Sweep-Picking: What Is It And How Was It Invented?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 20, 2022

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Sweep picking is a guitar technique that allows the player to rapidly pick through a sequence of notes with a single pick stroke. This can be done by using a continuous motion (ascending or descending).

Sweep picking can produce very fast and clean runs, making it a popular technique among guitarists who play styles such as metal and shred. It can also be used to create more intricate sounding solos and chord progressions.

What is sweep picking

The key to sweep picking is using the right picking hand technique. The pick should be held relatively close to the strings and moved in a fluid, sweeping motion. The wrist should be relaxed and the arm should move from the elbow. The pick should also be angled so that it strikes the strings at a slight angle, which will help to produce a cleaner sound.

Sweep Picking: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

What is Sweep Picking?

Sweep picking is a technique used to play arpeggios by using a sweeping motion of the pick to play single notes on consecutive strings. It’s like strumming a chord in slow motion, except you play each note individually. To do this, you need to use techniques for both the picking and fretting hands:

  • Fretting Hand: This is responsible for separating the notes, so you can only hear one note at a time. The fretting hand is an action where you mute the string directly after it has been played.
  • Picking Hand: This follows the strumming motion, but you have to make sure each string is picked individually. If two notes are picked together, then you’ve just played a chord, not an arpeggio.

Together, the picking and fretting hands create a sweeping motion. It’s one of the toughest guitar techniques to learn, but with the right practice, the flow of the notes will feel natural.

Why is Sweep Picking Important?

Sweep picking isn’t essential on guitar, but it does make your playing sound more interesting (when done right). It also adds a unique flavor to your playing that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Plus, arpeggios are a big part of almost all musical forms, and sweep picking is the technique used to play them. So, it’s a great skill to have in your back pocket.

Styles Where It’s Used

Sweep picking is mainly known for metal and shred guitar, but did you know it’s also popular in jazz? Django Reinhardt used it in his compositions all the time, but only in short bursts.

Excessive long sweeping works for metal, but you can adapt it to any style you want. Even if you play indie rock, there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a short three or four string sweep to help you move around the fretboard.

The main thing to remember is that this technique helps you navigate the fretboard. So, if the flow of notes that fit the mood happen to be arpeggios, then it makes sense to use it. But remember, there are no rules to music!

Get the Tone

The first step to nailing this technique is finding the right tone. This can be broken down into guitar setup and how you phrase:

  • Setup: Sweep picking works best with Strat-style guitars in rock, where the neck pickup position produces a warm, round tone. Use a modern tube amp with a modest gain setting – just enough to give all of the notes the same volume and sustain, but not so much that string muting becomes impossible.
  • String Dampener: A string dampener is a piece of equipment that rests on the fretboard and dampens the strings. It helps keep your guitar quiet, so you don’t have to deal with ringing strings. Plus, you’ll get more clarity.
  • Compressor: A compressor controls the dynamic range on your guitar tone. By adding a compressor, you can boost those essential frequencies that are less present. If done correctly, it will add clarity to your tone and make it easier to sweep.
  • Pick & Phrasing: The tone of your sweep picking will be heavily influenced by the thickness and sharpness of your pick. Something with a thickness of one to two millimetres and a rounded tip will give you enough attack while still gliding easily over the strings.

How to Sweep Pick

Most guitarists think that to sweep pick quickly, their hands need to move quickly. But that’s an illusion! Your ears are tricking you into thinking that someone is playing faster than they actually are.

The key is to keep your hands relaxed and move them slowly.

The Evolution of Sweep Picking

The Pioneers

Back in the 1950s, a few guitarists decided to take their playing to the next level by experimenting with a technique called sweep picking. Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Tal Farlow, and Barney Kessel were some of the first to try it out, and it wasn’t long before rock guitarists like Jan Akkerman, Ritchie Blackmore, and Steve Hackett were getting in on the action.

The Shredders

The 1980s saw the rise of the shred guitarists, and sweep picking was their weapon of choice. Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, Michael Angelo Batio, Tony MacAlpine, and Marty Friedman all made use of the technique to create some of the most memorable guitar solos of the era.

Frank Gambale’s Influence

Frank Gambale was a jazz fusion guitarist who released several books and instructional videos about sweep picking, the most famous of which was ‘Monster Licks & Speed Picking’ in 1988. He helped popularize the technique and showed aspiring guitarists how to master it.

Why Is Sweep Picking So Hard?

Sweep picking can be a tricky technique to master. It requires a lot of coordination between your fretting and picking hands. Plus, it can be difficult to keep the notes muted while you’re playing.

How Do You Play Sweep Picking?

Here are some tips to help you master sweep picking:

  • Start with one hand: If you’re having trouble with your picking hand, practice with just one hand. Start on the seventh fret of the fourth string with your third finger and press a downstroke.
  • Use a mute button: To keep the notes from ringing out, press the mute button on your fretting hand every time you play a note.
  • Alternate up and down strokes: As you move across the strings, alternate between upstrokes and downstrokes. This will help you achieve a smooth, flowing sound.
  • Practice slowly: As with any technique, practice makes perfect. Start slow and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable with the technique.

Exploring Sweep Picking Patterns

Minor Arpeggio Patterns

Minor arpeggio patterns are a great way to add interest to your guitar playing. In my previous article, I discussed the three five-string patterns of a minor arpeggio. These patterns allow you to easily sweep the arpeggio, creating a symmetrical sound.

Major Triad Patterns

To make the stretch of the A-string, you can create a full fifth out of it. This is a great way to add a neoclassical metal or blues rock sound to your playing. Practicing and playing with these patterns can help you make them second nature.

