Sweep picking, sometimes called economy picking, is one of the more dramatic and impressive tools in the guitar shredding universe. It has a distinctive sound and is usually thought of as a modern technique, although you can find clips of Chet Atkins throwing sweeps with a thumb pick back in the 1950s. Give that a try some times.
Sweep picking is the idea of using consecutive string-to-string downstrokes and upstrokes to get across the fretboard. If you were sweeping an arpeggio pattern across all six strings, you’d play all downstrokes until you got to the top string and then play all upstrokes on the way back, usually putting one single note on each string until it is time to turn around.
Sweep Picking vs. Alternate picking
This differs a great deal from conventional alternate picking, in which a downstroke of the pick is always followed immediately by an upstroke, no matter how many notes are played on any one string. Both techniques are completely valid but nothing screams ‘expert lead guitarist’ like being able to sweep at will in any direction.
When practicing sweep picking, it is important to concentrate on the coordination between your hands and string muting, which are normal concerns with any type of technique program. Sweeping is one of the many things on guitar that sounds simple on paper but is a lot more challenging to get under your fingers. It is all about getting both your hands to move at exactly the same time.
5 PRO TIPS FROM EXPERTS
In order to be really good at playing sweep picking, you have to train yourself on a regular basis with right practice mode. Here are some helpful tips for beginners:
1. START AT LOW TEMPO LEVEL
If you’re just starting out, the worst mistake you can make is to try to become a killing fast player overnight. When it comes to guitar playing, there’s no such thing as an overnight success. That's why you should master the basic at a slower pace, and then move on to developing your playing speed.
The three things you need before you can commit to practicing sweep picking are:
- Solid grasp of guitar scales
- Good command of the pick
- Coordination of both hands
Without any of these things, you won’t be able to make any significant progress. You should know all the scales, the pick should sit comfortably in your strumming hand, and both your hands should be well coordinated and work as a team. If you have all the three things covered, then you can move on. If not, be sure to give them enough practice, so that you become proficient.
For who is ready to increase the speed: How to play faster?
2. START OUT WITH METRONOME
Playing sweep picking is closely linked to maintaining the tempo. One of the best ways to make sure you maintain tempo is to use the metronome while practicing.
The key thing here is to use the metronome only in the first couple of weeks of your practicing. Soon enough, you will have to stop using it because it will hinder your progress; you might get used to it and, in turn, become over-dependent on it. However, the metronome is a great device to help you start out.
3. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING
It’s not enough to start playing slow so that you can learn sweep picking; you have to be sure to know what you’re playing every second of the game.
So, if you’re having trouble mastering a certain part of a scale, or an arpeggio, study it and find out what causes the problem. Remember, there’s no such thing as kind-of knowing what you’re playing. Every note, and every sequence of notes, has to be tracked down to a tee.
This post is helpful: Guitar Scales - Best Method to Learn Easier, Simpler !
Here is a great lesson on how to getting every tone right while sweep picking.
4. Learn the rolling technique
Sweep picking is all about proper coordinating; without it, you will be stuck in a rut forever. One of the most important aspects of good sweep picking is the so-called rolling technique. The rolling technique is very important, because it enables to master muting the strings while playing – which is essential to sweep picking.
You apply the rolling technique by slight arching your barring finger, so that it has more freedom to move up and down. This agility of the barring finger is the key component to proper sweep picking; therefore, be sure to master it as soon as possible.
It’s also important that you press down the strings lightly, as applying more pressure will hinder your speed and cause your notes to sound “bulky”.
Here is a useful video that will help you get a better grasp of the rolling technique.
5. PLAY ON 2 STRINGS FOR A WHILE
Again – there’s no need to rush things. You will make the most progress if you start small and gradually develop your playing technique.
Once you’ve mastered the rolling technique, you can start practicing sweep picking, but do it only on two strings at first. Remember, the key thing here is no to master sweep picking in its entirety, but to learn the dynamics of it. And once you’ve got that covered, you will naturally move on to playing full arpeggios in sweep picking.
This video will teach you the basic of two-string sweep picking.
You’ve learned a couple of tips about sweep picking, but are you actually able to play in this technique? Probably not, because that is only theory – practice is a whole other thing.
In order to be able to play properly, and develop as a guitarist, you will have to get the lowdown on the actual way of playing sweep picking. Here are a couple of useful exercises for playing in this style.
1. GO WITH ARPEGGIOS
Arpeggios are great for practicing any kind of playing technique, including sweep picking. The key thing to remember here is not to confuse arpeggios with scales – they are very similar but not quite same.
- A scale is a sequence of notes belonging to the same key – an arpeggio is a sequence of notes belonging to the same chord. Very similar indeed, but not the same thing. Why practice arpeggios?
- Arpeggios are great because they will help you solidify your knowledge of chords, as you will be practicing chords through arpeggios. You will also practice your finger movement, since it differs from scale-playing.
When playing scales, you kind of use the same finger pattern. Patterns for the scales are more similar to each other that chord patterns, especially for the “weird” chords, used in jazz music.
Let's check out how to learn guitar scales easily: THE BEST WAY TO LEARN GUITAR SCALES
Also, you can have better interplays between chords and melodic parts in your playing if you know to play in arpeggios well. Here is a great video on arpeggio playing; it’s broken down into meaningful sections, and it’s great for learning the basics.
