Sweep picking

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Sweep picking is a specialized picking technique. It consists of playing melodies, scales, and arpeggios in a way that maximizes picking across the strings in a single downward or upward direction, much like a "sweeping" motion. The advantages to sweep picking are that your picking hand will move a lot less while you play more notes, this facilitates very fast, fluid playing. A sweep can become a rake if notes are muted differently. Rakes are a nice technique that give a certain musical effect, but raking shouldn't be confused with sweep picking.


Muting is one of the most important aspects of sweep picking. A good sweep picker will use a decent amount of both right and left hand muting while sweeping. Here's one tip: When switching from one string to the next, mute the note currently ringing by lifting the fretting finger, or by lightly resting part of the flesh from your other finger(s) over the unplayed string(s).


There are sweep fingerings for just about every scale (including pentatonics) and arpeggios. Generally a swept 7 note scale uses a combination of 3-note per string patterns, picked down-up-down, then down to the next highest string, etc.) with 4-notes per string at the point where the sweep direction is changed. On the 4-note turnaround the picking is down-up-down-up, then up to the next lower string, etc.


Below is example tablature of sweep picking:


This is not the only way to notate sweeps. Small sweeps can be indicated with grace notes or even the arpeggio notation with the word "sweep" (or, less correctly, "rake") written above.

Popular Sweep Pickers

Yngwie Malmsteen

Frank Gambale

Guthrie Govan

Vinnie Moore

Jason Becker

See Also

alternate picking, hybrid picking, economy picking

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