No matter how difficult sweep picking feels for you right now, you are about to learn why this technique is actually MUCH easier than you think. More importantly, once you understand WHY sweep picking is not all that hard, you will be on your way to making ALL your fast guitar playing feel much easier than before.
I’ll prove it to you right now…
Look at the following sweep picking pattern:
(Note: I intentionally did NOT use an arpeggio with finger rolling in this example…you will learn why below.)
At first glance, this sweep picking pattern might seem difficult to play fast, because there are a lot of notes to play, but here is why it looks and sounds much harder than it really is:
The motions you must make with the picking hand don’t require you to move fast at all. Yes, at faster speeds the pick is moving faster than it does at slower speeds, but compared to tremolo picking, string skipping or even playing normal scale sequences, the pick is moving VERY slowly when you sweep pick. In fact, to play all 12 notes of this arpeggio you must make only…TWO movements with your picking hand (you’ll see me demonstrate this in the video below).
None of the individual fingers on the fretting hand have all that much work to do. Here is how it works in the arpeggio above:
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 and another one on the 12th fret of the high E string. Note: what makes the job of the pinkie finger so easy is the fact that it has A LOT of time to move from its first note to its second note in the arpeggio.
- The index finger plays three notes total, one on the 7th fret of the fifth string, one on the 9th fret of the third string and another on the 9th fret of the first string. Note: similar to the pinkie finger, the index also doesn't need to move all that fast, because there is at least 1 other finger fretting ITS notes in between the notes played by the index finger.
- The middle finger plays just one note on the 10th fret of the second string.
In comparison, playing a simple 2-note trill requires INFINITELY more work (and faster motions) for your fretting hand than sweep picking arpeggios does.
Learn how to use these concepts to make it super EASY to learn sweep picking arpeggios that sound advanced, but are really very simple by watching this sweep picking lesson video.
“Wait a minute Tom! If sweep picking is really so easy as you say, why is it that so many guitarists cannot sweep pick fast and clean at all???!”
Great question! There are many reasons why most guitarists do not master sweep picking. The FIRST reason (besides simply “not practicing”) is misunderstanding of what TRULY makes sweep picking challenging. You already saw ironclad proof that this technique is not hard on a physical level, nor does it require each hand to move fast at all. Unfortunately, most guitarists do not realize this simple fact and wrongly put their energy on trying to move their hands faster when sweep picking. This takes their focus far away from where it needs to be to master this technique.
That said, here are the REAL obstacles that prevent most guitarists from playing fast and clean sweep picking arpeggios:
Lack of basic fretting and picking hand coordination - Although neither hand has much work to do when you sweep pick, few guitarists take the time to correctly train each hand to perform its respective job (either fretting the notes or picking the strings). To solve this issue, spend more time practicing each hand’s motions in isolation without the other hand. For example, spend 5 minutes per day practicing the movements of the fretting hand in each arpeggio you play (do NOT use the picking hand when doing this - simply fret the notes with the fretting hand ONLY). Also spend 5 minutes repeatedly training the picking motion only (without using your fretting hand at all).
Lack of 2 hand synchronization - In addition to practicing the technique of each hand separately, you must also train both hands to fret and pick notes TOGETHER. When you haven’t mastered this technical element of sweep picking, one hand will often move a bit slower or faster than the other (causing your fast playing to sound very sloppy). This problem can easily be solved by isolating the parts of the arpeggio that you struggle with and turning them into individual exercises (learn how to do it in this article about playing cleaner sweep picking arpeggios).
Stopping the momentum of the picking hand – One of the most common ways guitarists fail at sweep picking is by stopping the sweeping motion of their pick in order to pick each string individually. To sweep pick clean and fast, you must NEVER break up the momentum in your picking hand. Instead, you must continue moving in a smooth, continuous motion from one string to the next. This is the only way you can reduce the work your picking hand has to do when sweep picking down to only “two” motions. THIS is true economy of motion and is one of the reasons why I teach directional picking to my students (to help them master fast guitar playing MUCH easier).
Watch the video at the link above to see a thorough demonstration of this concept.
Sloppy finger rolling motion in the fretting hand - I intentionally left out “finger rolling” element from all examples so far, to stay focused on the basic picking and fretting hand motions that make up the biggest part of what makes fast sweep picking possible. That said, lack of mastery over fretting hand finger rolling is another reason why most guitarists can’t play arpeggios cleanly. Good news: this motion is also NOT all that hard once you understand how to do it correctly. Watch this video to learn how to correctly practice finger rolling for sweep picking.
What can you do to apply this to the rest of your guitar playing?
The above realizations are incredibly liberating and should make you feel empowered to not simply sweep pick arpeggios fast, but to make ALL fast guitar playing much easier than ever before. Here is how to apply these concepts to the rest of your guitar playing:
Stop thinking in terms of “moving your hands fast” to build guitar speed. Instead, focus on improving efficiency of the motions you make in your picking and fretting hands. Here is an example of how this concept can be applied to increasing tremolo picking speed.
Learn to “separate the hands” when practicing difficult parts in your favorite guitar licks or exercises. Spend several minutes continuously practicing using only your fretting hand, and several minutes using only your picking hand, before using both hands together.
Get to the bottom of the TRUE causes of difficulty of all guitar exercises you practice. Put each exercise under a mental microscope and identify the job of each hand (and individual finger). This will save you from wasting time searching for answers to misdiagnosed problems (that get you no results). This leads me to my next point:
- Work with a guitar teacher who can instantly identify and correct all the inefficiencies in your technique, so you can quickly increase your maximum speed and reach your other guitar playing goals very fast.