Master Sweep Picking

February 7th, 2011

If you have never heard the term sweep picking before then you’re more than likely a beginner guitarist. Today’s lesson is designed for the more advanced player although the guide is also set up as an informative piece to educate those who have never heard the term before.

Sweep picking is considered by most to be a technique that separates the average guitarist from the advanced guitarist. In general, advanced guitarists will use sweep picking to play arpeggios. Traditionally, distortion is needed to master sweep picking although it has been used before with a “clean guitar”. However, when guitarists utilize distortion with sweep picking they will find that arpeggios are generally challenging to master.

Guitarists love sweep picking because it essentially allows individuals to control what notes are ringing throughout the arpeggio. Typically, only one note sounds while the other notes are completely muted. The guitarist can accomplish this feat by either using the palm of their hand to mute the strings they are not playing OR use the thumb of the picking hand to do the same thing.

Mastering the muting technique will take some time. Of the above two methods, neither is the preferred approach. If you want, try muting the strings each way and attempt to decide which one feels more natural. The goal is to listen to how clean the arpeggio sounds when you mute the other strings.

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When guitarists sweep pick each note should have definition and rhythmic placement. Someone who is unfamiliar with this technique will simply strum the pick across the strings and the sound will be very sloppy and out of time. Remember, make sure  each note has definition.

As you practice sweep picking you will more than likely run into some other common problems. Guitarists who are familiar with “finger rolling” may complain about certain issues while others will remark about the pull off at the top of each arpeggio lacking the same dynamic tone as the other notes.

If you run into a lot of issues, Ultimate-Guitar has a really sweet guide dedicated to seven major (and common issues) with sweep picking. Keep in mind the general rule of “slower is better” when first learning and it will not be long before you too are mastering sweep picking!

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