The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter IV 5: Technique - Sweep Picking

The last chapter in the Ultimate Guide to Guitar! Sweep picking, an easy to understand but difficult to master guitar technique, is today's topic. We'll be looking into the key techniques for both the left and right hands, using example exercises for you to develop the correct sweeping technique with!

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Part IV - Chapter 5

"Technique - Sweep Picking"

Hey everyone! We have arrived at the last stage of our journey through guitar theory and practice, with only one technique left to discuss... Sad, isn't it? But let's rejoice in today's exciting topic: sweep picking! A technique that is very simple by concept, but very difficult to master completely, and very impressive if done properly! That makes it a technique that many people are eager to master, although many find it a hard to achieve goal.

We're already slightly familiar with the concept of sweep picking, since we already discussed economy picking, which is a hybrid technique of alternate and sweep picking... But, even though the concepts of both picking techniques are related and therefore very similar, the techniques are applied in very different practical situations! Hence, we're dedicating this separate article to the aspects of sweep picking that set the technique apart from the other picking techniques we already discussed!

Sweep picking requires very distinctive technique in both the left and right hand, which we will discuss separately. The smooth unidirectional movements of the right hand when picking notes on adjacent strings are characteristic to sweep picking; but without proper technique of the left hand, which needs to be in sync with the right hand's movements while making sure that all notes except the picked one are muted, you can't achieve proper sweeping technique. Like I said, it's important that we study both techniques, and that you practice both... so, I'm including exercises for both techniques, so that you can practice them efficiently!

So, this article will cover the basics of sweep picking in the following sections:
  1. Definition of sweep picking: the logical first step!
  2. Right hand technique: the smooth "sweeping" movement that the technique is named after!
  3. Left hand technique: how to make sure each separate note stands out on its own!
  4. Exercises: When you've got the technique down, it's time to refine it using proper exercises!
Right, off we go... Let's delve into the last piece of guitar technique in the UGG together!

Definition Of Sweep Picking

Of course, we can't start learning how to sweep pick if we don't know what sweep picking actually is... so, we'll assess that first, then! The basic concept of sweep picking has already been explained in Chapter II-5 (overview of right hand picking styles) and Chapter III-5 (on economy picking), so you should already know what the technique consists of. In essence, sweep picking is a term used for sequences of picking attacks in the same direction, performed in one fluid "sweeping" motion, picking sequences of notes on adjacent strings.

One very important characteristic of sweep picking, is that it's mostly used to play arpeggios. As you know, arpeggios are the notes that construct a chord, played separately with only one note ringing at the same time. So, sweep picking is very similar to strumming a chord, but with a few important differences:
  • First of all, the notes are strummed in an orchestrated and well-timed sequential manner so that each note follows the next at a fixed tempo, unlike strumming a chord which is a brusque sweeping movement with no set speed;
  • And second of all, while all notes in a strummed chord ring simultaneously, sweep picking is characterised by the fact that notes are sequentially played one at a time. When the next note is picked, the previous note is muted.
The above two characteristic aspects of sweep picking are reflected in the technique of the right and left hand respectively: the right hand movement is meant to pick all the notes in a fluid and well-timed fashion, while the left hand only frets the string that is plucked, thus making sure no other strings ring on! In the following 2 sections of this chapter, we'll be looking into the specific techniques for both hands and how they fulfill their function in sweep picking as described above.

Right Hand Technique

First, we'll be looking into the specific technique of the right hand. Basically, the concept of right hand sweeping technique is very simple, but the execution is a lot harder. That's why, after a brief theoretical examination of right hand sweeping technique, we'll skip right to exercises training your right hand in performing correct sweeping movements!

A. How it's done

Since you already know how economy picking works, understanding the right hand technique behind sweep picking will be no problem at all. Basically, in a sequence of notes positioned on adjacent strings, each string is plucked with a picking attack in the direction of the next string. When 3 or more picking attacks are made in the same direction in one fluent motion (e.g. plucking the 3rd string, then the 2nd and finally the 1st, with all downstrokes chained together as one smooth "sweeping" stroke over the 3 strings), we call this "sweeping" or "sweep picking". I'll show you examples of this shortly!

