An Introduction To Sweep-Picking V 2.0
(06 Apr 02)
This is an updated version of my older article about sweep picking that I wrote for Guitar4u in 1999. Three years have passed, and through teaching a lot I came up with some new approaches to and exercises for this technique. Also I got a lot of Email regarding that article, and I would like to include some new stuff to thereby answer some of the questions from those Emails...
So here we go, the updated version...
Sweep-picking is a technique that has been around for a while. It originally came from jazz-guitar, but rock-guitarists quickly picked up the technique and included it into the standard vocabulary of the rock guitar. Frank Gambale was one of the most important innovators of the technique, but there are a bunch of other players who use it to create great solos and licks and some breathtaking lead-parts. Check out Jason Becker´s soloing on "Perpetual Burn", Andy Timmons parts on the second Danger Danger Album "Screw It !", Yngwie Malmsteens soloing on many of his solo-releases, Steve Vai´s solo at the end of the live version of "Answers" on the G3-live album, Tony MacAlpine´s earlier recordings...
What is Sweep-picking?
OK, Sweep-picking is a technique that was developed to make some aspects of playing the guitar more economical. The easiest example would be to use one consecutive picking-direction when playing on two adjacent strings. Take for example a passage where you play 3 notes on one string, and then 3 notes on the next, adjacent string. Start with a downstroke, play the second note with an upstroke, then another downstroke. Now it´s time to switch to the next string... if you´d use all alternate picking, you´d play the first note on that string with an upstroke. But, since we used a downstroke for the last note, let´s continue with another downstroke, so you´re playing both strings with a downstroke. Sounds a bit complicated, so let´s take a look at a musical example:
As you can see, you go d-u-d-d-u-d-d-u-d etc. If you wanna go the other way, you of course have to start with an upstroke... so you go u-d-u-u-d-u etc. This you can see in the second bar, example 2.
This approach is also know as "economy picking" and is a cool way to speed up your three-note-per-string runs. But be aware: You should have a decent alternate picking technique before getting into this too much. A good sweeping-technique can only be developed if there is a decent base, a proper and accurate alternate picking technique. You should be able to do both the strict alternate picking (d-u-d-u-d-u etc.) and the economy picking (see above) before you should get into more sweep picking.
One other thing I would like to point out: Steve Morse once said that sweep-picking is rhythmically not as precise as strict alternate picking. He compared sweeping to Jerry Lee Lewis moving both his hands all over the keys of his piano. Steve has developed his alternate picking to a point where he is able to execute lightning-fast arpeggios that other players only can execute with alternate picking. So why don´t you try both approaches? And make sure you use a metronome and build up speed gradually, always making sure that all the notes are perfectly in time!!!