Guitar Lesson - Sweep Picking Basics by John McCarthy

So you've learned a few arpeggios and it’s time to start slipping these awesome little attention getters into your leads. You can play them with standard alternate picking and they will sound great or you can kick it up a notch and throw in some jaw dropping SWEEP PICKING! In this lesson I’m going to get you started with this technique and give you some of my personal examples and exercises.

First of all let me clarify what sweep picking is by definition;

Sweep picking is a technique used on the guitar in which a 'sweeping' motion of the pick is combined with a matching fret hand technique in order to produce a specific series of notes which are fast and fluid in sound. Despite being commonly known as sweep picking, both hands essentially perform an integral motion in unison to achieve the desired effect.

Now I’m going to give you an arpeggio to use and I have a few tips that can really help you get this technique rocking. This is a basic “A” Major arpeggio. I played this arpeggio over and over so many times when I was first learning how to sweep I literally drove everyone in my house crazy, my sisters would whip shoes at me and scream STOP! And the reality of pissing them off I think gave me even more incentive to continue.

The Examples
Try example 1 below using these tips;Hold the pick very loosely, don’t tighten up your hand, wrist or arm.Don’t peck your pick at each note hold your hand in one position and drag it across the strings almost like you were brushing a finger across a metal rake.

Example #1 (Click on the images to make them larger)

Now I’m going to share with you an exercise that helped me out a lot when I was mastering this technique. Play the exercise in example 2 below moving it up the neck one fret at a time.

Example #2

Now you should be sweeping away I’m going to go one step further and give you some of my favorite sweep patterns. All these are movable and can be played in any key, the first note of each will be the root note or key.

Example 3 is an “A” minor arpeggio in the same position as the “A” Major arpeggio we first used and will have the same all down all up picking sequence.

Example #3

Example 4 is my favorite “A” minor arpeggio because it is full sounding and can be played quickly and easily. I sometimes add a right hand tap on the first string 17th fret (the “A” note) to embellish it. To get the consistent sweep picking motion you must start with an up pick, this is because there are two notes played on this string and by starting with an up stroke you can come down on the second note and continue the sweep across the rest of the strings.

Example #4

Example 5 is a sixth string root position “E” minor arpeggio that will also start with an up pick using the same picking variation as Example 4.

Example #5

Remember all these arpeggios are movable so try to play them in other spots around the neck in all keys. Now what are you waiting for…..get sweeping.

I’m sure you are signing autographs now and getting ready for your next performance, save me a seat at your next performance Rock Star!


Fat Plaid Shirt said...

I have been reading this blog for a few days, since I recently found it, it's very practical; and thanks for taking the time to do it!

edward haas said...

Thanks for the post. Very well explained, easy to understand.

Sarge said...

Thank You Fat Plaid Shirt, I appreciate the comment and compliment very much :)

Sarge said...

Thanks Edward, I"m glad it was helpful for you. \m/

Anonymous said...

Small correction:
The last exercise is actually Em, not Am. Obviously, this one can also be used all over the neck, so start at the fifth fret and you've got Am.

Sarge said...

Right you are Anonymous...correction is made. Thanks.