Sweep picking is a guitar technique that is responsible for some of the fastest lead licks ever played. Sweep picking is accomplished by literally sweeping your pick across the guitar strings to sound notes on adjacent strings. The best way to learn how to sweep pick is by practicing a few useful exercises.
Muted String Sweeps
Practicing muted string sweeps can help get your picking hand accustomed to the sweep picking motion. This is especially important if you are used to using strict alternate picking. Mute the strings by resting your fret hand across them. Do not press them against the neck of your guitar. Sweep the pick across the strings slowly and evenly with a single downstroke. When you hit the high E string, come back across the strings using an upstroke. Practice doing this along with a metronome to keep your timing steady. Once you are comfortable with this picking motion, try sweeping three, four and five strings instead of all six.
Arpeggios are chords in which each note is stuck in sequence instead of all at once. The vast majority of all sweep picking passages are based on arpeggios. Practice playing one-note-per-string major, minor, augment and diminished arpeggios. Use slow sweeping picking while learning these chord shapes. Increase speed as you become comfortable with these arpeggio shapes. Move on to more complex chords, like sixth, seventh and suspended chords once you have mastered these simple arpeggios.
Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs
Many guitarists add hammer-ons and pull-offs to their sweep picking riffs. In most cases, this is either done on the highest or lowest string of the sweep. Practice three-note major and minor sweeps on the highest three strings, hammering-on or pulling-off to a second note on the high E string. Do not pick this note. Then, return to the sweep. Once you are comfortable with this, try adding a hammer-on or a pull-off to the deepest note of this arpeggio. With some practice, you should be able to add hammer-ons and pull-offs without missing a beat.
Once you know several arpeggios and are comfortable with the basic sweep picking motion, you can start experimenting with connecting sweep picked arpeggios. The best way to do this is to work your way up and down a scale. Start by sweeping an A minor arpeggio from the bass note to the high note of the chord, then slide, hammer-on or pull-off to one of the notes in a B diminished chord on the high E string. Then play a B diminished sweep and connect it to a C major chord. Continue this pattern until you reach the chord that is an octave above the one you started on; work your way back down the neck. Try doing this in several different keys. Increase speed as you begin to grasp this technique.
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