30-day guitar challenge, day 26: Sweep picking masterclass

Make like Malmsteen with our technique tips

30 day guitar challenge day 26 Sweep picking masterclass

30-day guitar challenge: Sweep picking is the opposite of alternate picking. Rather than moving the pick down and up for each note, sweep picking uses as few pick strokes as possible.

Sweep picking is suited to arpeggios that have only one or two notes per string, the idea being to play as many strings as possible using one down- or upstroke. Rather than picking multiple strings with individual strokes, sweep pickers glide the pick smoothly.

Neoclassical players of the 1980s used sweeping to mimic violin players such as Nicolò Paganini - Yngwie Malmsteen's track Demon Driver is a prime example.

Benchmark test

Start the initial five-string arpeggio with an upstroke, followed by a pull-off, then four more upstrokes.

This should all be done with one continuous upward motion, and not five separate upstrokes. Remember, this is a benchmark test, so it is vital that you are playing cleanly and accurately at a tempo you can manage.

Benchmark test tab (right-click to download)

Essential tip!

The secret to good sweep picking is not in your picking hand, but in your fretting hand. Muting the strings you're not playing is essential to a clean-sounding technique.

Slow practice is another good way to develop accuracy, but only if the movements you're practising are exactly the same as the fast version, so pay close attention to what your hands are doing.

Two-string sweep

Barre across both strings with your third finger and roll your finger pad back and forth, applying pressure to the relevant string and muting the unwanted one.

Pull-off and sweep

Play the first and third notes with upstrokes and incorporate the pull-off as naturally as possible. This should feel like one continuous motion rather than three movements.

Three-string sweep

Glide your pick across the strings in one smooth movement and let the tip hit the strings. Only one fretting finger should be in contact with the fretboard at any time.

Play it!

These sweep picking licks show that the technique can be applied to bluesy pentatonic scales as well as to more typical neo-classical shred-style arpeggio playing.

In all cases, the rule of thumb here is that the pick should take the shortest possible route between two strings. The technique can often be heard being used in conjunction with two-note-per-string pull-off phrases.

Blues lick

This lick descends through the A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G) in 4th intervals by using two-string upward and downward sweeps.

When playing two consecutive notes on the same fret, keep the notes separated by rolling your finger across the strings as your pick glides across them.

Blues lick tab (right-click to download)

Rock lick

Focus on the first and fourth notes of the arpeggio (these are the notes where you change picking direction) and ensure that your pick is moving up then down with a smooth gliding motion in between.

Rock lick tab (right-click to download)

Shred lick

This lick uses roughly the same picking approach as the rock lick, but this time we've added some position shifts by sliding up the neck.

The diminished arpeggio shape used here can be moved up and down the neck three frets at a time.

Shred lick tab (right-click to download)