or is it just personal preference?
    I use Dunlop Big Stubby 3.0mm picks, but that is just what I prefer. Whatever pick you usually use, use that. Don't get into a mindset that you have to use only a certain type of pick to sweep pick. Just practice with what you are comfortable with.
    This is good things even for less adnvanced guitarists (such as my self. played for year) playing it slowly has realy improved my lefthand technique . thanks alot! great stuff. things like this also makes it easier to understand what chords really are
    Mix Master
    I liked it i also liked the tabs for the songs afterwards,(good practice ) i been having a bit trouble learning sweeps but this really got me on the right track, thanks
    this looks hard but after a while someone will get really good at it and add another band to the radio someday!!! hopefully me lol
    iv been playing for 6 months nd i got this down thanks this rlly helped out alot now i can play alot of avenged sevenfold and six feet under solos i think its time i show this kid up at school tht told me ill never be a great guitarist
    No, I do not achor the wrist. You want your wrist to "float" so that there is little resistance. I do, however, anchor with my pinky. This is really a matter of preference though.
    though some advanced sweeping techniques use lots of legato runs while still in a sweep
    that sentence led to some killer licks THANK YOU! I NEVER WOULD OF THOUGHT OF IT W/O YOU! (tears of joy)
    Heh,this takes awhile to get down,but it's nice once you do. Personally I thought the intro guitar solo to 'Vela,Together We Await The Storm' by The Human Abstract was one of the easier,and more fun sweep solos you could learn starting out.
    Nice lesson, but I really think that you could have gone a little more in depth in your descriptions, especially considering the fact that you posted some exercises from songs that have techniques that you didn't cover, like the ending parts in liar when he does a sweep on the same fret(the 13-10 one in the second bar) but other than that, the aspects that you covered were done pretty well ^_^
    I am looking forward to working on this lesson, especially seeing Malmsteen's work covered in it. I knew the basics, but thanks for this new lesson. =]
    great lessons i love sweep picking even though i'm not brilliant at it! lol you have shown me the way
    Thanks for all the comments guys! I appreciate your feedback. Once I move all my old files to this new computer I will fix some of the errors and stuff, too.
    Nice lesson !! But this ain't really advanced, this still are basic arpeggios and there is no tapping involved, i'd love to see a lesson with that stuff :O
    ive been playing for about four years, and ive barley begun to think about sweep method. but this exercise hit the nail on the head! thanks and good job
    and what's the possitions of the fingers of the left hand when it's a: e---3-6-3 b--3-----3 g-3-----3 and a: e-22p17-----17h22 b-----19-----19----- g-----19-----19 ----- d-----19p16--16h19----- a-----17----- e-----
    Mr Richards3
    Thanks for this, now I could go off on my 8 hours a day routine practice sweet picking so I can beat this guy at school who have learnt this technique before me. Love Stephen....
    *sigh* this is hard...lol
    Yeah, it can definitely take a lot of practice. Just keep with it and one day it will "click."
    Thanks for the review dude. The technique on moving the wrist, not the upper arm or elbow helped alot. already on my way to perfecting it.
    Great lesson, look forward to looking at it further. The exercises are great, they are progressively more difficult, and fun, and some, or all by an artist people can recognize. Good job, dude.
    hey, drumguyonguitar, great lesson. Can you post lesson involving sweeping over several positions along the neck (over the same chord). I'd really appreciate it.
    Thanks a lot bro, I have olny been playing for about 9 months but sweep licks are one of the reasons I decided to pick up a guitar in the first place. They just sound so awesome when done correctly. Anywho, this is very helpful I really aprreciate it! I'm already seeing improvment after olny a few days!
    for the figure 2 excerisize are the 14's upstrokes or downstrokes I know the first one starts as a downstroke but are the other down or up?
    Mr Richards3 wrote: Thanks for this, now I could go off on my 8 hours a day routine practice sweet picking so I can beat this guy at school who have learnt this technique before me. Love Stephen....
    Stephen, I think its cool that your willing to practice that long but its sweep picking not sweet picking and remember to use your front pickup and sweep over your front pickup for clean articulations.
    for the figure 2 excerisize are the 14's upstrokes or downstrokes I know the first one starts as a downstroke but are the other down or up?
    They're downstrokes
    good exersises, but the action on my guitar needs to be lowered. now wheres that damn allan wrench?