Sweep picking is an incredible technical tool and an essential lead guitar technique.
Learning this technique will give you technical freedom, and allow you to play high-speed arpeggios, licks, and riffs.
Let’s dive in and learn everything you need to know about sweeping!
Table of Contents
What is sweep picking?
Sweep picking is moving from 1 string to the next string using one single pick motion. This means you are following the economy of motion with your picking hand. This type of motion is often referred to as a “sweeping motion”.
When you use a downstroke, you’ll move to the string beneath with a downstroke.
When you use an upstroke, you’ll move to the string above using an upstroke.
Sweeping only works when you are playing 1-note-per-string. When you are instead using multiple-notes-per-string, but still moving from string to string with the same motion, it’s called economy picking.
Sweep Picking Video Lesson and Tutorial
How do I start sweep picking?
You start sweep picking by learning basic sweep motions and some sweeping shapes. You’ll learn these below.
As a general rule you’ll play sweeps one note at a time, rather than letting the notes ring together. This gives you an arpeggiated sound rather than a harmonized sound.
For reference: D=Down U=Up PO=Pull-off HO=Hammer-on
Sweeping downward and upward
This is a 3-string E minor shape.
For the first set of 3 notes, pick them all using downstrokes: D-D-D.
For the second set of 3 notes, pick them all using upstrokes: U-U-U
Use your ring(9), middle(8), and index(7) fingers. The parentheses represent the fret numbers.
Combining downward and upward
This is a combined group of 6 notes, resulting in an Emin7 arpeggio. As shown below, you repeat the 6-note phrase twice. You can repeat it as many times as you want, though.
The first 3 notes will be played using downstrokes: D-D-D
The last 3 notes will be played as Up, Pull-off, Up: U-PO-U
Memorizing these 6-steps is vital to learning sweep picking as a whole.
You’ll use your ring, middle, and index fingers to play the first 3 notes.
You’ll use your pinky, index, and middle fingers to play the last 3 notes.
2 string sweep
This is a 2 string major sweep using a C major arpeggio. You’ll repeat the arpeggio twice.
It’s only 3 notes, and you’ll play them using Down, Down, Up: D-D-U
Use your middle, index, and pinky fingers to play it.
This is another C Major arpeggio sweep, this time moving in octaves across sets of 2 strings.
When ascending you’ll use the same fingering and pick strokes from the previous lick.
When you get to the high E, you’ll pull-off to fret 12 and use an upstroke to play fret 13 on the B string.
E major chord sweep using the A shape
This is an E major arpeggio based on the A CAGED shape, which means your open A chord.
For the first 2 notes use pick, hammer-on: P-HO. Play these notes using your index and pinky fingers.
Pick the next 4 notes with downstrokes: D-D-D-D. The first 3 of these notes are played as a barre with your middle finger, and the last note is played with your index finger.
When you get to the high E string, pick Up on 12 and Pull-off to fret 7: U-PO. Use your pinky and index fingers to play them.
Descend the last 4 notes using upstrokes: U-U-U-U. This is done using your middle finger as a bar, and playing the last note with your pinky.
Sweep picking exercises PDF / Tabs
Here is the downloadable PDF.
Here are the sweeping exercises tabbed out in a PNG.
How do you practice sweep picking?
You’ll want to practice sweep picking on a clean tone. This way you can hear each note to make sure they’re ringing out clearly.
As for shapes themselves, I suggest learning arpeggios. Understanding arpeggios as a whole will give you an infinite number of sweep shapes to practice.
Lastly, learn Neoclassical metal songs. These songs are oftentimes jam-packed with epic sweeps.
Understanding sweep picking
Is Sweep picking hard?
As a whole sweep picking is not hard. It will be easy for you as long as you’re using the right picking hand movements.
Can a beginner learn sweep picking?
A beginner can learn sweep picking, and so can any guitarist at any level of playing.
As a general rule, it is best to learn sweep picking after you have a good grasp of common left and right-hand techniques, though.
How long does it take to learn sweep picking?
On average it takes 30-60 days to learn the basics of sweep picking. This is from my experience teaching for over 5 years.
However, it’s hard to say, because results depend on your quality of practice.
If you’re great at following directions, and already have a good grasp of other guitar techniques, you could learn sweep picking basics in as little as a day.
Sweep technique summary
To summarize, sweep picking is a motion that allows you to move from one string to the adjacent string with one pick stroke rather than alternate picking.
You’ll want to practice using a wide variety of licks and arpeggios so you’ll be ready for any sweep shape that gets thrown at you.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!