Like I said before, the most important aspect of the right hand sweeping technique is the timing between the notes. You need to make absolutely sure that each note is picked in an even and well-timed manner, which is not always easy to do when picking notes in a single fluid motion. The exercises below should help you train your right hand in maintaining a steady sweeping motion, allowing it to pick every note evenly!

B. Exercises

Below is a set of exercises that will help you train your right hand in the characteristic fluent motion used to pick notes on adjacent strings in one stroke.

   d d d u u u d d d u u u d d d u u u 
E|-----0-0---------0-0---------0-0-----|
B|---0-----0-----0-----0-----0-----0---| d=downstroke
G|-0---------0-0---------0-0---------0-| u=upstroke
D|-------------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|

d d d d u u u u d d d d u u u u d d d d
E|-------0-0-------------0-0-------------0-|
B|-----0-----0---------0-----0---------0---| d=downstroke
G|---0---------0-----0---------0-----0-----| u=upstroke
D|-0-------------0-0-------------0-0-------|
A|-----------------------------------------|
E|-----------------------------------------|

d d d d d u u u u u d d d d d u u u u u
E|---------0-0-----------------0-0---------|
B|-------0-----0-------------0-----0-------| d=downstroke
G|-----0---------0---------0---------0-----| u=upstroke
D|---0-------------0-----0-------------0---|
A|-0-----------------0-0-----------------0-|
E|-----------------------------------------|

d d d d d d u u u u u u d d d d d d u u u u u u
E|-----------0-0---------------------0-0-----------|
B|---------0-----0-----------------0-----0---------| d=downstroke
G|-------0---------0-------------0---------0-------| u=upstroke
D|-----0-------------0---------0-------------0-----|
A|---0-----------------0-----0-----------------0---|
E|-0---------------------0-0---------------------0-|

Let's analyse the above exercises and discuss their function. As you can see, each exercise consists of nothing more than sequences of notes on adjacent strings, picked in sequences of 3 to 6 picking attacks in the same direction. The left hand isn't used, so you'll be plucking open strings, but if you want, you can use your left hand to mute the strings too, for your less noisy practice sessions! It doesn't matter, since the purpose of these exercises is to train the right hand's sweeping technique only...

There are two things you need to focus on when performing these exercises: the movement of the right hand, and timing. I'll discuss both these points of interest below!
  • Right hand movement: The fluidity of the right hand sweep comes from an orchestrated movement of both the wrist and elbow. It's not advisable using your wrist or your elbow only, moving both will usually feel more comfortable. It's possible, though, to pull off smaller sweeps (3 or 4 strings) moving only your wrist, but for the longer sweeps you need to move your arm as well for the best result. How much wrist and elbow movement you put in is entirely up to you, though; experiment, and do what feels best to you!
  • Timing: When you developed a "feel" for the right elbow and wrist movement, the next thing to pay attention to is correct timing. It's not always easy to hit the notes at a steady rate when picking strings in one fluid motion... Practice makes perfect, though! In order to practice timing when sweeping, using a metronome while doing these exercises is very much recommended. Make the metronome click when you switch sweeping directions, and try to keep each note in sync with the tempo. Go too slow, and the metronome will click before you finished your sweeping motion; go too fast, and you'll have finished your sweep too early, you'll be out of sync with the beat!
Before we move on, I must stress a very important point that you must always keep in mind while practicing sweep picking. I know it's probably your goal to be able to sweep very fast, but it's extremely important that you start slow! You need to learn how to sweep cleanly and accurately, before you can learn how to sweep fast without sounding sloppy. Therefore, use a metronome like I said, but never set the tempo too high! In time, you will develop speed naturally, since it comes as a side-effect of learning how to sweep accurately.

Left Hand Technique

So, we now have the most important aspects of the right hand sweeping movement covered, but that's only half of the work... In order to sweep pick properly, the left and right hand must act as one, so the left hand is equally important! Its function is different though; we'll be discussing the function and the characteristic aspects of left hand sweeping technique in this section.

