Sweeping People Off Of Their Feet

Covers everything to do with Sweep-picking from 3 string arpeggios to Sweep Taaping. Become a master in no time, Even beginners can learn.

Ultimate Guitar


Sweep-picking is a guitar technique in which you sweep across the strings you will be playing with your picking hand, and rolling your left hand to play notes individually. To achieve this rolling motion you must lift your finger off of the string after the note is picked. This application is usually applied to play arpeggios at a very high tempo. Guitarists such as Buckethead and Rusty Cooley use this technique.

Right Hand Technique

Your right hand, as I said earlier, must sweep across the strings. This is all one motion:
    U U U D D U U D D U U D D 
E |-x-------x-------x-------x-
B |---x---x---x---x---x---x---
G |-----x-------x-------x-----
D |---------------------------
A |---------------------------
E |---------------------------
 (picking pattern could differ)
(Note: mute all strings with left hand.) Practice this exercise for a good ten to fifteen minutes to get the motion before you try sweeping anything, and trust me when I say this helps a lot. For now use Legato, or smooth playing. Or letting the notes ring together. This is specifically for your right hand. This can also be applied to all six strings which will eventually come in handy for any four, five, or six string sweeps. Another exercise that will come in handy is this:
    1 2 3 4 4 3 2 1 1 2 3 4 4 3 2 1 1
    U U D U D D U D U U D U D D U D U
E |-1-----------3-2-1-----------3-2-1---
B |---2-------4-------2-------4---------
G |-----3-4-5-----------3-4-5-----------
D |-------------------------------------
A |-------------------------------------
E |-------------------------------------
1=Index finger ("pointer")
2=Middle finger
3=Ring Finger
This exercise combines alternate picking with the sweeping motion. This will help with sweeps that use multiple notes on the same string.

Left Hand Technique

The left hand technique is very critical. To sweep, the notes must be individually picked. This is achieved by lifting the fretting finger up and off of the string to stop the string from ringing after it has been played. If you do not lift your finger you will just be strumming a chord, which just about anyone who picks up a guitar can do. Here is an example with a simple shape to get the motion down and help synchronize both of your hands:
    3  1  1  3  2  1  2  3  1  2  3  2  1
    D  D  D  U  U  D  D  D     U  D  D  D
E |-------12h14----------14p12----------12---
B |----13-------13----13-------13----13------
G |-14-------------12-------------14---------
D |------------------------------------------
A |------------------------------------------
E |------------------------------------------
h=Hammer on
p=Pull off
The more you practice this exercise the easier the motions will get. Remember Legato is your friend for now.

Correct Practice

I suggest you practice this technique for thirty minutes every day if possible, and always use a metronome. Practice at slow speeds first and when you have it down then increase the tempo ten or fifteen beats each time. It will present problems, but the more you practice the easier it will get. Here are some basic shapes to practice:

3 String Sweeps

    1  2  1  4  1  2  1
    D  D  D        U  U
E |-------12h17p12----------
B |----13----------13-------
G |-12----------------12----
D |-------------------------
A |-------------------------
E |-------------------------
This first shape is an example of an A Major arpeggio. Begin by sweeping down, and then hammering the seventeen fret on. Then pull off by picking up back to the twelfth fret, and continue sweeping up the strings. Also, instead of hammering on and pulling off, you could alternate pick the notes like so:
    3  2  1  4  1  2  3
    D  D  U  D  U  U  U 
E |-------12-17-12-----------
B |----13----------13--------
G |-14----------------14-----
D |--------------------------
A |--------------------------
E |--------------------------
Make sure both hands are synchronized and you're rolling your fretting hand and gliding or sweeping over the strings with your picking hand, not picking them individually. Your sweep isn't one hundred percent correct unless you can hear each note played, individually, with each note ringing with the same relative time as the others. Simple enough, right? Apply the above example with any arpeggio and you can even use three-note-per-string scales using that alternate picking exercise from the beginning of this article. I said it would come in handy. Another left hand technique not mentioned yet is finger rolling. This concept is used when playing the same fretted notes on adjacent strings. An easy exercise for this is to bar the fifteenth fret on strings 1-3. Pick the G string and lift your finger tip off of it. Use the pad of your finger for B string and the joint area to fret the high E string and lift them once you sweep across them. This is a very useful and under looked technique. Make sure you have the above exercises down before you attempt to play this next exercise, a four string sweep.

