Sweep Picking Exercises

The article lists down a few basic sweep picking exercises that not only help you get familiarized with the concept, but also help you lay down a strong foundation, enhance your guitar playing skills, and make you more efficient with the instrument.
Once comfortable with the fundamentals of lead playing on the guitar, you can move on to other advanced techniques that will help you become better at playing the instrument. It is a known fact that, to perfect any technique, it is very necessary to practice a lot. And once you become proficient in the technique, you can even create your own styles, experiment with it, or even discover unique sounds. When it comes to advanced guitar lessons, the technique of sweep picking is one of the most prominent. Let's get started with a few basic sweep picking patterns first.

It is one of the most prominent and advanced guitar playing techniques which can be learned only after understanding the basics of lead notes on the fretboard. This technique is used extensively by many famous guitar players in their songs and musical compositions. It is called sweep picking because it relates to a sweeping and continuous pattern of the picking hand in coordination with the note changing of the fretting hand. Remember that, the notes by the fretting hand should be changed rapidly along with the picking of the chording hand. Mostly used to play arpeggios and in guitar shredding, if done properly, it sounds as if there is a continuous succession of notes being played without a gap.

Sweep picking, typically, graduates from the last and thickest string to the thinnest, and then again from the first set of strings up again. This is the standard method. The following drills introduce you to the basics.

Note: The number on the strings are the frets on which you are supposed to place the notes of the fretting hand.

In the diagram below which depicts A minor scale, sweep picking is to be started from the third string that is 'G', running to the first 'e' string, and coming back again to the 'G' string successively.

e (1st)------------------------------12----17----12--------------------------------
B (2nd)-------------------13-----------------------------13------------------------
G (3rd)------------14--------------------------------------------14----------------
D (4th)-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A (5th)-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E (6th)-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the next exercise, start from the fifth 'A' string. Note that the third and fourth strings can be fretted at one go using just one finger, by only changing the string picking accordingly.

e (1st)-----------------------------12----17----12---------------------------------
B (2nd)---------------------13------------------------13---------------------------
G (3rd)---------------14------------------------------------14---------------------
D (4th)---------------14------------------------------------14---------------------
A (5th)---12---15--------------------------------------------------15---12-------
E (6th)--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next few exercises are the ones that need to be started with the fifth string. You can certainly add a note in the scale on the sixth string.

D minor

e (1st)------------------------------13---17---13----------------------------------
B (2nd)---------------------15-----------------------15----------------------------
G (3rd)---------------14-----------------------------------14----------------------
D (4th)---------15------------------------------------------------15----------------
A (5th)---17--------------------------------------------------------------17--------
E (6th)-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

D Major

e (1st)-----------------------------14----17----14---------------------------------
B (2nd)---------------------15-----------------------15----------------------------
G (3rd)---------------14-----------------------------------14----------------------
D (4th)---------16-----------------------------------------------16-----------------
A (5th)---17-----------------------------------------------------------17-----------
E (6th)-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

E minor

e (1st)------------------------------12---15---12----------------------------------
B (2nd)---------------------12-----------------------12----------------------------
G (3rd)---------------12-----------------------------------12----------------------
D (4th)---------14------------------------------------------------14----------------
A (5th)---10---14------------------------------------------------14---10----------
E (6th)-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

E Major

e (1st)------------------------------12---16---12----------------------------------
B (2nd)---------------------12-----------------------12----------------------------
G (3rd)---------------13-----------------------------------13----------------------
D (4th)---------14------------------------------------------------14---------------
A (5th)---11---14------------------------------------------------14---11---------
E (6th)--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Among the many guitarists who use this technique, some of them are mentioned in the following list.
  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • John Petrucci
  • Steve Vai
  • Michael Angelo Batio
  • Frank Zappa
  • Jason Becker
  • Tony MacAlpine
  • Rusty Cooley
  • Frank Gambale
  • Buckethead
  • Vinnie Moore
  • Steve Hackett
  • Marty Friedman
The exercises mentioned in this article are just basic and simple patterns. You can consider practicing a wide variety of other patterns once you are comfortable with these. Watching online videos and instructional DVDs of the above mentioned guitarists can help as well.
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