A. How it's done

Obviously, the left hand's primary function is to fret the notes, which are as stated usually arpeggios. That's obvious of course, but what's more important, the left hand also makes sure no notes other than the one on the string that is plucked will ring, so there will never be multiple notes ringing simultaneously!

How does that work? Well, usually it's as easy as lifting your finger off of the string when you fret down the next string and pluck it. However, sometimes a special technique called "finger rolling" must be used in order to keep unwanted strings muted. In finger rolling, a single finger is used to fret down multiple adjacent strings, kind of like holding a barr... only, the same finger is never fretting down more than one string at a time: it "rolls" from one string to the next, releasing the string it was fretting down when the next string is plucked. The rolling movement the finger makes while doing this earned this technique the name "finger rolling". Got that?

Because finger rolling is the most characteristic aspect of left hand technique in sweep picking, we'll be dedicating the following set of exercises to it. After that, I'll give you more exercises to practice the sweep picking technique as a whole, in which the left hand will be used to its full extent, of course...

B. Exercises

In the exercises below, we'll be assessing finger rolling only. Let's have a look at how left hand finger rolling is used in sweep picking:

   d d d u u u d d d u u u d d d u u u 
E|-----5-5---------5-5---------5-5-----|
B|---5-----5-----5-----5-----5-----5---| d=downstroke
G|-5---------5-5---------5-5---------5-| u=upstroke
D|-------------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|

d d d u u u d d d u u u d d d u u u
E|-----5-5---------6-6---------7-7-----|
B|---5-----5-----6-----6-----7-----7---| d=downstroke
G|-5---------5-6---------6-7---------7-| u=upstroke
D|-------------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|

d d d d u u u u d d d d u u u u d d d d
E|-------5-5-------------5-5-------------5-|
B|-----5-----5---------5-----5---------5---| d=downstroke
G|---5---------5-----5---------5-----5-----| u=upstroke
D|-5-------------5-5-------------5-5-------|
A|-----------------------------------------|
E|-----------------------------------------|

d d d d u u u u d d d d u u u u d d d d
E|-------5-5-------------6-6-------------7-|
B|-----5-----5---------6-----6---------7---| d=downstroke
G|---5---------5-----6---------6-----7-----| u=upstroke
D|-5-------------5-6-------------6-7-------|
A|-----------------------------------------|
E|-----------------------------------------|

As you can see, in all of the above exercises, the played notes are located on the same fret on adjacent strings. You don't use multiple fingers to fret those notes: it's easier to fret down all these strings with one finger, like holding a barr. This is where finger rolling comes in: the left hand finger lays flat over the strings but only actually frets down the string that is played at the time, releasing that string and pressing down on the next string when the right hand plucks that string. Doing so mutes the previous string, making the next note stand out on its own!

Finger rolling is a defining technique for the left hand in sweeping, but most of the time it will be used for rolling over just 2 or 3 strings. Rarely are 4 string rolls ever seen, let alone 5 or 6 string rolls. For this reason, I only included examples of 3 and 4 string rolls in the above exercises... If you're able to perform these rolls cleanly, making sure that every string is fretted down when the right hand plucks it, while at the same time muting the other strings using the rolling technique, you should be ready for full-fledged sweeping exercises!

Exercises

In this section, I'll provide you with a couple of examples of arpeggio sweeps, that you can use to practice your sweeping technique with. There will be exercises that are easier on both hands (using only 3 or 4 strings, and/or with easier left hand fingerings), and more advanced examples (covering all 6 strings and/or incorporating other techniques like hammer-ons, pull-offs and tapping)... Let's get going with the first set of examples!

