Sweep Picking Overview | Hub Guitar

Sweep Picking Overview

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Sweep picking is the pick-hand technique that fast players love to use. In sweep picking, your picking hand will follow through and play several strings together in a single down or up motions. The fretting hand will also play notes along those strings in fast succession. If the two hands are coordinated well, the result is a very fast flurry of notes.

When you're building this technique, you are unlikely to be able to develop that speed right away. It will probably take time and patient practice.

In the mean time, you can practice sweep arpeggios in a slow and orderly fashion. Slow practice will eventually result in speed.

First I'm going to show you the sweep picking arpeggios: major, minor, augmented, diminished, sus2 and sus4.

You can also do each of these in some inversion, but we won't do that here.

So now as a basic application of the patterns, we can play them up the neck and follow the D major scale forms: D major, E minor, F# minor, G major, A major, B minor and C# diminished. I'm going to show you what that looks like.

Practice these arpeggio patterns slowly, and look for ways to apply them to your own playing.


How to Sweep Pick Arpeggios

  1. Ascending: Play a series of notes, one note per string, from the lowest string to the highest strings.
  2. Choose a chord arpeggio in order for the notes to have meaning and coherence.
  3. This is a right-hand picking technique: pluck all notes with the same down motion (for ascending patterns) and then with the same up motion for the descending pattern.
  4. The fretting hand must be able to move quite fast in order to keep up with this motion.

Sweep picking describes the technique of picking across consecutive strings using the same motion, either all down strokes or all upstrokes. The picking hand will “sweep” downwards or “rake” upwards, while the fret hand will finger the consecutive notes in synchronicity. Sweep picking allows for extremely fast passages because the player can pick in just one direction and not be slowed by the constantly changing direction of alternate picking or economy picking. Sweep picking is a more advanced technique, and can be difficult to develop. Electric guitars, light gauge strings and heavy picks may yield this technique to you faster than acoustic guitars and heavy strings.

For this exercise, we will practice using two-octave triad arpeggio patterns in D. Since our sequence will have six notes, and we will eventually be performing six notes for one beat, the rhythmic grouping we will be playing is that of a sixteenth note triplet.

Triad Arpeggio Fingerings

D major arpeggio

fret tile
f sharp, g flat
a natural
fret tile
d natural
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f sharp, g flat
fret tile
a natural
d natural
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D minor arpeggio

f natural
fret tile
a natural
fret tile
d natural
f natural
fret tile
fret tile
a natural
d natural
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fret tile
fret tile
fret tile
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D augmented arpeggio

fret tile
f sharp, g flat
fret tile
d natural
a sharp, b flat
fret tile
f sharp, g flat
fret tile
d natural
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a sharp, b flat
fret tile
fret tile
fret tile
fret tile
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D diminished arpeggio

f natural
g sharp, a flat
fret tile
fret tile
d natural
f natural
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g sharp, a flat
fret tile
d natural
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fret tile
fret tile
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fret tile
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fret tile

D suspended 2nd arpeggio

e natural
fret tile
a natural
e natural
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d natural
fret tile
fret tile
a natural
d natural
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D suspended 4th arpeggio

fret tile
a natural
fret tile
g natural
d natural
fret tile
fret tile
a natural
g natural
d natural
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fret tile
fret tile
fret tile
fret tile
fret tile
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Triad Arpeggios in Standard Notation

Exercise Instructions

Play this exercise carefully. Remember that the pick moves down (towards the floor) for every ascending note. If an ascending note occurs on the same string, and therefore you cannot pick down again, simply hammer-on the note. For the descending arpeggios, the pick is always traveling up (towards the ceiling). If there are two notes on a string, the second will be played with a pull-off and the pick will continue to travel only upwards.

Is Sweep Picking Overrated?

The question is sometimes asked: is sweep picking overrated? Sweep picking is a very important technique for building speed and fluency on the guitar. Period. But it is not the only technique out there. And your playing will sound pretty boring if all you do is sweep. So it’s best to build the technique and then use your own judgment about when it’s called for and when it’s not useful. In short: there are few guitar techniques that you will regret having mastered.

Key Points

  • Arpeggios are one of the best ways to practice sweep picking, because they can be envisioned across the strings, unlike scales which tend to require two or three notes per string.
  • You can practice sweeping with most arpeggio patterns, but try to play patterns that mostly have one note per string.
  • Sweep picking enables you to play a series of notes fairly fast. Quite possibly faster than you can play them using alternate picking.

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