Sweep Picking (Guitar Lesson)

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Brad Henecke

Sweep Picking

Brad explains the basics of sweep picking in this fun speed building guitar lesson.

Taught by Brad Henecke in Speed and Technique seriesLength: 9:00Difficulty: 3.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (09:08) Sweep Picking Note: The following information is taken from Matt Brown's Phase 2 Rock lesson pertaining to sweep picking and string rakes.

Definition of Sweep Picking

Dragging the pick across three or more strings in one fluid motion for the purpose of playing fast arpeggios is a technique referred to as sweep picking.

Before you begin to practice this technique, keep in mind that it is one of the most difficult guitar techniques to master. Few guitarists can perform this technique well due to the amount of practice time necessary to perfect it. When learning any new technique, patience is key! Also, remember that technique is a means to a musical end. It doesn’t matter how fast you can play something if it doesn't sound like music. Make sure your sweep picking is clear and musical before you attempt to speed it up.

There are several important technical aspects that must be observed in order to pull off sweep picking effectively. Let's take a look at the right hand first.

Picking Hand Technique

1. In order to decrease the amount of friction between the pick and the strings, the picking hand must be slightly tilted from its normal position. When performing a down-sweep, tilt your hand towards the floor so that the thumb is pulled slightly away from the strings. This will prevent the pick from getting stuck on an individual string. When sweeping upwards toward the bass strings, tilt your hand the other way. When going up, your thumb should be tilted towards the strings.

2. Sweep arpeggios must be played with the very tip of the pick only. If too much of the pick makes contact with a string, you run the risk of getting hung up on a string, and the arpeggio will not sound smooth.

3. The pick must gradually "fall" across the strings. In other words, the velocity of the right hand must remain constant as the pick drags across the strings. You must not separate the motion of the pick into individual strokes. Do not momentarily pause on each string!

4. When more than one note occurs on a given string, alternate picking must be used on that individual string. Then, resume picking in one direction.

Fret Hand Technique

The main reason why guitarists perform sweep arpeggios poorly is because they fail to realize that the left hand component is just as important as the right. Follow these rules to ensure that your arpeggios sound smooth and fluid.

1. The left hand must prepare each finger before the string is plucked with the right hand. The left hand finger must fret the note just milliseconds before it is plucked. Otherwise, an unwanted hammer-on sound might be produced.

2. Each string must be muted after it is played by slightly lifting the left hand from the string. Do not let the strings ring together at all! If the same finger is to be used to fret the next string, do not lift it up. Instead, "roll" your finger by lightly pulling it down to the next string. Be careful that you don't create unwanted pull-offs while doing this.

3. The sweep arpeggio should sound like a series of rapid single notes, not a slowly strummed chord.

When Are Sweep Arpeggios Used?

A. Sweep picking is most commonly used in the context of a guitar solo. Scale-based lines can be interchanged with arpeggio-based lines to create variety within a solo. Check out an excerpt from Kirk Hammett's "Creeping Death" solo to see an example of how this works.

Note: A transcription of this excerpt can be found under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

B. Sweep arpeggios are also used in substitution for strummed chords, to create melodic textures. The intro melody to Phish's "You Enjoy Myself" was composed using nothing but a series of sweep arpeggios.

Note: Please visit Matt Brown's Sweep Picking lesson for a transcription of this introduction.

Sweep Picking A Major and A Minor Arpeggios

Follow the technical guidelines listed above when playing this arpeggio pattern. Brad chooses to use two sequential downstrokes for two notes on the same string. However, this arpeggio could be played much faster if the picking pattern begins with an upstroke. Then, continue to use downstrokes when ascending the pattern. This is the most economical way to pick the arpeggio patterns presented in this lesson.