Exercise set 1

   d d d u u u d d d u u u d d d u u u 
E|-----5-5---------5-5---------5-5-----|
B|---6-----6-----6-----6-----6-----6---| d=downstroke
G|-7---------7-7---------7-7---------7-| u=upstroke
D|-------------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|

d d d d u u u u d d d d u u u u d d d d
E|-------5-5-------------5-5-------------5-|
B|-----6-----6---------6-----6---------5---| d=downstroke
G|---7---------7-----7---------7-----6-----| u=upstroke
D|-7-------------7-7-------------7-7-------|
A|-----------------------------------------|
E|-----------------------------------------|

d d d d d u u u u u d d d d d u u u u u
E|---------5-5-----------------5-5---------|
B|-------6-----6-------------6-----6-------| d=downstroke
G|-----7---------7---------7---------7-----| u=upstroke
D|---7-------------7-----7-------------7---|
A|-5-----------------5-5-----------------5-|
E|-----------------------------------------|

The above set of D Minor arpeggios shows the easiest possible form of sweep picking: the left hand remains almost stationary, you only need to move the left hand's index finger to fret down the notes on the 5th and 1st strings. Furthermore, there is no finger rolling involved, since no notes are at the same fret on adjacent strings (apart from the notes at the 7th fret on the D and G strings, for which the ring and pinky finger can be used respectively). Therefore, you can use these exercises to practice the basic right hand sweeping movement, as well as the synchronized action of the left hand fretting down only the string that is plucked at all times!

Exercise set 2

   d d d u u u d d d u u u d d d u u u 
E|-----5-5---------5-5---------5-5-----|
B|---5-----5-----5-----5-----5-----5---| d=downstroke
G|-6---------6-6---------6-6---------6-| u=upstroke
D|-------------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------|

d d d d u u u u d d d d u u u u d d d d
E|-------5-5-------------5-5-------------5-|
B|-----5-----5---------5-----5---------5---| d=downstroke
G|---6---------6-----6---------6-----6-----| u=upstroke
D|-7-------------7-7-------------7-7-------|
A|-----------------------------------------|
E|-----------------------------------------|

d d d d d u u u u u d d d d d u u u u u
E|---------5-5-----------------5-5---------|
B|-------5-----5-------------5-----5-------| d=downstroke
G|-----6---------6---------6---------6-----| u=upstroke
D|---7-------------7-----7-------------7---|
A|-7-----------------7-7-----------------7-|
E|-----------------------------------------|

d d d d d d u u u u u u d d d d d d u u u u u
E|-----------5-5---------------------5-5-----------|
B|---------5-----5-----------------5-----5---------| d=downstroke
G|-------6---------6-------------6---------6-------| u=upstroke
D|-----7-------------7---------7-------------7-----|
A|---7-----------------7-----7-----------------7---|
E|-5---------------------5-5---------------------5-|

In the above set of A Major arpeggio sequences, there are small two-string left hand finger rolls involved, which makes this set slightly harder than the first one. Use this set to get the basics of finger rolling down!

Exercise set 3

   d H d d d d H  P u u u u P H d d d d
E|-----------5-10-5-------------------5-|
B|---------6--------6---------------6---| d=downstroke
G|-------7------------7-----------7-----| u=upstroke
D|-----7----------------7-------7-------| H=hammer-on
A|-5-8--------------------8-5-8---------| P=pull-off
E|--------------------------------------|

d H d d d d H P u u u u P H d d d d
E|-----------5-8-5-------------------5-|
B|---------6-------6---------------6---| d=downstroke
G|-------5-----------7-----------5-----| u=upstroke
D|-----7---------------7-------7-------| H=hammer-on
A|-5-8-------------------8-5-8---------| P=pull-off
E|-------------------------------------|

d H d d d d d H P u u u u u P H d d d d d
E|-------------5-9-5-----------------------5-|
B|-----------5-------5-------------------5---| d=downstroke
G|---------6-----------6---------------6-----| u=upstroke
D|-------7---------------7-----------7-------| H=hammer-on
A|-----7-------------------7-------7---------| P=pull-off
E|-5-9-----------------------9-5-9-----------|

An even more difficult set of exercises! Shown above are the 5-string D Minor arpeggio and 6-string A Major arpeggio we used in our previous 2 sets, as well as a 5-string F Major arpeggio. In this set of examples, hammer-ons and pull-offs have been added each time the end of a sweep is reached, providing a turning point from where you can move your sweep in the other direction again! The most commonly used sweeps usually consist of any of these three shapes, complete with hammer-ons and pull-offs used at the turning points... so remember these well, and practice them well so you can play them in any position!

