Sweep Picking Basics

In this video guitar lesson I’m going to explain a guitar technique called sweep picking. Sweep picking allows you to play a flurry of notes at a speed that would be very difficult to match using just alternate picking.

Guitar Sweep Picking Basics

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The basic idea of sweep picking is that you are going to play 2 or more notes on adjacent strings using the same picking direction for all of the notes.

A lot of times when the technique of sweep picking is talked about, it’s in the context of shedding metal guitar. Guitar players like John Petrucci from Dream Theater, or Yngwie Malmsteen playing lightning speed sweep picking arpeggios. But that’s only part of what can be done with sweep picking.

This guitar technique can be used in a much more subtle manner for some great effects. And can be used in Blues, Jazz, and other styles of music. So let’s look at some sweep picking basics.

The Sweep in “Sweep Picking”

Basic Down Guitar Sweep Picking

Here is one of the most basic sweep picking ideas. You are going to play an arpeggio on the guitar (the notes of a chord played one at a time) on 3 adjacent strings. This example is a Dm arpeggio on the top 3 strings. When sweep picking, you don’t want to lift up your pick for each individual note. You want to just let your pick glide (sweep) across the surface of the strings.

It’s similar to the motion for strumming, but you will articulate each note rather that just hear all of the notes together as one chord. You also will not want to hold all of your fingers down as if you were playing a chord.

Down Pick = Down Pick

Basic Down Sweep Picking

Basic Up Guitar Sweep Picking

Here you are just reversing the direction and sweep picking up on all of these notes.

Up Pick = Up Pick

Basic Up Sweep Picking

Down and Up Sweep Pick

Here you are sweep picking down, then up. The trick is to keep a steady rhythm for all of the notes.

Sweep Picking Down and Up

Sweep Picking with Hammer-ons and Pull-offs

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Sometimes when you want to play 2 notes on a string when using the sweep picking technique, you will use a slur for the 2nd note. In this next example, you are going to add a hammer-on into the arpeggio on the 1st string.

Sweep Picking Hammer-On

In this example you are going to add a pull off to the basic sweep picking arpeggio on the 1st string.

Sweep Picking Pull-Off

More Sweep Picking Ideas

Here you are combining a sweep pick up with a hammer-on, pull-off, and a sweep pick back down the arpeggio. This creates a nice fast sounding guitar lick that’s not too hard once you get the hang of it.

Sweep Picking Guitar Lick #1

Once you learn the basic finger movements in the guitar lick above, try applying the same idea to other strings using various arpeggio and scale choices. Below are a couple of examples of how this could be applied to other strings and combinations of notes.

Sweep Picking Guitar Lick #2

Sweep Picking Guitar Lick #3


Sweep picking on 2 Strings

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A sweep pick can be played on as little as 2 strings. Here is a blues sweep picking guitar lick that does just that.

2 String Sweep Picking Lick


5 String Sweep Picking Arpeggios

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While there are many different types sweep picking arpeggios, here are 2 very basic major and minor arpeggios the lend themselves well to sweep picking. The first note on the 5th string is the root of these arpeggios (A in this case). Practice playing these in different places on the neck of the guitar.

Sweep Picking Major Arpeggio

Sweep Picking Major Arpeggio

Sweep Picking Minor Arpeggio

Sweep Picking Minor Arpeggio

There are a lot of things you can do with the sweep picking technique. This was just meant to be a beginner sweep picking lesson. Something to get you started and give you the basics of this guitar technique. A similar guitar technique that you might also take a look at is a guitar rake.