by Mike Lindyn
Sweep-picking is not something I work with that much anymore but I spent many hours doing so back in the late 80’s early 90’s. I’ve got a bunch of requests for a sweep-picking lesson so here goes.
Well, what can I say about sweep-picking that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? I guess I’ll start with the basics, but I also have a little insight that might help some of you out even more.
The Basic Mechanics
The basic idea behind sweep-picking is this. You play a series of notes up or down a given amount of strings (all these examples will use 6 strings). People often refer to this as arpeggios, this is only true if you are picking out the notes of a chord, but that’s ok. Each string is hit with your pick in the direction of the harmonic movement. For example look at example #1 below, we start on the low E string and use all down strokes until we hit the high E string. Then we use up strokes to hit the B through E strings. Try and make this sound as smooth as possible hit each note clearly and don’t let any of the notes ring. In the audio example I don’t mute the strings with my left hand, but this can be done too. DON”T HOLD DOWN THE NOTES, THIS IS NOT A CHORD.
My Own Insight
When I’m teaching someone I always tell him or her to start slow and work his or her way up to speed. Sweep-picking might be an exception though.
When I started practicing this technique I worked at it for hours upon hours and couldn’t get it. I was always worried about what my left hand was doing and getting the “notes down”. I knew what my left hand was supposed to do well enough but there was something holding me back. Then one day I just “Let Go”, I was pretending to sweep as fast as Vai or something and I was only thinking about my right hand. I wasn’t really trying to play anything but I did the same fingering as example #1 below, and it worked. It was really sloppy but it was there so I did the same thing again and again until it was smooth.
Now that I think about it, what I was doing was, keeping my mind on my picking hand and making sure that was smooth. I didn’t worry about my left hand and that kind of forced the left hand to keep up. Within three or four weeks after this I was able to sweep just about anything.
About The Examples
Each of the examples below are a series of note in the key of G. These are very simple fingering and are great for people just starting out with this stuff.
Don’t use sweep-picking exclusively, it is a cool tool, but make sure to work on alternate picking just as much, if not more, than sweep-picking. In the long run you are better off knowing alternate picking than sweep-picking. But like I said sweeping can be really, really cool and a lot of fun too.