Exercise set 4

   d d d d d u u u u u d d d d d u u u u u
E|---------5-5-----------------5-5---------|
B|-------7-----7-------------7-----7-------| d=downstroke
G|-----7---------7---------7---------7-----| u=upstroke
D|---7-------------7-----7-------------7---|
A|-5-----------------5-5-----------------5-|
E|-----------------------------------------|

d H d d d d H P u u u u P H d d d d
E|-----------5-10-5-------------------5-|
B|---------7--------7---------------7---| d=downstroke
G|-------7------------7-----------7-----| u=upstroke
D|-----7----------------7-------7-------| H=hammer-on
A|-5-9--------------------9-5-9---------| P=pull-off
E|--------------------------------------|

Other than the 3 shapes we've already assessed, the shape in this exercise set (F Major arpeggio) is another very commonly used sweeping shape. It's shown in 2 versions, one with and one without turning point hammer-ons and pull-offs. This arpeggio is a lot more difficult to play than the ones we've already discussed: it features a 3-string ring finger roll, which is not easy to pull off! Be sure to practice this one properly!

Exercise set 5

   d H d d d d d H T  P P u u u u u P H d d d d d
E|-------------5-9-12-9-5-----------|
B|-----------5------------5---------| d=downstroke
G|---------6----------------6-------| u=upstroke
D|-------7--------------------7-----| H=hammer-on
A|-----7------------------------7---| P=pull-off
E|-5-9----------------------------9-| T=right hand tap

d H d d d / d d H P u u \ u u u P
E|----------------9-12-9----------------|
B|-------------10--------10-------------| d=downstroke
G|---------6/9--------------9\6---------| u=upstroke
D|-------7----------------------7-------| H=hammer-on
A|-----7--------------------------7-----| P=pull-off
E|-5-9------------------------------9-5-|

This set of exercises shows two even more advanced variations of the A Major arpeggio we've played before. In the first exercise, you can see that a right hand tap was added in at the turning point, making the sweep sound even more interesting. In the second example, slides upwards and downwards are used to move from the A Major arpeggios in the 5th position to the 9th position... doing this, longer sequences of arpeggios can be achieved, which can sound very impressive when played correctly!

And we're through! With these examples, you should be able to practice the most common and most important sweeping sequences, even though the possibilities for sweeping arpeggio sequences are theoretically endless... Once again, I must remind you to stick to a slow tempo while practicing these sweeps, since it's more important to learn how to sweep accurately than how to sweep fast! Being able to play guitar fast is, after all, no more than a side-effect of being able to play guitar accurately and cleanly... Remember that!

Conclusion

And that was that, the final chapter in the Ultimate Guide to Guitar comes to an end... Hopefully you enjoyed this chapter, and hopefully my Guide has succeeded in teaching you something new, or at least refreshing some knowledge you already possessed! I'm not quite done with the UGG yet, though: next week, I'll deliver a short epilogue stressing a few important key points that you must remember for the rest of your life as a musician!

Until then, have fun sweeping... Remember, practice makes perfect!

Cheers!
ZeG

PS: For the last time:
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  • CONTACT ME: For questions: zeguitarist@ultimate-guitar.com