- Notice how proper sweep picking implies strumming the notes downwards when you go top to bottom, and vice versa when you go the other way.
- You also need to use hammer-ons and pull-offs a couple of times, which is really good for developing mastery in guitar playing.
2. THE FALLING MOTION ON MUTED STRINGS
This is an excellent way to develop sweep picking mastery. When you’re playing, don’t stop the pick once you’ve strum a string. The pick should fall down, naturally, without any extra force coming from your strumming hand – onto the string below. The same goes for reverse playing: the pick should land on the string above it naturally. Then, you’re ready for the next note that should be played.
All of this should be done casually yet with precision; it may seem tricky at first, but you’ll get the hang of it after a lot practice.
In addition to this, you should play by muting the strings. This will facilitate the whole process for you.
String muting is a major issue with sweep picking, as we want to end up sounding surgically clean. We want to hear only one note at a time, no matter our current tempo. You will have to use both hands to accomplish this.
The palm of your picking hand will help mute the lower strings and the insides of your fretting fingers will help with the higher strings. Some players who use a lot of sweeping and two-handed techniques often put a fabric ponytail loop around their necks just on the fret side of the nut to help kill the open strings, as these techniques don’t use them very much.
There are different kinds of mute-playing, and this video might help you out along the way.
Remember – muting the strings is an art form in itself. Don’t rush it; take your time and practice it slowly and, eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.
3. DOUBLE PICK EVERY NOTE
This idea goes against what you’ve learned about sweep picking - which is a paradox in itself - but it’s actually very useful.
Sweep picking should be done in a way that you move from one string to another, but what if you played every note twice? Then, you wouldn’t move to the next note immediately, but play each note two times, to improve upon your accuracy!
Technically, this is not sweep picking – true that! – but it’s a great stepping stone to mastering sweep picking. Remember, it’s always easier to move from a more complicated level to a simpler one, and double picking will do just that for you.
Here is a great tutorial on double picking, where you can see how to do it, and also what you can accomplish with it; sometimes, your soloing can only benefit from applying double picking.
4. FAR DOWN ON the FRETBOARD
This is especially useful when applied to the electric guitar, but it also works quite well on the acoustic.
The idea is to play sweep picking low on the neck, because it’s definitely easier to perform it down there. The space between frets is smaller, and there is less finger stretching required. Thus, you can solely focus on developing speed and precision.
To see the difference between palying high up and down below on the neck, check out this video – you might find it useful. You can start playing slow, and gradually add speed as you become more experienced. Once you reach a higher level or proficiency, you’ll be able to sweep-pick on the whole neck with ease.
1. TWO/THREE-STRINGS SWEEPS
These simple patterns will allow you to get the feel of the sweep technique, which will probably feel awkward and unnatural the first time you try it. Go as slowly as you have to to get these up and running.
The first exercise is a two-string CMaj7 pattern that roots on the D string. C is the first note, so moving it to other keys just means starting on a different fret.
- These are 8th Notes, two per metronome click, so put one note on the click, itself, and one between the clicks
- Count 1+2+3+4+
- You will play two downstroke notes followed by two upstroke notes
- Go slowly and follow the picking directions above the TAB
- Smooth, steady, and even is what we’re looking for, not speed. Speed will come later
- Watch your timing and muting very closely
The second exercise is a C7 pattern in 8th Note Triplets. Triplets put three notes against a single metronome click and can have a galloping feel when done correctly.
- Count them TRI-PL-ET until you can hear clean groups of threes popping out of your speakers.
- You may need to slow your metronome down a bit, as we are now putting more notes into the same amount of space than we were in the first drill.
- Again, speed kills right now, so go for steady and follow the given picking directions every time.
- Play the first note of each triplet strongly on the click and the other two should fall into place without much trouble.
- Mute, mute, mute!
It helps a great deal to see someone do this in front of you and not just try learning to sweep from a TAB or diagram. In that spirit, here is an excellent lesson video on basic sweep techniques and two and three-string patterns:
2. FOUR-STRINGS SWEEPS
We are going to take things up a level now and sweep across four strings. Now is the time when any muting or timing issues you might have will become painfully audible, so keep it super clean. Only one fretting finger should be on the neck at any given time. If you break this rule, you will sound like you’re strumming chords and not articulating distinct notes.
This lick is a bit more exotic-sounding and is in the style of Frank Gambale, the Australian guitarist who helped bring sweep picking to the masses in the 80s. This has a strong Altered Dominant sound and will get you in fusion territory quickly.
These are all 16th Notes, which come four per click. Adjust your metronome as needed and count 1E+A 2E+A 3E+A 4E+A. We are now putting twice as many notes into the same space as when we started, so do what you must to keep things sanitary.
Here is an up-close look at four-string sweeping:
Sweep picking is a wonderful playing style, and it can open a lot of doors for you. By applying it, you will be able to play a lot of different styles, and branch out into other directions. However, you should be fully aware of one fact: sweep picking cannot replace regular playing style, so don’t look at it that way.
On the other hand, sweep picking will give you a fantastic opportunity to improve as a guitar player. You will become more proficient, develop speed and have a much better command of your instrument. Once you start combining sweep picking with other picking styles, you will turn into a great guitarist.