How to Sweep Pick Fluently On Your Guitar

Hello all, and welcome to the third and final instalment in this mini series on how I like to use sweep picking in my playing. Last article we ramped up the difficulty by looking at complex sweep picking patterns over all 6 strings and moving around the neck to cover a huge range of sound. If you spent some time with those, you’ll have a few ideas in the style of Jason Becker and Synyster Gates with only a beginner acoustic guitar, but the sweep picking technique reaches much further than the outrageous neoclassical influence, so today we’ll conclude our research by looking at some of the more modern sounding licks we can apply the techniques too.

Our first lick revolves around the seamless integration of the sweep picking technique with alternate picking technique. This is considerably less common than you might think because many guitarists tend to have a slightly different hand position for sweep picking than for alternate picking, so mixing the two together is a relatively unused sound. That being said, you’ll hear it in the playing of players like Michael Romeo of Symphony X and Tony MacAlpine. The basic idea of this exercise involves sweep picking up a 5 string arpeggio (E minor), once we get to the top we switch perspective by alternate picking down a 3 note per string scale before preparing to move up a new arpeggio (D major) and continue the whole idea starting in a new place. After doing this across 3 arpeggios we move up a 3 note per string sequence before ending on an aggressive bend making this a real lick.

As I said previously, many players struggle with this because of minor changes in technique when executing each idea. I would urge you to take this lick back to the slowest tempo you can put up with and be completely honest with yourself about your technique, making sure that you’re relaxed and in control when moving between techniques. If there’s even the smallest difference between the two you’re going to really struggle to get this one up to speed.

Read more: Mick Ronson: Sideman and Starman

Lick 2 is a lot more modern sounding, rather than descending and ascending over and over were going to mix things up with string skipping and position shifts. The basic arpeggio we do use could be seen as a Steve Vai or Mattias Eklundh and can be seen in the first 7 notes in the tab. This descending suspended arpeggio is very modern sounding and sounds great in lots of places on the neck, so I decided to write a long lick which highlights this fact.

The last lick is all out speed, again played over a suspended arpeggio. This is less about rhythm, or even the notes in my opinion, instead it’s the effect of the speed used.

This will be the yardstick for your sweep picking technique because all you need to do is play this fast and it’s going to sound great, obviously you’re going to need to have absolute command of the technique before that though, so take it slow and go over these lessons as often as you can. If you want to hear some more examples of crazy licks like this, check out players like Shane Gibson and Tosin Abasi.


It’s worth mentioning that my fellow GI contributor, Rick Graham, is also covering sweep picking at the moment and he also has some great secrets to pass on, so I would definitely recommend checking his stuff out to help you on your journey. Aside from that, as always I’d recommend you start using this technique in your own music as soon as possible, there’s no faster way to get this stuff in shape than to be out there making music with friends!

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at this technique, next month we’ll move onto taking a look at the diminished tonality and the harmonic minor scale, so until then, keep rocking.

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