33 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    diddyman99
    There must be so much time spent on all of these articles. I'm so grateful for them, they have really helped me to understand things so much better. I feel almost guilty for reading them.
    Processed Data
    iisnickrier is right about having to be able to reverse your pick without playing 2 notes for some sweeps. I learnt this when trying to tab out a solo i had made in which i included a sweeping section, and it didn't fit into the bars if left at correct tempo. But that's my only criticism. It taught my friend how to sweep way better than i could =]
    kennmi
    silverrock224 wrote: hey can you make like a composition of all your lessons in a pdf or something?
    ill second that motion. on another note, these have been great articles! ive known almost all the techniques you described, and they were all well written and in-depth, and i loved your theory articles. i knew the basics of scales, but i was never really good on the theory of building more complex chords. your articles were easy enough for me to understand and not just zone out! (quite a feat). im sad that its the last article, but im glad you came back to finish =]. looking forward to any future articles you might do, so take care of yourself, and know that your lessons helped many people with their guitar playing!
    Linkinaddict88
    ZeG, I would really like to thank from the bottom of my heart for sharing this excellent free online guide. I learned a lot out of it and I know I improved my skills thanks to your guide. Too bad it came to an end here.... Thanks for everything you've done. Cheers
    Paul Tauterouff
    Dude, what a great way to close out this series! As with your other lessons - this one is thorough and clearly explained. A perfect 10!
    iisnickrier
    I have to give some criticism. I use sweeps a lot. I mean I overuse them probably, but that's not the point. This article gives you three, four, five, and six string sweep exercises. The five and six string sweeps are fine, but the rest need to at least be expanded on. I rarely use a sweeping pattern that, say for a four string sweep, on the D string I play two notes. It happens, but it's rare. Actually the hardest part of learning how to sweep for me was learning how to turn the pick around without playing two notes on the D string. I would recommend anyone learning to sweep pick to practice playing two notes on the high E and one on the B, G, and D, and then turning around and going back up to the E. It is more difficult, but as soon as you try to utilize sweeping, you're going to find that without the ability to turn your pick around without playing two notes on the lowest string, you wont be able to play a lot of standard sweeping patterns. Other than that this is a well written article.
    wicked_hobbit
    Wow it's been a long journey for you huh? Props and cheers to ZeG! I wanna personally thank you for the series. I've been playing casually for 3 years till I got more serious in practising and re-learning the instrument when I first found the second chapter of UGG. Now I've got the whole thing printed out and compiled in a special folder. Thanks!
    sammo_boi
    silverrock224 wrote: hey can you make like a composition of all your lessons in a pdf or something?
    why don't you?
    archaicenigma
    ZeG, thanks a lot for deciding to finish this series of articles! I was more than overjoyed when I saw a new lesson pop up a few weeks ago!!! This is by far one of the best written guides I have ever read in content, and in terms of explanation of technique. I really hope that you get this published in a book form or something of that nature, it is that good! (better than a lot of articles I have read in Guitar World btw) Using your lessons, I have leveled myself up into the intermediate classification from someone who was just making noise on an axe. I feel like I speak for the entire UG community by offering my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your gift of knowledge! I look forward to seeing more articles from you in the future. cheers!
    Terrapin Man
    Im so sad these are great lessons man, and i agree with Silverrock224, it would be really cool to have these altogether in like a PDF just to read when ive got nothing to do and want to brush up on some thoery or something like that but i digress, srsly good lessons tl;dr good job dude peace
    unclenono
    Practice makes perfect... but your lessons make perfection much easier to obtain. Thanks bro.
    JakeIsJake
    Fantastic lessons. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to create this guide, it will help me tremendously.
    highmedia
    thanx man we appreciate everything you've done , i'll miss your monday's chapters , keep rockin'
    Gabysguitar
    good guide, i was self aught guitarrist but now i think i have a master, thanks ZeG!! miss UGG on mondays!
    ZeGuitarist
    demoniacfashion wrote: Exercise set 2 is A major
    Correct, my bad. Hopefully Genie will fix this... Thanks for informing me! Cheers!
    Henkdemachtige
    Cool articles bro.... No seriously they are very helpfull. Thanks for taking the time and writing them.
    ZeGuitarist
    Tab alignment is fixed now. Thanks, Genie! Also, thanks everyone for your comments, and for all the support you all gave me while writing this guide!
    sergiume
    the best online free lesson there is, very explicite and full of exemples. ur the best
    ZeGuitarist
    ^ The tab alignment is messed up, like I said in the first comment. It will be fixed ASAP.
    DanRocks3000
    nice lesson, i've been trying to nail sweep picking years now and i think these excercises will help. O and i think the up and down notation on some of the tabs is wrong, like doing an up stroke one note earlier than it should be i think. Theres a couple in excercise set 1
    Skuzzmo
    Fantastic read... To echo highmedia, thanks for all your time and effort into producing this... I for one have improved because of this series. Cheers