Sweep Picking

Sweep picking is an advanced technique recommended to intermediate / advanced level players and requires a lot of metronome practice! You do have one already don’t you? 🙂

It involves moving across the strings in a strum like motion although much more control is needed as each note is sounded separately and with the same time period given for each note. This is a great way of playing fast arpeggios and can add melody to fast playing. I will explain this clearer through examples:

Sweep picking

Listen to sweep picking:

This is a basic sweep picking exercise to get used to the “controlled strum” idea and also to work on finger dexterity. To start off, VERY slowly down stroke the notes from the D string to the E string, making sure each note is played for the same length of time. It helps to angle the pick slightly downwards although not excessively as this will ruin the clarity of the notes. A hard plectrum is also recommended. To allow each note to sound separately each finger must be lifted from the string once the note has been played. Each finger should be close to the position it needs to be fretted to economise movement. Ideally the first, second and third fingers should barely come off the strings at all although the little finger will naturally rest slightly higher from the string. There should be as little tension as possible in the whole body, particularly in the fretting fingers.

Once the down stroke is smooth and even, try an upstroke then finally combine the two. By this point you should be able to hold a slow tempo so this is the perfect time to get out the metronome to speed up the movement, increasing in 10bpm increments. Each tempo must however be mastered completely before moving on. Trying to play too fast without necessary training will have a negative effect on your technique if done excessively as your muscles will remember the sloppy movements and bad habits can be created.

You may find that open strings ring through after fingers have been lifted. This can be reduced by using a slight mute in the right hand and/or muting adjacent strings with the fingers on the left hand. This requires experimenting and careful analysis of technique. Having as light a touch on the strings as possible also helps as the lighter the finger comes off the strings the less unwanted noise it makes.

A simpler use of sweep picking would be to use a short, fast sweep as a lead into something else. This is a good way of decorating solos in the same way that trills and tremolo picking can also add colour. Below is an example of a decorative sweep:

Decorative sweep

Listen to a decorative sweep:

Note: This follows the tab shown above.

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