Guitar Sweeping Exercises: How to Master This Guitar Technique

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Sweep Picking Exercises: How To Master This Guitar Technique

Sweep picking, often referred to as the high-speed counterpart of standard picking, is a key technique to becoming a guitar maestro. It bestows upon your solos a swift, fluid sound that elevates your performance. But, diving headfirst into the nuances of sweep picking can be overwhelming. So, let’s decelerate (pun totally intended!) and initiate our journey with the basics of guitar sweeping exercises.

Understanding Sweep Picking

Sweep picking signifies a guitar technique where you ‘sweep’ across the strings with your pick, creating a seamless, fluid motion. It’s akin to strumming but with distinctive precision – each note is distinctly articulated, giving your solos a fast, flowing sound. Intriguing, isn’t it? But how do you master it? Let’s dissect it.

Building Sweep Picking Skills: One Note at a Time

  • Picking Accuracy: Sweep picking isn’t about speed, but accuracy. Begin slow, concentrate on each note, and ensure a clean hit. A metronome is a great tool for maintaining rhythm and gradually increasing speed. Remember, sweep picking is not a sprint, but a marathon.
  • Hand Coordination: This can be tricky. Your picking and fretting hands must move in perfect harmony. One way to achieve this is by isolating segments of your sweep picking patterns and practicing them separately. The ultimate aim is to make your hands move as one entity.
  • Speed: Once you’ve mastered accuracy and coordination, it’s time to dial up the speed. But remember, pace without accuracy is merely a cacophony. Practice slowly, then gradually increase your speed, ensuring each note rings out clearly.

Now, once you’ve got the basics down, let’s put them into practice!

The Beginner’s Guide to Sweep Picking

Firstly, let’s revisit the basics. Sweep picking is a guitar technique where you ‘sweep’ or ‘drag’ the pick across the strings, creating a rapid series of notes, often in an arpeggio. Sounds mesmerizing, right? We’ve got an exceptional video lesson by BERNTH, who simplifies this technique into bite-sized chunks. You can check it out right here.

BERNTH guides us through the nuances of sweep picking, starting with the importance of a clean tone. A clean tone helps expose any mistakes in your technique, allowing you to correct those errors early on. He also emphasizes the importance of muting unwanted string noise and the ‘roll’ of your fretting hand fingers for a smooth, continuous sound.

But let’s not just talk about it, let’s get sweeping! BERNTH provides five exercises that cover different shapes, positions, and difficulties of sweep picking:

1. Minor arpeggios in three positions

2. Major arpeggios in three positions

3. Diminished arpeggios in two positions

4. Minor 7th arpeggios in two positions

5. Major 7th arpeggios in two positions

These exercises lay an exceptional foundation for your sweep picking journey. And as a cherry on top, BERNTH shows us how to apply these techniques to real songs and solos!

Sweep Picking Exercises to Boost Your Skills

These sweep picking exercises cater to different shapes, positions, and difficulties of sweep picking. Starting with simple two-string sweeps, and gradually moving to more complex five-string sweeps, they’re designed to help you master this technique in a step-by-step manner. 

Reading TAB Notation for Sweep Picking

Before we dive into the exercises, let’s quickly brush up on how to read the TAB notation. 

  • TAB (short for tablature) is a common way to notate guitar music.
  • Each line represents a guitar string, with the lowest-pitched string (usually the low E string) at the bottom and the highest-pitched string (usually the high E string) at the top.
  • The numbers on the lines indicate the frets to play on each string.
  • Arrows above or below the TAB show the direction of the pick (up or down).
  • Letters above the TAB indicate specific techniques:
    • h: Hammer-on
    • p: Pull-off
    • s: Slide
    • r: Rest (don’t play the string)

Now, let’s get those fingers moving!

Two-String Sweeps

Two-string sweeps involve playing arpeggios across two neighboring strings. Unlike traditional picking, where each note is individually picked, sweeps allow you to glide smoothly across the strings. The result? A seamless flow of sound that can be both melodic and impressive.

Guitar Tabs: Basic Two-String Sweep Patterns

Here’s a simple two-string sweep pattern in A minor. We’ll use the A minor triad (A-C-E) as our example:







In this tab, we’re sweeping from the 7th fret to the 5th fret on the A and D strings. Practice this slowly at first, ensuring that each note rings clearly.

Three-String Sweeps

Three-string sweeps elevate your guitar playing by allowing you to traverse arpeggios across three adjacent strings. This technique, when executed with precision, creates a cascade of captivating notes.

Guitar Tabs: Basic Three-String Sweep Patterns

Here’s a straightforward three-string sweep pattern in E minor. We’ll use the E minor triad (E-G-B) as our canvas:







In this tab, we sweep from the 7th fret to the 12th fret on the A, D, and G strings. Take it slow initially, ensuring each note resonates clearly.

