Sweep picking is a difficult technique for most guitar players to master. But no matter how much trouble you are having with this technique now, I’m about to show you how easy sweep picking CAN be. Actually, once you understand the principles covered in this article you will be able to use these ideas in ALL of your guitar playing…and improve your guitar speed faster than you ever have. Let me show you what I mean.
Look at this sweep picking pattern:
(Note: You may notice that I didn’t use a finger rolling arpeggio in my example. I talk more about this below.
When you first look at this arpeggio, you may think it is hard to play because of how many notes there are. This is incorrect and here’s why:
1. When sweep picking, your picking hand actually moves slower than it does in other techniques (such as string skipping, tremolo picking, or scale sequences). This is because when you use sweep picking your pick only has to make TWO motions (I talk more about this in the video below).
2. Your fretting hand doesn’t have to work hard at all. This is because, in the example above, your middle and ring fingers play only 1 note each, your pinky plays 2 notes, and your index finger plays 3 notes. Because of the way the notes occur in the example above, your fingers have a LOT of time to get from one note to the next. This makes it possible for you play much faster.
Contrast the ease of this sweep picking example with another technique like tremolo picking. When tremolo picking, you have to make a lot of small motions very quickly, so you end up doing a LOT more work than in the example above.
Watch the sweep picking video above to see how easy sweep picking actually is.
“Hold on, Tom! If sweep picking really is this easy…why do most guitar players suck at sweep picking fast and clean?!”
You bring up a good point! Fact is, there are a lot of different reasons why most guitarists have a hard time with this technique. The main reason is that most guitar players simply do not understand why sweep picking is challenging. They assume that it is a physically demanding technique but I have just proven to you that this is not the case at all. So most guitarists run into trouble when they try to just move their hands faster. Besides not helping them master this technique at all, this distracts them from learning how to actually improve. So what are the real obstacles that hold most guitarist back from mastering sweep picking? There are 4:
Uncoordinated Hand Motions - Even though I just told you that both of your hands have easy jobs when sweep picking, most guitar players still fail to train both of their hands individually. To practice this, you need to go through the motions of playing the arpeggio with each hand separately (using only one hand at a time). Even if you just spent 5 minutes each day with each hand, you will see drastic improvements in your overall seep picking technique.
Unsynchronized Hands - Besides training your hands individually, you must take time to practice putting the motions of each hand together so that they are perfectly in sync when sweep picking. Not doing this results in horribly sloppy sweep picking technique that hinders your overall guitar speed. This problem is surprisingly easy to solve - simply isolate the hardest parts of the arpeggio you are practicing and make those parts their own exercise. I show you how to do this in greater detail in my article about cleaning up your sweep picking technique.
Stopping The Picking Hand’s Motion – By breaking the momentum in your picking hand, you are destroying your ability to sweep pick at breakneck speeds. Most guitarists who cannot sweep pick effectively fail to do this because they focus on picking each string individually. Instead, focus on using one continuous motion to get from one string to the next with your picking hand. This is how you achieve proper economy of motion and it is key to playing guitar fast.
Poor Finger Rolling Technique - In my arpeggio example above you may have noticed that I left out any shapes that involved finger rolling. This was intentional, because I wanted you to focus first on the fundamental hand motions that will enable you to play fast sweep picking. Having said this, it is important to realize that poor finger rolling technique is another reason why most guitar players struggle to play sweep picking arpeggios fast and clean. The good news for you is that this motion isn’t hard at all once you get the basics down. I talk about this more extensively in my video about finger rolling sweep picking technique.
So how can all of this help not only your sweep picking, but the rest of your guitar technique as well? By using the ideas above in other aspects of your playing, you will see big results. Here are ways to actually start using these ideas in all aspects of your guitar technique:
1. Don’t ever think that simply moving your hands faster is the answer to playing guitar faster. Focus more on how efficient your motions are in both hands. See how to do this when practicing tremolo picking technique.
2. Learn how to properly isolate each hand when you are practicing challenging guitar exercises. Do this by going through the motions of playing the arpeggio with each hand separately (as explained above) and then combining them together.
3. Learn why you are REALLY having problems when practicing guitar. Focus in on each exercise and determine what each hand’s job is so you avoid wasting any time trying to fix things that aren’t the real problem.
4. Study with a proven guitar teacher who can help you dramatically improve your guitar technique faster than you ever could alone. This will help you reach your musical goals much faster.
If you would like to know more about how to use the principles in this article to become an incredibly fast guitar player, learn how to double your guitar speed.
About The Author:
Tom Hess is a highly successful recording artist and composer. He teaches guitar players from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. Visit his website tomhess.net to get free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar playing articles.