Everyone knows that sweep picking is a super advanced and difficult guitar technique, right? Recent studies have shown surprising results – results that are turning those old beliefs on their head. As a matter of fact, the difficulty level of sweep picking in general may be nothing but an illusion. Sure, there are always going to be varying degrees of difficulty with any given technique, but the ability to learn and execute some clean and killer sweep patterns is a lot closer to the average guitarist than you might think, according to a 2015 guitar science journal. After years of double-blind scientific studies, the final consensus is that the root of sweep picking is nothing more than a trick that allows the player to play a sequence of notes faster than seems is humanly possible without doing anything more than combining some very basic techniques. That is the illusion.
Okay, so maybe I’m making up the part about the double-blind scientific studies and guitar science journals (it did sound pretty cool though, didn’t it?) but the rest is basically true.
“What is sweep picking, really? You have a very simple picking hand technique that amounts to nothing more than strumming the strings, which any guitarist can do, and you have some fast moving fingers on the fretting hand.”
The secret ingredients are found in the movement of the fretting hand fingers and the synchronization of the two hands. Now, at this point I probably don’t even need to talk about how to get the synchronization part down (here’s a hint: metronome) but the other part may require some illumination.
So let’s talk about those fast moving fretting hand fingers- and let me warn you that we are going to get into the absolute fundamentals here. What are they doing that is so special? Well, before we answer that question, let me ask another: what’s the difference between a sweep arpeggio and a standard strummed chord?
Really think about this for a moment…
Both use strumming techniques and both are used to play chords. The main difference is that in an arpeggio, the notes of the chord are played in a linear sequence or melody; in a standard chord the notes are being played simultaneously or in harmony. The key to executing an excellent sweep pattern is to get it so that only one note rings out at a time. This is where those fast moving fretting hand fingers come in.
As you ‘strum’ or ‘sweep’ down the strings with the picking hand, you remove each finger from the string after it’s been played. You don’t have to remove it by much; in fact it’s better to simply release pressure on it than to remove it completely. This assists in muting the unplayed strings which, in turn, helps to get that clear linear ‘melody’ to appear; it also helps with the overall speed of the pattern. In addition, when sweeping downward you can use the edge of your picking hand’s palm to mute the lower strings that have already been played or aren’t being used in the pattern.
Walk Before You Run!
Don’t worry too much about lightning fast, 10-string, 38-finger, 5-position sweep patterns for now. In fact, sweep picking doesn’t even have to be fast. There, I said it. Sweep picking can, and occasionally should, be used for slower patterns and to great effect. You can also start with simple 3-string major and minor patterns which will serve all your purposes, save for extravagance and excess – we can get to those necessities later. Once you’re comfortable with the very simple and easy 3-string patterns, why not add a 4th string? That’s one of those ‘rinse and repeat’ sort of deals. Before you know it, you’ll be easily playing 5 and 6-string patterns at blistering speeds.
Sweep Picking Made Easy – Free Guitar Lesson
There might not be any actual scientific studies for me to refer to here, but I give my word that all of this is true. If that’s not good enough, why not do your own study? I’ve included some exercises from my instructional program Sweep Pick Mechanics that should really drive this stuff home. If you take the time to go through these exercises and you find that they actually require some type of superhuman ability to get through, you know where to direct your complaints.
Shred on friends,