Four-String Sweeps

Four-string sweeps span arpeggios across four adjacent strings. This technique adds complexity and richness to your lead lines.

Guitar Tabs: Fundamental Four-String Sweep Patterns

Here’s a foundational four-string sweep pattern in A minor. We’ll use the A minor triad (A-C-E) as our canvas:







In this tab, we sweep from the 12th fret to the 15th fret on the A, D, G, and B strings. Take it slow initially, ensuring each note resonates clearly.

Five-String Sweeps

Five-string sweeps propel your guitar prowess to new heights by spanning arpeggios across five adjacent strings. This advanced technique adds complexity and depth to your playing. 

Guitar Tabs: Foundational Five-String Sweep Patterns

Here’s a challenging five-string sweep pattern in C major. We’ll use the C major 7 arpeggio (C-E-G-B) as our canvas:







In this tab, we sweep from the 15th fret to the 12th fret on the low E, A, D, G, and B strings. Take it slow initially, ensuring each note resonates clearly.

Practice Tips: Becoming a Sweep Picking Virtuoso

  • Start Gradually: Begin at a comfortable pace. Gradually ramp up speed as confidence grows.
  • Break It Down: Isolate movements—focus on mastering each transition.
  • Metronome Magic: Use a metronome to track progress and maintain consistent timing.
  • Smooth Transitions: Glide between strings seamlessly.
  • Patience Rewarded: Five-string sweeps demand patience. Persistently refine your technique.

Our friends from Reddit also shared some useful tips on how to improve your sweep picking. Here is the summary in that thread:

  • Start with simple arpeggios and practice them slowly.
  • Make sure each note rings clearly while properly muting the other strings.
  • Practice 6 and 5-string arpeggio shapes, which are easier to start with than smaller 2-4 string shapes.
  • Incorporate portions of the technique in actual songs to develop a feel for flow needed from the picking hand.
  • Use economy picking to combine sweep picking for smoother transitions between strings.
  • Experiment with dynamics and accents to add flavor to your sweep picking.

And for additional resources, cthulhusandwich recommends the following tutorials on YouTube that helped him learn how to sweep pick. These might help you, too.

Common Mistakes and Challenges

Sweep picking isn’t all smooth sailing, though. As mentioned by Mike_Philippov, common pitfalls include playing too fast or too slow, making unwanted string noise, failing to roll your fingers, and losing the rhythm. But don’t fret (pun intended)! With practice and patience, you can overcome these hurdles. Using a metronome, practicing muting techniques, and focusing on finger rolling can go a long way in honing your sweep picking skills.

I found this YouTube video from Tom Hess that can be of great help in overcoming your sweep picking problems.

Types of Sweep Picking

There’s more to sweep picking than just, well, sweeping. You have economy picking, hybrid picking, and alternate picking, each with its unique advantages and techniques. 

  • Economy picking: this is a type of sweep picking that combines alternate picking and sweeping in a single motion, allowing the guitarist to play faster and smoother across the strings
  • Hybrid picking: this is a type of sweep picking that uses both the pick and the fingers to pluck the strings, creating a more dynamic and expressive sound
  • Alternate picking: this is a type of sweep picking that uses a strict up and down motion of the pick, creating a more aggressive and rhythmic sound

Whether it’s the speed and smoothness of economy picking, the dynamic and expressive sounds of hybrid picking, or the aggressive and rhythmic tones of alternate picking, there’s a sweeping style to suit every player.

Gear Up for Sweep Picking

When it comes to sweep picking, the right gear can make a world of difference. Guitars with comfortable necks, smooth fretboards, and balanced tones, such as the Ibanez RG or the Fender Stratocaster, are a great choice. Pair them with thin, flexible picks like the Dunlop Jazz III or the Fender 351, and you’re all set!

Now, let’s talk amps. For the best sweep picking results, look for an amp with a clean channel, a high gain channel, and a good reverb. The Marshall JVM and the Mesa Boogie Mark V are fantastic options. And don’t forget to tweak your settings to enhance the clarity, articulation, and sustain of your notes.

Sweep picking isn’t just a technical exercise; it’s a staple of many guitar legends and genres. From the fiery solos of Van Halen’s “Eruption” to the neoclassical majesty of Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Black Star”, sweep picking has left its mark on the music world.

So, there you have it, folks! Sweep picking exercise in a nutshell. Remember, the road to mastering this technique is paved with practice, patience, and more practice. But trust me, the results are worth every minute. So, how about it? Are you ready to take your guitar playing to new heights with sweep picking? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some sweeping to do. Until next time, keep those strings buzzing!

Alon Cooper

Alon Cooper

Hey! I'm Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

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The Guitar Campfire Songbook

I hope this list has given you some great ideas, and if you want to have another bunch of song ideas in a fancy PDF songbook form, then feel free to download the songbook in this link.

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