The 3 tools of sweep picking

Scroll down to see tablature

Your arm is the primary tool

If you've read my articles on alternate picking, you know that I recommend moving your arm and hand to fit the string you play - as opposed to letting the hand stay in the same place. Here's a key point to remember: Sweep picking is the only picking technique that is performed by your arm and not your hand! Here's the deal:

Your creator gave you different tools to use for manipulating the world around you. You have a tool that fits every purpose. The arm is good at making big movements but it's not that good at doing detailed work. Your hand is better at that, but your fingers are king when it comes to precision work. Here's how to use these three tools when you sweep pick:

Big even movements

You create the sweep with your arm only. The hand should be in a fixed position while you use your arm to perform the downward or upward movement. No fancy hand movements - Imagine your hand to be made of metal, completely inflexible and attached to your arm like if it was some kind of tool. The sweeping motion is perfect for the arm, because it is able to perform an even and straight motion from one point to another. Your hand is too much of a precision tool to be good at this.

"Besides being a guitar player, I'm a big fan of the guitar. I love that damn instrument"

Steve Vai

A stable base

The only thing your hand does during the actual sweep is provide a stable base for your fingers to hold the pick. And when the sweep is over some amount of alternate picking is required to turn the lick around, this is where your hand comes into play again, as you can clearly see on the video.

Angling the pick

Your fingers are the most advance precision tool on earth. These guys haven't been surpassed in precision and speed by any other biological or man made tool ever. The only thing you do with them, in this case though, is to hold the pick in the right angle. Imagine positioning the pick completely in alignment with the string your picking. (See the video) This is not what you want to do. Instead, push your thumb downwards a bit to angle the pick slightly. This will make it a lot easier to slide over and across the strings when you sweep.

So hold the pick like you would for alternate or economy picking. Then angle it a bit. Make sure that you do not move anything but your arm when you perform the actual sweep. It's a simple, controlled and even movement designed to make it easy for the fretting hand to follow the flow of notes.

Diminished Arpeggio


Today's lick is a diminished triad laid out exactly like the A-Minor triad from yesterday: Two notes on the A-string and Two notes on the high E-string. So your picking hand has to do the same thing as yesterday. Of course I've added a little twist in the end where you play the last four notes before returning home again.

Notice how I had to change the A-Minor scale to an A-Minor harmonic in order to fit the diminished triad within it.

Practice with a decent amount of speed

Keep focusing on the angle of your pick, moving your arm and fixating your hand when you do the sweep. Then perform the sweep at a decent enough speed for your to develop some flow. It's very hard to practice sweep picking at a super slow pace, simply because a sweep is one even motion - and it's very hard to perform one even motion very slowly. It naturally gets very uneven when you do it slow. Just like there's a limit to how slow you can sweep with a broom and do it evenly. At some point the resistance from the floor will mess up your act.

"I started being really proud of the fact that I was gay even though I wasn't"

Kurt Cobain

Synchronisation & accuracy

It's very easy to "fake" sweep picking. And that's alright if it sounds great! But when you are practicing, it's important to work on precision. When you are performing I suggest you do everything to engage your audience. But practice is about getting better and more accurate and I suggest you listen intensely for any lack of synchronisation between your left and right hand. The more times you perform the sweep perfectly at a slow pace (But not too slow) the more likely it is that you will play with precision at higher speed levels.