Which guitar sweep picking forms

Learn sweep picking on the guitar

Sweeping Workshop - ergonomically striking for quick arpeggios

Sweeps like Yngwie Malmsteen, Ritchie Kotzen or Frank Gambale

(Credits: Shutterstock By Yellowj)

The terms sweeping or sweep picking describe a style of playing that has been used for a long time by guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Richie Kotzen and of course various neo-classical rock / metal guitarists in general, but also fusion and jazz players such as Frank Gambale is used. This technique owes its great popularity, on the one hand, to its very own sound, but also to the fact that it allows arpeggios or phrases to be executed quickly, in which one note is played per string.
This technique gives the game a very soft and fluid sound, although its clean execution is associated with a few finesses and hurdles, which can be mastered very well through targeted practice. Here I would like to give you a few tips, tricks and licks with which you can master this technique and also quickly integrate it into your game.

1. Introduction

The main problem with playing single-part melodies on stringed instruments, besides the synchronization of the left and right hand, lies in changing the strings. For example, if you have several tones available on a string in a scale run, the problem is not that obvious. However, when it comes to playing arpeggios or special chord structures, we usually only have one or two notes per string. If you play this in the conventional, alternating way, the consistent alternating stroke leads us to place the pick "around the string", which is extremely uneconomical. If, for example, we button a C major arpeggio with the root note on the A string and play the starting note with a downstroke, we would have to perform the third on the D string again with an upstroke. Of course there are countless guitarists, including John Petrucci, Steve Morse and Carl Verheyen, who, thanks to their ingenious plectrum position and picking technique, can perform the "one note per string" principle with incredible accuracy. However, there is also an alternative, and that is called "sweeping" .


Basically, "sweep picking" means that the pick strikes in the direction in which the next string to be played lies. The pick practically falls down and pushes itself downwards (geographically) with an (acoustically) ascending string sequence through the strings or, analogously, moves upwards with falling lines through the strings. Instead of picking each note individually with a series of separately applied attacks, the pick slides over the strings in a single movement. As an analogy, imagine pulling a stick across a railing or picket fence and touching each slat without having to start again. As soon as a note is played, the pick immediately falls on the next string and rests there (also called "reststroke") with light pressure until the next note is "pushed through".

The main hurdles to overcome when sweeppicking are dampening and timing. If you let the pick "click" the strings in an uncontrolled manner, it quickly becomes arrhythmic and imprecise, so it is absolutely essential to practice sweeping at a very slow pace. For exercise purposes, concentrate on a hard but controlled attack in order to feel the pulse clearly on the one hand and to build up strength on the other.
In order to mute the strings you have already played, you need to pay special attention to both your right and left hands. You should keep in mind that the notes of the arpeggio should not be perceived as a chord that clashes into one another, but as individual notes like in a line or melody, and therefore I recommend the following procedure: With the gripping hand, the respective finger mutes the string above the one that is currently being played String. This means that, for example, the tip of the index finger touches the string, which means that it naturally lies fairly flat and therefore all strings below it effectively mute. So if you play the G string in the fifth fret, for example, the index finger is responsible for dampening the B string, E string, and the lower D string. When the handle rises, the strings are muted by the palm of the hand on the bridge. The other important consideration is that the fingering hand only plays one note at a time, finger by finger, rather than holding the chord shape. An exception are barre sweeps, which are used when, for example, two or more notes are on adjacent strings in the same fret. Here you have to "bend" the phalanx in the finger joint and let it roll so that they can handle the gripping job on one string and the damping job on the other at the same time.

With the picking hand, a slight forward angle helps when gliding over the strings, which can lead to a discreet scratching or "gurgling" noise, which also distinguishes the sound aesthetics of sweeping from alternate picking. The hand should rest near the bridge so that gentle muting can be performed on ascending lines. Overall, the movement of the hitting hand takes place through a slight interaction of wrist and arm. There can also be a slight bend or bend of the thumb when the pick is "pushed" through the strings or "pulled" during the reverse movement.

2. Triads on three strings

First, let's look at a variety of arpeggios that you have probably already played consciously or unconsciously, namely triad arpeggios on the highest three strings. Here, by octaving the lowest note, great four-note fingerings can be obtained, which can optionally be rhythmized in 16th notes or sextoles. In principle, you get three shapes for each chord type, namely the basic position, the 1st inversion and the 2nd inversion. Neoclassical players like Yngwie Malmsteen in particular often use this type of arpeggio.

Here using the example of a C major triad:

C major triad

C minor triad

Now the whole thing can be connected to complete chord connections. It becomes particularly neoclassical when the diminished seventh chord is integrated as a shortened E7b9 as an exception as a four-note chord. The fingerings above the bars represent the chords over which this progression runs and which could be taken over by an accompaniment.

Chord connections

The shortened diminished seventh chord can now be made to oscillate as a representative of the dominant with a minor triad and thus get a nice I-V cadence, like here in Bm:

I-V cadence in Bm

3. Triads on five strings

Starting from the idea above, you can of course also extend the triad with doubling of notes to other strings, as can be heard, for example, with guitarists such as Ritchie Kotzen. Here, too, there are quasi inversions, because the arpeggio begins with the root note, third or fifth:

D major in basic position, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion:

D major in basic position, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion:

D minor in basic position, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion:

D minor in basic position, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion:

I have also prepared a small study for you, in which a few of our shapes appear. Be creative and compose similar "mini-tunes" based on good-sounding chord progressions:


4. Triads on six strings

Now we extend the arpeggios to all six strings and can also cover the entire fingerboard with three fingerings. In the following exercises I link all positions, which means that the inversions can be practiced very well in an endless loop to the metronome.

Bb major - all inversions

Bb major - all inversions

Bb minor - all inversions

Bb minor - all inversions

Of course, there is also a suitable etude for you:


5. Sweeping and Legato

One style of playing guitarists like Tony McAlpine is the combination of sweeping and legato playing. In principle, you use the sweeppicking technique for the upward movement, but for the downward movement you rely on hammer-ons. Since this also works very well with basic four-digit tones, it is high time to introduce a few fingerings here as well. In order to get sensible fingerings, one has to leave out a note at one point or another, in this case the root duplication on the G string, which does not detract from the completeness of the arpeggio.

Gmaj7 - arpeggio

G7 - arpeggio

Gm7 - Arpeggio

Gm7 / b5 - arpeggio

At this point we can look at another application of the arpeggios, namely the combination of chord breaks at different levels in order to obtain "upper structures".
For example, if you combine a Dmaj7, F # m7 and Bm7 arpeggio, you get the very colorful sound of a Bm7 / 9/11 chord:

Bm7 / 9/11 Arpeggio example:

Bm7 / 9/11 arpeggio

6. Economy picking

Now we come to a way of playing that became very popular primarily through guitarists like Frank Gambale, but also in a modified form for downstrokes at Malmsteen or Eric Johnson, namely economy picking. This is a technique in which maintaining the direction of attack when changing strings is also used for scalar runs. As a result, you need an odd number of notes on a string if you want to stay in the direction of movement, or an even number of notes to ring in a change of direction.

Here you will find a small scale sequence with which you can practice this playing technique well. Applies the principle to all scale patterns and in all keys

D major shape in the 10th position

D major shape in the 10th position

And now good luck with the sweep picking technique!