Why Fast Sweep Picking Is A Lot Easier Than It Looks And How Knowing This Massively Improves Your Entire Guitar Playing
by Tom Hess
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Many guitar players struggle to sweep pick cleanly and fast.
But for some guitarists, sweep picking is the easiest technique to play on guitar.
What’s their secret?
I'll give you a hint:
It’s not natural talent.
It’s also not practicing guitar for 8 hours per day.
The answer is:
…knowing exactly what to focus on when you practice sweep picking.
That's it - that's the whole secret.
(Practicing a lot also helps, but only when you know what to do, understand how to do it and then actually do it.)
You too can learn to sweep pick fast & clean, even if you’ve struggled to do so in the past and even if you are just getting started with arpeggios.
It’s not as hard as you might think.
Watch this video to see how quickly your sweep picking improves when you practice it the right way:
Now, here is something very interesting...
Look at this sweep picking pattern:
There are a lot of notes here and this arpeggio might seem difficult to play fast...
...but it’s actually much, much easier than it appears.
Here is why:
Reason #1. Your Picking Hand Doesn't Have To Move Fast.
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Sounds hard to believe, I know.
However, compare sweep picking motions with:
- Tremolo picking (picking 1 note really fast)
- String skipping (where your pick jumps over 1 or more strings)
- Playing a regular scale
- Playing fast rhythm guitar riffs (with all downstrokes)
...and you’ll see that your pick moves a lot more (and a lot faster) to play these techniques compared to sweep picking.
And check this out:
To play all 12 notes of this arpeggio… your pick only makes 2 motions.
Sweep picking motions are simple to learn, but not always easy to master. Download this free sweep picking eGuide to learn 5 things that help you play all the hard & fast sweep picking licks you want.
Reason #2. Your Fretting Hand Fingers Have Very Little Work To Do
Remember our little arpeggio?
Look at its fingering:
The middle finger plays just one note on the 10th fret of the second string.
The ring finger also only plays one note (on the 11th fret of the fourth string).
The pinkie plays two notes:
- One on the 12th fret of the fifth string
- Another note on the 12th fret of the high E string.
Your pinkie finger has a lot of time to move from its first note to its second note in the arpeggio. This means it doesn't have to move fast.
The index finger plays three notes total:
- One note on the 7th fret of the fifth string
- Another note on the 9th fret of the third string
- And another note on the 9th fret of the first string.
Just like the pinkie finger, the index also has a long time between the notes it needs to play. This makes your index finger’s job a lot easier.
You see how simple the motions are?
Watch this video to see how these concepts make arpeggios very easy to play:
In comparison, a simple 2-note trill requires much more work (and faster motions) for your fretting hand than sweep picking does.
Question: “But Tom Hess, if sweep picking is so simple, why do so many guitarists struggle to sweep pick fast and clean???!”
Answer: Great question!
Most guitarists think that to sweep pick fast, their hands need to move fast.
In other words:
They try to move their hands as fast as possible… and don’t practice the real elements of sweep picking technique. That is why fast & clean sweep picking is hard for them.
What are the elements of flawless sweep picking technique?
I'm glad you asked. :)
Here they are:
Sweep Picking Element #1: Fretting And Picking Hand Biomechanics
Speed is a byproduct of efficiency.
Your pick and fretting hand fingers shouldn’t move any more than they absolutely have to.
So, how do you train this skill?
Simple - practice each hand’s motions in isolation without using the other hand at all.
Spend 5 minutes repeating the motions of some arpeggio with the fretting hand only.
(Do NOT use the picking hand when doing this step.)
Then spend another 5 minutes only practicing the picking hand motion (while muting the strings with the fretting hand).
Sweep Picking Element #2: Two-Hand Synchronization
Synchronization is the glue that holds your hands together when you play guitar.
When you lack synchronization, one hand often moves a bit slower or faster than the other.
This makes your sweep picking very sloppy.
Here are a few simple ways to get your hands in sync:
- Increase your picking hand articulation.
This means to make the notes louder. The more powerful your articulation – the tighter your synchronization becomes. You cannot articulate the notes clearly if your hands are not in sync.
- Use a stiff guitar pick (that doesn't flex when you play). If your pick flexes while playing, it needs to return to its neutral state before each note.
This delay disrupts your synchronization.
To avoid this, use guitar picks that are at least 1.0 mm thick.
Sweep Picking Element #3: Picking Hand Momentum
What’s the #1 rule of fast sweep picking? It is: NEVER lose the momentum in your picking hand.
This means to move the pick in a smooth, continuous motion from one string to the next.
Or to say it another way:
Push through the strings in one motion when ascending the arpeggio and pull the hand back in one motion when descending the arpeggio.
This is how you reduce the work your picking hand has to do down to two motions.
Sweep Picking Element #4: Fretting Hand Finger Rolling
What is finger rolling?
It means playing 2 or more notes on the same fret on different strings, with the same finger.
Many guitar players struggle to roll their fingers cleanly across strings.
Watch this video to see how to make finger rolling feel easy for you:
You now know what it takes to sweep pick fast and clean. The next step is to apply your technique to playing killer arpeggio guitar licks. Download this free sweep picking eGuide & learn how to create sweep picking licks you’ll be proud to call your own.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Learn to play guitar the way you’ve always wanted from the best online rock guitar teacher.
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