Hi there, guitar sweep masters. My name is Richard, and I have been learning and teaching how to sweep pick for about 10 years now. Over this time, I have come across certain movements, techniques and positioning that is proven to accelerate the learning process.
Sweep picking is by far the hardest technique to learn on the guitar. But, what is sweep picking? Sweep picking is a technique adopted from the violin. Instead of picking horizontally, sweep picking is the process of picking vertically in a strumming motion. Whereby singular notes are picked on the fret board.
In this post, I will demonstrate 20 secret hacks that will increase your learning process, to master sweep picking. It is also important to remember that practice does NOT make perfect. Learning the guitar relies heavily on muscle memory and so if you practice something in the wrong way you may be enforcing bad habits that actually make your playing worse. As habits are hard to break, it has taken you twice as long to break these bad habits. Luckily, in this post I show you the right habits to enforce.
It is also important to note that not all these techniques will be learned all at the same time. They are used to help you breathe through barriers of speed and accuracy to ensure a solid upbeat rhythm.
#1 Circular Motion – Right Hand Technique
It is imperative that you build your technique with the idea of a circular motion happening. This is because as you are sweeping the picking hand best moves for accuracy in a circular motion.
#2 Pivot / Wrist Position (Picking Hand)
Pivot or pivoting is something I like to refer to when sweep picking. It is the positioning of your wrist as you lean your picking hand on the bridge. Pivoting provides accuracy and ultimately control of the resonating notes by concentrating to hold your hand straight, parallel to the bridge.
Pivoting is the up down motion of the wrist as you pick when fixed in the above position. This is because it is detrimental that you ensure you are picking from the wrist, rather than picking from the arm or twisting the fingers.
When you see players pick from the arm they have built bad technique. You can easily identify this movement when there is tension in the arm. To ensure you are picking from the wrist you can try to relax the arm. This will be an uncomfortable experience at first but it will come naturally over time when the strength in the wrist begins to form.
Once you break through the first point of pain, your progression will rapidly improve. This can take up to about two weeks, playing an hour each day. But, after this time your learning curve will increase.
#3 Palm Position (Picking Hand)
I usually position my palm where the string goes into the body of the guitar bridge. Whereby, my palm is specifically leaning on the low e string. The reason I do this is that I find the pivoting motion smoother, that covers all six strings equally.
However, this is not compulsory so long as the can ensure the pivoting motion. In addition, there are also example of people moving there picking hand on the fret board (away from the bridge) when they perform a sweep. This is usually the means of positioning when performing the sweep tap.
#4 Balanced Pick
When sweep picking it is best to hold the pick level to the string, or with a slight incline as the pick strums the string.
#5 Strum In a Circular Motion
So as discussed in point 1 you always want to strum from the wrist. However, to increase your flexibility you can slightly twist your wrist to increase your reach as you flow from each string.
This happens in a circular motion.
#6 Pinching Thumb Roll
Another technique you can try is changing the motion of how you hold the pick with the flow of the pivoting / wrist movement.
I find doing this smooth’s the playing out slightly and makes it easier to apply the thumb mute technique to quiet those string that are not being played (discussed later on).
#7 Hold the Pick With a Firm Grip
The pick is part of your hand and you want to hold it in a tight grip. I used to find that the motion comes from the
#8 Ideal Thickness of the pick
The ideal thickness of the pick is 1.5mm. Even though bending picks are ok for strumming the thicker less bendy are ideal for sweep picking. This is because the less bendy the pick, provides slightly more control.
#9 Tuck In Fingers
Always tuck fingers in for building technique. Even though you very rarely see this, it is a golden rule for control.
#10 Stretch Out Knuckles
I find by stretch out my knuckles on my picking hand, helps readjust my hand, and finds a position that I find more comfortable.
#11 Palm Mute
As you do the sweep down motion you want to palm mute those strings you have just played to ensure they do not ring out. This is because if those strings do end up ringing out then this can make your sound sloppy and less clear to your ear.
#12 Thumb Mute
Thumb mute is muting those strings using your thumb as you sweep upwards towards the lower strings. By applying the thumb mute we can erase those nasty noise from the lower strings, making your overall sound really pleasant and clear.
Once you have learned the thumb mute upward sweep, you can then begin to learn the thumb mute downwards sweep. This is hard and can mess your technique up if not careful so try it in moderation. I would recommend just a few minutes each day, when trying it out for the first time.
#13 Thumbs up
This is a technique I like to refer to when holding the pick. Basically, you give a thumbs up and then try and hold the pick. When doing this you will find the pick being supported by the lower part of your thumb and lower part of your index finger towards the knuckle. You can see players like Michael Angelo Batio, I image they are giving the thumbs up whilst holding the pick.
Phrasing means we want to emphases on a certain note in the sequence of notes we are playing. By doing this we establish a rhythm making it easier for the audience to follow along to the complex pattern you are playing.
#15 Over Emphasize On The Notes You Struggle With
Phrasing means over exaggerating certain notes. However, we can use phrasing to our advantage to playing those dummy notes. When you first come to learn sweep picking there will that one notes that really catches you out. Usually, this will be notes after you change sweep direction on the lower string or right after the pull of on the higher strings.
