Sweep Picking Technique
This is going to be a really fun lesson because you are going to be learning the basics of a technique called sweep picking. A simple definition of sweep picking would be playing any two or more adjacent strings one right after the other using all downstrokes when going down or using all up strokes going up. Most guitar players usually associate sweep picking with arpeggios. We won’t focus on learning any arpeggio shapes in this lesson, but we will focus on learning the basic right and left hand techniques that you will need to develop in order to start sweep picking.
Let’s start off with a simple exercise that uses only the 1st and 2nd strings. Put your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 2nd string and play that note with a downstroke. Now rock your 1st finger over to the 5th fret of 1st string and let off of the pressure on the 2nd string. Continue the downstroke that you just played the 2nd string with through the 1st string. Your pick should be angled a bit with the tip toward the ceiling and you should kind of push through both the 1st and 2nd strings with one smooth motion. You should only have one note ringing out at any given time. Start on the 2nd string again and play these two notes with one downstroke over and over again until you get used to this motion.
Now we need to use an upstroke motion to come back up the 1st and 2nd strings. Put your 1st finger on the 5th fret of the 1st string and play that note with an upstroke. Rock your 1st finger over to the 2nd string on the 5th fret and continue the upstroke through the 2nd string. When you are coming back up using sweep picking you might want to angle your pick to where it is pointing downward toward the floor a bit. This will help the pick slide through the strings easier. Practice your sweeping up and down on these two strings until you get the hang of it.
Once you can sweep on two strings we can throw in a third string. Start by playing the 5th fret of the 3rd string with the very tip of your 1st finger using a downstroke. Rock your 1st finger over to the 5th fret of the 2nd string and continue the downstroke. Your 1st finger should let off of the pressure on the 3rd string and kind of collapse into a bar that will cover the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings. Rock your 1st finger over to the 5th fret of the 1st string and continue the downward sweeping motion with your pick into that string. Now come back up through all three strings with an upward sweep picking motion. Remember, only one note should be ringing out at any given time.
Time to throw in the 4th string. Start on the 7th fret of the 4th string with your 3rd finger using a downstroke. Now continue your sweep picking through the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings. You should let up off of the 4th string with your 3rd finger as soon as you move to the 3rd string with your 1st finger. Once you finish your downward sweep picking come back up through the strings using an upward sweep picking motion. Work on this slowly until your sweep picking is clean, even, and only one note is ringing out at any given time.
If you are having a hard time with your picking hand you can work on just that hand. Mute the strings with your fretting hand and sweeping the strings with your picking hand. This will free you from thinking about where to put your fingers on the fretboard and help you to concentrate on the actual sweep picking technique. Sweep picking can be very difficult and different feeling than alternate picking. Be patient and allow yourself some time to get this technique down. Remember start out slowly and use a metronome if possible.