Final Exercise

Although this is purely a technical exercise, play this exercise as musically as possible. Play it with legato phrasing. However, do not let the notes ring over top of one another. Make sure the rhythm is totally consistent at all times. Lift up each left hand finger as you are putting the next one down. Practice this exercise in a variety of positions on the fretboard.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

goraahlburduukgoraahlburduuk replied

Good exercise but the guy teaching seems to be struggling to even pull it off.

sengerguitarsengerguitar replied

i'd advise playing a 3 string arpeggio first with a metronome and speed it up only after mastering that speed. Then move on to 4 and 5 strings after mastering.

minisurfbananaminisurfbanana replied

i thot in sweep picking u do not let the strings ring as u did on the 7th fret on the d g b strings?

zeppelin007zeppelin007 replied

Hi Brad great stuff i understand and really really love your lessons excellent Brad thank you.

bigjimgtrbigjimgtr replied

The stretch on the first figure is a killer when you start playing quickly, and the exercise is tricky. It's gonna take some time to get that flowing smoothly.

penningmicpenningmic replied

Brad, When playing the Aminor shape I often bar my ring finger across strings 3 and 4, I have always found it easier to play in that regard, especially when playing fast. These are good exercises for getting your right hand in used to sweeping and getting your left hand moving at the same time. I often start with 3 strings and work up to 5.

iceboundd88iceboundd88 replied

thats a good lesson your really helping me

mritalian55mritalian55 replied

Another great lesson from Brad.

Speed and Technique

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Technique is extremely important to playing in any style of music. Perfect technique combined with blazing speed can take your playing to a whole new level.

Series IntroductionLesson 1

Series Introduction

Brad introduces his Speed and Technique series.

Length: 1:15 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Picking and TimingLesson 2

Picking and Timing

Brad Henecke covers proper picking technique and gives a basic lesson on notes/timing.

Length: 6:10 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Picking and DownstrokesLesson 3

Picking and Downstrokes

This lesson is all about the downstroke. Brad discusses technique and shows you how to pick in different rhythmic groupings.

Length: 5:20 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
UpstrokesLesson 4


Brad covers the proper way to perform an upstroke.

Length: 4:16 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Alternate PickingLesson 5

Alternate Picking

Brad Henecke covers alternate picking and how it can speed up your guitar playing.

Length: 5:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Alternate Picking with UpstrokesLesson 6

Alternate Picking with Upstrokes

Brad Henecke presents alternate picking exercises that start with an upstroke.

Length: 3:26 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Sweep PickingLesson 7

Sweep Picking

Brad explains the basics of sweep picking in this fun speed building guitar lesson.

Length: 9:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Economy PickingLesson 8

Economy Picking

Brad explains the basics of a technique called economy picking.

Length: 5:33 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Series ReviewLesson 9

Series Review

Brad provides a brief review of this series. He gives information regarding why technique is so important.

Length: 2:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
String SkippingLesson 10

String Skipping

Brad covers proper string skipping technique and gives you some exercises that will speed up your playing.

Length: 8:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Hammer-on / Pull-offLesson 11

Hammer-on / Pull-off

This lesson is all about improving speed by applying hammer-ons and pull-offs. Learn some exercises that sound great and boost speed.

Length: 11:27 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Hammer-On LickLesson 12

Hammer-On Lick

Brad Henecke demonstrates a speed building lick that makes heavy use of hammer-ons.

Length: 0:00 Difficulty: 0.0 Members Only
Brad Henecke

About Brad Henecke View Full Biography Brad Henecke was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 5th of 1963. He has been a fan of music for as long as he & his family can remember. You could always find him running around the farm wailing on his cardboard guitar, pretending to be a member of the rock band KISS. Additional inspiration came during his first concert when he got the chance to see Boston & Sammy Hagar in the early 1970's.

This opened up a whole new world of rock and roll music for him; his parents noticed his growing interest in music and enrolled him into guitar lessons when he was 13.

From there he jumped into two years of lessons at a local music store in Cedar Rapids. After discovering Eddie Van Halen, Brad knew that the guitar would always be a part of his life. He took his love throughout the city as he played as a pit musician & jammed at parties for friends.

This made him thirsty for more. He enrolled classes at Kirkwood Community College & also took lessons from the one & only Craig-Erickson (www.craig-erickson.com).

His love for music landed him a gig opening for Molly Hatchet in Cedar Rapids with a band called "Slap & Tickle". He has also played in the Greeley Stampede show for quite a few years with "True North".

Brad is currently playing in Greeley, Colorado with a rock band titled "Ragged Doll". They play a wide variety of music with an emphasis on classic rock from the 60's to present, with Brad playing electric guitar in the five piece lineup.

He currently jams on his all-time favorite guitar: a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24. Beyond guitar, he plays also plays drums & bass guitar. He has also been known to thrash a banjo from time to time. He is still actively playing & passing his 31 years of playing experience on to others (you!).

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