#16 Practice the Right Hand Using Ghost Notes
We usually forget about the picking hand, and I learned this technique through attending a guitar workshop. Basically, Do Not Under Estimate the Right Hand! When we are sweep picking 80% of the effort is from the right hand.
All the above technique help us concentrate on learning the right hand. However, there is one thing we can do to help our focus. This is more of a mental exercise and it is done by playing ghost notes. Whereby, we only play using the picking hand and let the notes ring out.
This will help shift our focus mentally from the fretting hand to the picking hand.
#17 Warm Up
Before, any practice and sure you warm up. This can include some basic stretches and just get your fingers moving and your finger joints stretched out.
#18 Play Slow
This is another golden piece of advice, even for advanced players and it is a simple as playing slow. The best sweep players need to have slow sessions otherwise they can ruin their good technique, which they may have nurtured over months of perfecting.
#19 Learn Shapes In Moderation
Do not try to learn five shape all at once. Learn one shape then get good at this shape before you move onto the next shape.
#20 Switching Shapes
I see switching shapes as learning a new shape altogether. When you have learned your second shape, you then can try to learn how to switch between those shapes. Find the pattern whereby these shapes cross over and then repeat the process the build muscle memory just as you practiced to learn each shape individually.
#21 Learn Easy Shapes First
So, you may have seen an awesome player on YouTube but he is playing really difficult shapes whereby your finger have to stretch out, or there are missing strings. Do not over complicate an already complicated technique. Make it simple and learn the basic major shape or three string diminished shapes are easier.
#22 Start With Three String Sweeps
Do not try a full 6-string sweep when you have never attempted sweep picking before. Even to those intermediate players I would also advise learning the first three strings when coming to learn a new shape.
#23 Build Control
Your number one priority is to have control over what you are playing so that it is consistent each time you play the lick. So, if things are sounding sloppy and distorted then SLOW THINGS DOWN!!!!! I cannot emphasize this enough.
#24 Break Shapes Down
Each shape can be broken down into three separate parts. A simple major shape can probably be broken down into three individual shapes. Break each shape down and master each version of the shape position. Especially break down the shape into a pattern that you struggle with the most and repeat this to build muscle memory. Overall, this will improve the flow and maximise the speed in which you become competent.
Yes, really! By this I am meaning before you go into practice mode, just goof around with the pattern your trying to learn and incorporate it into a riff your learn or a backtrack you’re playing along to.
This just helps you get into the rhythm by which instinct will take over.
#26 Don’t Run Before You Can Walk
If you try to play fast and you have not put the time in to learn how to play fast then you will suck. Furthermore, you will just enforce bad technique and you are wasting everyone’s time. Be patient. Play slow, and in no time, you will start to develop competence. Else, in 5 years’ time you will still be learning and struggling at basic shapes.
#27 Find Your Rhythm
When learning your first shape it is important to understand your rhythm. The rhythm needs to be constant with no breaks, however you need to familiarise yourself with the pattern from where it begins and where it ends. The rhythm is like a road map in a sense, and by finding it will really help tighten up your technique.
#28 Record Your Self
It is very good to hear yourself play. You can find out a lot about your playing ability. What you are doing well at and what you need to improve. So listen to the recordings you make and visually see your technique, by comparing yourself to the videos in this post.
This kind of goes back to the previous point and it includes trying to copy other guitarists that are known for their sweep picking techniques.
#30 Practice at Least 30 Minutes Per Day
If you are serious about sweep picking then practicing 30 minutes a day shouldn’t be to hard. But, you have to be consistent everyday else when you miss a day it is like going back in time. Keep practicing every day until you have mastered that little technique you have been working on. Once you have nailed the small movement (such as thumb mute) then you will usually keep it.
#31 Hammer Hard
Always ensure you press each note solidly with a strong grasp of the fret board. This is ensure you build control
#32 do not be lazy
You need to be mentally on point as well as physically, as sweep picking should take 100% of your concentration. The moment you feel tired and you cannot put in your all then stop playing as this only build bad technique and it will take twice as long to reverse.
#33 Pick Up Your Fingers
This only refers to your fretting hand and it means after you have stuck a note then pick your finger of the note. I find this helps dim the note as well as helps building strength and stamina.
#34 Practice Linear Finger Movements Away from the Guitar (left hand)
When first learning the guitar your fingers just do not want to move in a linear way. You can spend a while to condition you finger muscle to do this. To increase the speed of this you always tap your finger on a desk to ensure you can follow the rhythm with the fretting hand. This does take a little practice but it is worth doing as when you are sat with the guitar on your lap it is best to practice the picking hand.
#35 Do Not Waste Time Modifying Your Guitar
There always effects you can use and you can try to lower the action of the guitar to make the sweeping easier. But, overall I would suggest you roll with what you have and make it sound the bomb. Having high action can help you build strength, and effects just hide your mistakes. It is best to have just a small amount of distortion and delay then just roll with it.
A good guitarist can make any guitar sound good.
#36 Give Yourself Regular Breaks
This is nothing worse than having to stop practicing because you have strained your arm, or even worse built some repetitive strain injury. So if you’re feeling achy it is good, but do not over do it.
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