How to Sweep Pick Fluently On Your Guitar

sweep pickingIf you’ve ever marvelled at Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker or Marty Friedman and thought that you’d never get to that stage in a million years … don’t give up!

They aren’t robots with a programmed ability to place every finger perfectly and pick cleanly at a million miles per hour right from the beginning.

Like us, they’re human and need to learn guitar techniques the same way we do. One of the favourite techniques of neo-classical players like Yngwie, Friedman and Becker is sweep picking. In this lesson, we will break this technique down systematically and show you step by step instructions to mastering it.

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What Is Sweep Picking And Why Should You Care?

If you only stick to using alternate picking and the usual fretting techniques, you will be limited by the speed and complexity of notes you can play.

This is where sweep picking excels in. It is a technique that combines a sweeping motion in both hands and speeds up your playing during sequences of ascending and descending notes.

How Do You Actually Economy Pick?

The basis of sweep picking, is the economy of movement in the strumming hand. Economy picking has a slightly different emphasis, which is mainly centered on the up and down strokes of your pick.

Sweep picking reduces the motions of your hand and minimizes the change in direction of the strumming hand. As a result, the fretted notes need to comply with the direction of movement across the strings.

In order to do this, note sequences are “pre-arranged” and planned out so that every note is played on a different string, in one continuous direction.

Sweep Picking in a Nutshell

You will move up or down three or more strings at a time, sounding each string once.

Arpeggio patterns are usually used to facilitate sweep picking.

The ending note is usually accentuated above the other notes.

To reduce unnecessary noise, you can lift your finger off the fret board when the note is struck or palm mute the string with your right hand.

When you need to play more than one note on a string, use hammer ons or pull offs instead of picking the note individually.

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Pick downwards in one direction smoothly.

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Picking Hand Technique And Tips to Take Note Of

Tip #1 – Think of the sweep as a form of controlled strumming.

Tip #2 – Make sure that your pick is slightly angled up when you are moving down the strings, and down when you are moving up the strings.

Tip #3 – Don’t hold the pick too hard.

Tip #4 – Maintain a steady rhythm for the sweep itself.

Finger Rolling For Fast And Efficient Muting

Finger rolling is the easiest method to ensure all the notes in a sweep are sounded out clearly without sustain. If you are moving down the bottom 3 strings, the finger rolling technique would consist of:

  • Pushing the tip of your finger down on the G string
  • Lifting it after the note is struck and pushing the middle of your finger down on the B string
  • Lifting that after the note is struck and pushing the lower part of your finger down on the E string

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For people who have difficulty visualizing this, you can imagine your finger to be a rocking chair and you are moving your finger in a rocking motion.

Sweep Picking Applications to Arpeggios And More…

Sweep picking works really well when you are playing arpeggios, and the same principles can be applied when playing scales or passages.

Arpeggios need to be voiced in such a way that the sweeping motion can be employed efficiently. That means there are only certain chord shapes that are favorable for this technique.

Rapid key changes are possible when using sweep picking. This is because you can use the same sweeping pattern for a relatively large number of scale keys. This allows you to effortlessly go from one arpeggio to the next in a smooth and quick manner.

Take Your Time to Practice And Learn

Sweep picking is a relatively difficult technique to master. As with all new skills you’re learning on the guitar, always practice to get it right before you learn to play it fast.

Don’t try to live up to Jason Becker’s standard in your first week! If you teach yourself to sweep pick sloppily for the sake of speed, it will be much more difficult to un-learn your bad habits.

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