Ah, sweep picking – is there any picking technique more elusive? Other than perhaps shredding on a fretless glass-necked Stratocaster, we don’t know of one. One of our guys here at GOTG is working on it, and speaking from current agonizing experience, the only way to get it is to sit there and freakin’ do it, at least 20-30 minutes everyday – with a metronome, for months. No other single technique has been so difficult in our experience to learn.
Worth it? Depends on how much you want to sweep pick. The guy here working on it isn’t even that in to it – just doesn’t like there being something he can’t do.
Sweep picking is made up of what seems like 10 different things going on at once, and a lot of people mess up at #1 and so never end up getting it right.
Let’s use a G major triad on the first 3 strings as an example (frets 3, 3, 4)…, and start with a down-strummed sweep. First, drag your pick across the strings. Now, do you still hear all 3 notes ringing out? If so, thats the first thing to change. In sweep picking you deaden each note as the next note is played. You accomplish this by lifting up slightly on the string, just enough so that the sound cuts out, but not actually take your finger off the string. Remember, you should only hear one note at a time. That’s the basics of what’s going on with your fretting hand.
As far as your picking hand, unlike with most picking styles, where you’d hit the string and then let the pick come up and away from the strings as you prepare to hit your next string, the pick actually comes to rest against the adjacent string. But the thing is, you don’t actually want the strum to stop – its all one fluid sweep. So when it rests against the string, its more the pick is sliding itself up the string until it finally releases when it’s time to sound that string, and then come to a ‘moving rest’ against the next string.
So it’s pretty challenging to accomplish that ‘moving rest’ thing and have your strumming be in the pocket. Say you’re strumming in a triplet (count each beat as 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, would be a whole bar in 4:4 time) its easy at first to make it feel more like “one two three (four)” where “four” isn’t played, but there’s space for it in terms of time. What this means is that the pick has to get back to the first string you strum SUPER quick to be able to hit that ‘one’ of the next beat’s triplet.
Best way to accomplish this is just completely deaden the strings with your fretting hand, sit down with a metronome, start strumming and start counting, just working your way through. The amount of time and effort it takes to get this part right can be enormously frustrating. But look at it this way it’s a growth experience, practicing keeping your emotions in check while playing music. Getting angry doesn’t help, in fact it makes things way worse.
So putting it all together is really just a combination of the fretting and picking hand techniques. Have anything to add that might improve the information on sweep picking? Have questions on how to work all of this out? Let us know!
Video lesson on Sweep Picking