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A Closer Look At Sweep-Picking


Hello there,

Weird, huh? I have written an "introduction" to sweep-picking before (actually, one of the first articles I ever wrote for ibreathe, and that was an updated version of the one I wrote for Guitar4U, back in '99)

But I have seen quite a few posts with questions regarding the basics of sweep-picking in the forums, and maybe it's time to take another, closer look at the basics of this technique. I guess I went through the whole topic too quickly in my other sweep-article. So, this one could be considered a "preface" to the other one. This time, I will take you by the hand and guide you through the very basics. Let's jump right in, ok?!?

The right hand

One of the toughest things for a player who wants to get into the technique is the actual motion of the right hand. Because either, it's too fast (kind of like a strum, which should be avoided), or too slow (kind of like picking each string on it's own, which results in some dragging sound, and should be avoided, too).

What you actually have to do is to consider the right hand sweep a continuous, big picking-motion. Read that again. ONE MOTION. If you i.e. wanna do a sweep on the top three strings, you pick the G-string, and then, without hesitating or resting, move on to the B-string etc. Let the pick "fall" from one string to the next. You can practise doing that by muting the strings with your left hand or some kind of cloth, and just do that right hand-motion. Check out this TAB:

That would be the right hand-sweep on the upper four strings. Here's how that looks for three strings:

Use a metronome, and make sure that all of these notes are in time. Most beginners tend to rush in between, or drag... which results in an uneven timing of the 3 or 4 notes. That should be avoided, so use a metronome and really make sure all those "percussive" notes are in time. And this is important for all the other licks I am gonna show you in this article, as well!

Now, before we get to the left hand and the synchronisation of both hands, let me give you some advice on how to approach this technique, how to practise it and eventually get it up to speed.

When I first heard about sweeping, and first tried it, I tried to immediately go for some big 6 string-sweep with hammer on's and everything. Not surprisingly, it did not work. It sounded sloppy, more like a slow, awkward strum. That was because I was trying to skip all the important steps and wasn't familiar with the basic technique yet.

Later, I tried those small 3 string-sweeps just to get into the technique, but it wasn't until I went to the GIT that I really got into sweeping and was able to break it down and learn it step by step. And that process is what this article is about. We're gonna break down some basic sweep-exercises into small segments or steps, work on these little steps separately, and later connect them so that we get the full exercises. Once you can nail those, and once you are able to come up with a few licks and sweeps on your own, you should take another look at my other sweep-article for more advanced exercises.
OK, here we go

The left hand >>