Learning sweep picking fast

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More distance means less speed

The more distance there is between the notes you play, the harder it becomes to play them using conventional picking techniques. Picking the notes of an arpeggio, using alternate picking, and doing it fast, can be quite a challenge. This didn't keep me from trying back when I was learning the secrets of shredding. I was an alternate picking fanatic and if you used any other technique to produce the notes - you where cheating! - from my limited perspective that is. I developed this alternate picking religion from studying guys like Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin, and it sure as heck didn't help much when Paul Gilbert entered the stage.(He is still to this date the undefeated alternate picking master in my experience) So when I was first shown how to sweep pick, it took a while before I acknowledged the fact that, sweep picking is a vastly superior technique in some cases.

Impressive results fast

If you're into economy picking you're already sweep picking. The "sweep" is really going from one string to another in one down- or upward movement. Sometimes it's hard to tell when economy picking ends and sweep picking begins, but I'll come back to that in a later article. In this series of articles I'm going to give you the best advice I have on how to learn sweep picking in the fastest and most efficient way possible, but I have to warn you: This technique is not one of the hardest one there is, so you might get some pretty darn impressive results pretty darn fast.

I'm also going to show you how I integrate this technique with other techniques like economy picking and alternate picking and I'll give you some licks that will show you, how you can use all three techniques to produce a free flowing high speed improvisation.

The king of arpeggios

Now let's get the basics in place. As you probably already know, sweeep picking is mostly used to play arpeggio patterns that have one or max two notes on each string like this popular A-Minor arpeggio:

It's obvious how sweeping from one string to another would be the fastest and easiest way to play these notes. But while sweep picking is great for going up or down an arpeggio pattern, it has it's limitations when it comes to playing the notes in a different and more complex order. As long as you play from the low A to the high A, sweep picking is your friend, but it doesn't work that well for sequencing arpeggios but I'll get back to that as well. For now, let's agree that sweep picking is ideal for this sort of job and that it's also a very manageable skill to develop.

Sweeping is strumming

So let's begin. the first key thing to understand is that when you sweep pick the above arpeggio, you do it with only one down- or upward motion. You're not picking the strings with several down or upstrokes, you're "strumming" the strings in a controlled manner, following your fretting hand accurately. You can see exactly what I mean in today's video. So what you need to learn is to create an even flow of notes with your right hand. Your brain has to connect the speed of your picking hand motion, with how many notes it produces. And the key to teaching it this, is the same as for all other picking techniques: Accentuation's.

When you focus on accenting a few key notes, you make the job much easier on your brain. So your first and primary point of synchronisation is the first note in the arpeggio and the second point is the last note on the high E-string. Focus on getting these two exactly right and perform the in-between-motion as even as you possibly can. So don't focus on every single note. Focus on how even your movement is.Then make sure that you're hitting that first and last note at exactly the right time every time.

Sweep Picking Arpeggio Exercise

I've included the fingering for this one. Notice how you have to make a bar with your third finger in order to play those two notes.

Get comfortable with this arpeggio and the fingering of it, then start your metronome and have it click a the first and last note. Then start playing while focusing on performing one even downward motion and one even upward motion. Don't stop if your right and left hand get out of sync, keep focusing on hitting the first and the last note perfectly. As long as you get those two notes right, the rest will follow if you keep at it. If this seems very difficult, do only the downward sweep, then wait for the next click and repeat the motion. When this get's boring, do the upward motion. (See the video)

“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”

B. B. King

From slow to fast directly

You can practice doing this very slowly 10.000 times and then be able to play it at an incredible speed right after that. This is not like alternate or economy picking: Spend a lot of time sweeping slowly and evenly, then shift to see how fast you can play the arpeggio without loosing too much accuracy. Of course you can use the metronome game to nail this technique also, but the magical thing about sweep picking is that you don't have to progress one step at a time; you can practice it slowly and accurately and then check to see how fast you've become, then return to playing it slowly again and so on. More on the wonders of sweep picking in my next article.