Guitar, Lessons — October 15, 2011 11:12 pm

Introduction to Sweep Picking

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Sweeping is a very popular approach to guitar picking technique. To understand it better, it is helpful to compare and contrast sweep picking with alternate picking. The basic pattern of alternate picking is: downstroke, upstroke, downstroke, upstroke. After each new note is articulated, the direction of the pick is reversed.

Sweep picking allows for two or more notes on adjacent strings to be articulated by a single downstroke or upstroke. The most obvious examples of this technique are double octave arpeggios crossing five or six strings, but this lesson will focus on applying this technique to single octave arpeggios on your three thinnest strings.

Begin by muting your strings with your left hand. Pick the G string, B string and high E string with a single downstroke. Let each note sound individually. This should not sound like a strummed chord. If it does, you are moving too fast or letting the notes sustain. Reverse direction and pick the high E, B and G strings with a single upstroke. This full pattern creates six picking articulations via two pick strokes.

Incorporate your left hand by fretting your G string, 12th fret with your ring finger when you begin your right hand downstroke. Follow with the B string, 11th fret with your middle finger and complete your downstroke with the high E string, 10th fret using your index finger. Reverse this pattern with an upstroke on the high E at the 12th fret, the B string at the 11th fret and the G string at the 10th. This pattern creates a G minor 13 arpeggio.

Next begin experimenting with stretching your index finger or substituting your pinky for your ring finger to reach new notes while playing this pattern to create new arpeggios and inversions. If we replace the ring finger with the pinky and reach one fret higher at the top of this pattern, we get a G minor 7 arpeggio. Here is example 1:

Substituting your pinky for your ring finger and stretching your index finger on the high E yields an arpeggio in a new inversion. In this case, we have a C minor 7 arpeggio. Here is example 2:

Returning to the original ring-middle-pointer configuration, while stretching the index finger yields a diminished arpeggio. Diminished arpeggios are symmetrical structures that invert themselves every three frets. Here is example 3:


Try combining examples 1, 2 and 3 for a classic cadence in G minor. Experiment with this technique in your music and discover your own applications of sweep picking.

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