4 String Sweeps

This kind of sweep involves your pinky a lot more than three or four string sweeps. Your pinky is often overlooked and can be very useful when sweeping. The sweep example below is relatively easy, and only has an extra note than a three string sweep. That's it, just one note. By now you shouldn't be using Legato.
    3  3  2  1  4  1  2  3  3
    D  D  D  D        U  U  U
E |----------12h17p12---------------
B |-------13----------13------------
G |----14----------------14---------
D |-14----------------------14------
A |---------------------------------
E |---------------------------------
See, this is hopefully becoming not so difficult, an extended version of that A Major arpeggio. See how finger rolling comes in handy? Remember to check for what you did for the three string sweep example.

5 String Sweeps

For some reason, the most uncommon sweep used, more than a six string sweep. Does that make any sense? We are now getting into more complicated sweeps. Here is an example: Complete A Major Arpeggio
    1  4  3  3  2  1  4  1  2  3  3  4  1
    D     D  D  D  D        U  U  U  U   
E |----------------12h17p12------------------
B |-------------13----------13---------------
G |----------14----------------14------------
D |-------14----------------------14---------
A |-12h15----------------------------15p12---
E |------------------------------------------
Are you starting to see a pattern? As I said before, this will be a bit more complicated. Start at a slow pace and work your way up to higher speeds. Eventually this will get easier but still presents more challenge. By now, you have the basics down so there isn't much to say but remember to check for those errors. Moving on

6 String Sweeps

Most complicated of sweeps in my humble opinion, but can be most rewarding and most fun. An amazing example is the sweeps in All Hope is Gone off of Slipknot's newest album. Example time:
    1  3  2  2  1  1  1  3  1  1  1  2  2  3  1
    D     D  D  D  D  D        U  U  U  U  U
E |-------------------12h15p12----------------------------
B |----------------12----------12-------------------------
G |-------------12----------------12----------------------
D |----------14----------------------14-------------------
A |-------14----------------------------14----------------
E |-12h15----------------------------------15p12----------
Or you could also practice scales with alternate picking: A Major Scale (three-note-per-string)
    1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 3 4 1 3 4
    D U D D U D D U D D U D D U D D U D 
E |-------------------------------5-7-8----
B |-------------------------5-7-8----------
G |-------------------4-5-7----------------
D |-------------4-5-7----------------------
A |-------3-5-7----------------------------
E |-3-5-7----------------------------------
The correct way to do this is to down-up-down pick and sweep to the next string and continue the down-up-down picking motion. The above is an A Major scale. There are also seven string sweeps and more if you candle hand an eight or twelve string guitar. I will remind you once again though, practice slow first and build up your speed. Most importantly, check for errors. There is one more Sweep-picking Technique to cover Sweep Tapping. All this simply implies is at when you are sweeping and come to a hammer on-pull off-hammer on section, after you hammer the first note you then tap a note on a higher fret before you pull off. There are tapping articles all over UG so go find one if you don't understand. Here is a small piece of a sweep tapping section from a six string version of Suicide Silence's song No Pity for a Coward from The Cleansing if you would like to hear it. You can hear it at the very end of the song.
    D  D  D  D  U  D         U  U  U  U  D  U  D  D  D  D  U  D         U
B |-------------13-17-t22p17-13----------------------------12-16-t21p16-12--
D |-------14-----------------------14----------------13---------------------
A |----15-----------------------------15----------14------------------------
E |-17-----------------------------------17-12-16---------------------------
A |-------------------------------------------------------------------------
t=Tap Nothing you shouldn't be used to. The tapping motion is simple. I wont give the fingerings cause there are many ways to finger this sweep. I hope all of this helps. I covered everything involved in sweep picking. By now you should hopefully be close to being a master in Sweep-picking. Practice makes perfect, so don't get discouraged if it doesn't sound good in the beginning. Now go try lea

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