Sweep Picking Practice Tips

My thoughts and suggestions on the infamous sweep picking technique with an etude of my own invention for you to practice to.

Ultimate Guitar
There is hardly a modern electric guitar player out there who hasn't ever heard about sweep picking. Both tapping and sweep picking are perhaps the most popular "shred" techniques out there right now, and it seems like everybody wants to get them down. There is a lot of information on the topic and perhaps what I have to say isn't new, but here we go.

1. The Pick

Sweeps are best done using a small to medium sized pick that doesn't easily bend. The pick shouldn't be paralell to the strings during the motions.

2. The Tone

Sweeping sounds best when using either a reasonable amount of distortion, or a clean sound with some compression added. Using too much distortion will render the arpeggios muddy. In general you should be going for a liquid distortion sound, if you know what I mean. John Petrucci is one good example of that kind of distortion that lets leads sound very clear despite the overdrive that's been dialed in.

3. The Motions

I've noticed that one of the main reasons for mistakes or sloppy sweeps is the player failing to attack each single string while performing a downward/upward motion. Make sure your pick is "falling" onto each single string as you sweep.

Another source of trouble concerns muting the notes/strings you don't need. I strictly use the right hand for this.

4. The Shapes

Certain arpeggio shapes are less likely to sound clean, while others will make everything easier. In general you could profit a lot from avoiding a shape wherein two notes share one fret.

5. The Aesthetic Aspect

Although sweep-picking lends itself for some impressive feats of technique and finger dexterity, it's commonly used to play arpeggios really fast. So fast that you can no longer make out what kind of notes are in it. I don't know how fast I can play arpeggios using sweeps, and to be honest I don't think it's important, as I only use the technique when I feel like adding some harmonic texture to a solo.

6. The Etude

The most fun, musical way to practice a new technique, or a technique that's giving you trouble, is coming up with a short piece which solely revolves around that technique. That way you'll be both practicing and making music.

I do this all the time, and I can't recommend it enough. Here's a short piece I wrote to showcase my own approach to sweep-picking. I hope you like it.

YouTube preview picture

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Cool lesson and cool video! I'd like to add that learning the movable barre chord shapes may also help with sweep picking because the barre chord shapes can also be used as sweep arpeggio shapes.
    Good tips, nice guitar. When getting into sweeping I switched to Dunlop Jazz III picks. They really helped me develop my picking technique. After getting it sort of down I learned to do it with the .88mm and 1mm ones I use regularly
    muting - use also your left hand. while doing the rolling movements, don't put off your fingers from the strings completely, but use it for muting. also really good way to learn sweeping is to use only your left hand initially. once you can cleanly hammer on each note, start incorporating your right hand.
    i have this guitar! im saving for new pickups... its an ibanez s series, with the zero resistance bridge, i love it!
    i would say getting the bar sweeps/odd sweep shapes to sound clean just comes with practice
    Am I the only one that thinks sweep picking sounds like that annoying sound you hear when you dial a fax machine?
    It was a fukn joke...you guys are so sensitive. On the real though, that video sounds like ass; not a good representation off sweep picking IMO.
    I don't understand how the video wasn't a "good representation" of sweep picking he was sweep picking the entire time. I'm not talking about your opinion on the sound that is your opinion that is understandable, I am talking about the technique, he was demonstrating sweep picking the entire time.
    Nice piece...Don't know if it was intentional, but ya made me chuckle at the end, lol... Like everything, start slow and go for accuracy instead of speed. I've played for 35 years and just recently gave in and started practicing sweeps (yeah I know, I've been under a rock right?) I just started, so I am by no means really 'sweeping', but I dont' want to be one of those noisy slop-meisters. It reminds me of when I started leaning to punch a speed bag (harder than it looks to make that bitch fly), but I got it after 3 months or so, and when it finally happened it was like the first time you have sex...you can't believe it actually happening, lolol. So, I'll continue to practice slowly, and focus on quality...and one day, it'll happen
    And here is a tip from me: Unless you are bending,place your thumb behind the neck and have your fingers be as vertical as possible to the neck.That way your fingers will get the most out of your reach and you will sound cleaner during those streches. Nice lesson and cool tune though!