How to Improve Your Guitar Playing with a Metronome

Using a Metronome

If you’re looking to take your guitar playing to the next level, look no further than a metronome. A metronome can help you stay on beat, even when you make a mistake. It’s like having a personal drum machine that will always keep you in time. Plus, it can help you learn about syncopation, which is a great way to make your playing sound more interesting.

Start with Three-String Sweeps

When it comes to sweep picking, it’s best to start with three-string sweeps. This is because three-string sweeps are relatively easy compared to four-string sweeps or more. This way, you can get the basics down before you move on to more complex patterns.

Warm Up at Slow Speeds

Before you start shredding, make sure you warm up your hands. This will help you play with more accuracy and better tone. If you don’t warm up, you can end up reinforcing bad habits. So, take some time to get your hands limber and ready to go.

Sweep Picking for Any Style

Sweep picking isn’t just for shredding. You can use it in any style of music, whether it’s jazz, blues, or rock. It’s a great way to add some spice to your playing. Plus, it can help you move between strings more quickly.

So, if you’re looking to take your guitar playing to the next level, give sweep picking a try. And don’t forget to warm up before you start shredding!

Start Your Sweep Picking Journey with Three-String Sweeps

Warm Up Before You Pick Up the Pace

When I first started learning sweep picking, I thought I had to start with a six-string pattern. I practiced for months and still couldn’t get it sounding clean. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered three-string sweeps.

Three-string sweeps are a great place to start. They’re much easier to learn than four-string sweeps or more. So, if you’re just starting out, you can learn the basics with three strings and then add extra strings later.

Warm Up Before You Pick Up the Pace

Before you start shredding, you gotta warm up. Otherwise, you won’t be able to play your best and you might even pick up some bad habits. When your hands are cold and your fingers aren’t limber, it’s hard to hit the right notes with the right strength. So, warm up before you start playing.

Sweep Picking Isn’t Just for Shredding

Sweep picking isn’t just for shredding. You can use it for short bursts to make your playing more interesting. And it’s been used in a variety of contexts outside of shredding.

So, if you want to be a better guitarist, it’s worth adding sweep picking to your arsenal. It’ll help you move between strings more smoothly and quickly. Plus, it’s just fun to do!


Sweep-Picking Vs Alternate Picking

Sweep-picking and alternate picking are two different guitar picking techniques that can be used to create different sounds. Sweep-picking is a technique that involves quickly picking strings in a single direction, usually downstrokes. This technique is often used to create a fast, fluid sound. Alternate picking, on the other hand, involves alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes. This technique is often used to create a more precise, articulate sound. Both techniques have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s up to the individual guitarist to decide which one works best for them. Sweep-picking can be great for creating fast, fluid passages, but it can be difficult to maintain accuracy and consistency. Alternate picking can be great for creating precise, articulate passages, but it can be difficult to maintain speed and fluidity. Ultimately, it’s all about finding the right balance between speed, accuracy, and fluidity.

Sweep-Picking Vs Economy Picking

Sweep-picking and economy picking are two different techniques used by guitarists to play fast, intricate passages. Sweep-picking involves playing a series of notes on one string with a single down or up stroke of the pick. This technique is often used to play arpeggios, which are chords broken up into individual notes. Economy picking, on the other hand, involves playing a series of notes on different strings with alternating down and up strokes of the pick. This technique is often used to play fast runs and scale patterns.

Sweep-picking is a great way to play arpeggios and can be used to create some really cool sounds. It can also be used to play fast, intricate passages, but it requires a lot of practice and precision to master. Economy picking, on the other hand, is much easier to learn and can be used to play fast runs and scale patterns. It’s also great for playing fast passages, as it allows you to switch strings quickly and accurately. So if you’re looking for a way to play fast, intricate passages, you should definitely give both sweep-picking and economy picking a try!


How hard is sweep picking?

Sweep picking is a tricky technique. It requires a lot of practice and patience to master. It’s like a juggling act – you have to keep all the balls in the air at once. You need to be able to move your pick across the strings quickly and accurately, while also controlling your fretting hand. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort! It’s a great way to add some flair to your playing and make your solos stand out. So if you’re up for a challenge, give sweep picking a try – it’s not as hard as it looks!

When should I sweep pick?

Sweep picking is a great technique to add to your guitar playing repertoire. It’s a great way to add some speed and complexity to your solos, and can really make your playing stand out. But when should you start sweep picking?

Well, the answer is: it depends! If you’re a beginner, you should probably focus on mastering the basics before diving into sweep picking. But if you’re an intermediate or advanced player, you can start working on sweep picking right away. Just remember to start slow and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable with the technique. And don’t forget to have fun!

Can you sweep pick with your fingers?

Sweep picking with your fingers is definitely possible, but it’s also a bit tricky. It requires a lot of practice and coordination to get it right. You’ll need to use your index and middle fingers to play the notes in a sweeping motion. It’s not easy, but if you put in the time and effort, you can master it! Plus, it’ll make you look pretty cool when you pull it off.


Sweep picking is a great technique for guitarists to master, as it allows them to play arpeggios quickly and fluidly. It’s a technique that has been used by some of the most influential guitarists of all time, and it’s still popular today. So, if you want to take your guitar playing to the next level, why not give sweep picking a try? Just remember to practice with patience and don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come easy – after all, even the pros had to start somewhere! And don’t forget to have FUN – after all, that’s what guitar playing is all about!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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