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Sweep picking

Sweep picking is a technique used on the guitar in which a 'sweeping' motion of the pick is combined with a matching fret hand technique in order to produce a specific series of notes which are fast and fluid in sound. Despite being commonly known as sweep picking, both hands essentially perform an integral motion in unison to achieve the desired effect.


The technique is almost exclusively applied for arpeggios, with a common shape being the one- or two-octave stacked triad; or in scalar terms the first (tonic), third (mediant) and fifth (dominant) of a scale, repeated twice with an additional tonic added to the highest point in the shape. For example, an A minor stacked triad would notate as A-C-E-A-C-E-A. When these series of notes are played quickly up and down as an arpeggio, they are notably classical-sounding as opposed to more blues-based progressions. The ability to move the shape of an arpeggio up and down the fretboard in order to, or because of, a change in key lends itself to being the primary choice of guitar players, helping ease the use of what is considered a difficult technique of guitar performance.

Compared to other techniques often used by shredders, such as alternate picking, few strokes are required in sweep picking; although all sweeps can be seen as a minimum of three to five strokes. Each time the pick strikes a string could be considered a stroke in itself. In certain instances, however, legato is used to sound notes instead of an actual pick stroke (in the case of guitar, hammer-ons and pull-offs); notably in the upper and lower sections of an arpeggio, where successive strokes on the same string in a row would effectively negate the natural sweeping motion in question. This comes into play whenever a certain string has to sound two notes in the shape due to the natural limits of a fretted string instrument.

However, as with all guitar techniques, each individual player can seek to integrate sweep picking into their existing repertoire and make use of it in an individually stylistic manner. Therefore some guitarists may use legato whereas others may have a natural tendency to double-pick multiple notes on a single string. This in itself can be seen as separate yet related idea or technique, due to the obvious differences in the sound of legato versus struck notes, as well as the shift in the timing of the entire arpeggio. Furthering the idea, most players who master the basic sweep picking pattern will use only parts of it or alter the technique to purposefully achieve a certain lick. In this sense, sweep picking is not so much a concrete action such as the aforementioned alternate picking, but instead is a technical idea with many possible applications.

Prominent Sweep Pickers

* Jason Becker
* Frank Gambale
* Rusty Cooley
* John Petrucci
* Michael Romeo
* Michael Angelo Batio
* Steve Vai
* Yngwie J Malmsteen
* Tony MacAlpine
* Synyster Gates

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Sweep picking lesson

Sweep picking guitar lesson

Sweep Picking Practice VDO

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