Guitar Sweep Picking

Sweep picking is a technique every guitar player should know. It makes your playing sound very fast and clean. It’s like playing a chord but it’s not.

This technique takes a lot of slow concentrated practice. You can’t play the chord like you normally do, it has to be timed along with your fretting hand.

Don’t confuse this technique with a “rake” pick where you play a fast downstoke on a chord as one note. The sweep is more involved and timing is critical unlike the Rake.

This technique is how gutar player play at unbelievable speeds. They are actually playing chords but one note at a time is sounded out like an individual note.

The Picking Hand-Sweep Picking

To learn this technique you must start out slow and play each note of the chord as an individual note like playing a scale.

This can be hard to do at first because your mind wants to play the whole chord because that’s what you’re used to doing. That’s why starting slow is best, you can control your movements better.

The Fretting Hand

This hand controls how long the notes ring. As you leave one string with your pick you should let up slightly on that string to stop it from ringing because the next string will be ringing almost instantly.

You have to develop a co-ordination between the picking and fretting hand fingers. You will be releasing pressure one finger after the other but depending on the chord it might not be the finger next to the one you just released.

It’s not just the hand it’s the individual fingers that must respond to your picking.

Down Stroke and Up Stroke

When you sweep pick you are going in one direction. Going from the 6th string to the first you would use a down stroke. Playing from a higher pitched string to a lower pitched string you would use an up stroke.

Often after the down stroke or two you may have to do an upstroke and change the fretting hand position for the upstroke just like changing chords.

Some of these positions are arpeggios rather than chords. An arpeggio is the same notes as a chord played like a scale but the way the guitar is tuned we don’t have many chord forms that let us do this for more than 4 notes without moving.

Chords are usually made by using every other note of a scale.

So in reality you will have to use alternate picking and sweep picking together in many situations so you should have a handle on alternate picking first which is fairly easy to do.

Sweep Picking Practice

You must use a Metronome to perfect this technique, it’s all about timing.

Here is an example using a major 7th chord on the 1st 4 strings.

Before you use the metronome play the chords 1st to make sure you are getting clear notes if not work on that first.

Let the pick pass through the string and rest on the string below or above depending on which direction you’re going.

As you play the first note you should release tension on the 1st finger to stop it from sounding.

You should do this with all the other fingers and strings too. This chord has a nice sound with all the strings ringing but not for this lesson. These are meant to be very fast melodic passages not chords.

This is a good beginning chord for sweep picking. There are many others where you have to combine alternate picking and sweep picking together to complete arpeggios and combined chord phrases.

Here’s a listen

Sweep technique F major 7th chord

Sweep Picking Guitarists-mp3

Steve Vai
Yngwie Malmsteen
Jeff Loomis (Opens New Window)

I hope you found this page useful.