Cutting Edge Sweep Picking Part 1

In this lesson, we are going to be looking at a section from my first book, High Intensity Guitar Technique Book 1. Specifically, we are going to be looking at the sweep picking primer section, as the exercises contained within this section give you the ideal start to this technique. Many players go wrong when trying to learn Sweep Picking as they take on far too many strings. What we are doing in this lesson, is focusing on sweeps over two strings, so we can bed in the foundations for good sweeping form.

Sweep picking is an advanced technique, which is usually associated with arpeggio playing. Arpeggios on the guitar are usually performed in a one note per string fashion, which makes sweep picking the ideal and fastest way to play them. The general idea with sweep picking is that the pick always moves in the direction of the new string it is about to play, rather than using the strict alternate, down, up, down, up routine. Also it is very important that you push through the string on the way down, and pull through the string on the way back up. There should be no jerky movements, just one smooth motion, so that you land on the next string you are about to play.

For example, if we were to play a flurry of notes from the fifth string to the first, and every note was on a new string all the way, we would use a down stroke at the fifth string, and carry on using down strokes all the way to the first string. Vice versa of course we would use up strokes to go from the first string note to the fifth string note. Check out the Example video in the accompanying tutorial for a detailed view of how to execute sweep strokes and how to push and pull through the strings.

We can also incorporate this kind of idea to scalar playing and not just for use with arpeggios. This idea is known as economy picking, which basically is sweep picking with scales. The idea here is that you use alternate picking for notes on the same string but then sweep to a new string, keeping with the idea that the pick moves in the direction of any new string you are about to play. Economy picking gives a fast approach and also has a tonally smoother sound than the aggressive alternate picked style. Tonally it is kind of a happy medium between the ultra smooth legato and the machine gun like alternate picking style. Try using your neck pickup with the sweep picking examples for a really smooth sound.

To hear some amazing exponents of this technique you should definitely check out Yngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker for all out sweeping. For the economy style listen and watch the technique of Frank Gambale, who is pretty much the father of this technique and invented it as a solution to problems he found in his own playing. Due to this fact he has probably the most efficient technique for economy picking and it really is quite something to behold. In the primer examples for sweep picking we will be drilling in the idea of moving the plectrum in the same direction of a new string, regardless of whatever stroke we have just used to play our last note. We will be doing this with two string shapes, from either pentatonic scales or arpeggios.

So we will be getting a mix of economy and sweep styles to start with. It takes time to drill in this technique, especially if you find the alternate approach very natural, but I promise you there are benefits to knowing both styles, so don’t skim over these. The first sweep picking example is the same as our last alternate example from the alternate section, and shows the third and final way of playing this kind of lick. Use the same fretting hand fingers but this time instead of picking down, up, down, up on the ascending version, you will now pick up, down, down, up, up, down, so that the pick is always moving in the same direction of a new string. High Intensity Guitar Technique Book 1 includes a supporting video that shows this if you are unsure of what to do.

Try to make the plectrum’s movements as smooth as possible, essentially it should be pushed through the string to the next for down strokes, and then pulled through the string on up strokes. Watch how players like Frank Gambale execute their licks in order to see how efficiently your picking hand needs to move.


Example 1

Example 2 shows the same idea being played on the top two strings of A minor pentatonic. You may find it slightly easier to play on the thinner strings as the thinner strings give the plectrum less resistance.

Example 2

Example 3 shows once again a similar idea but you are changing the 8th fret on the 1st string to the 10th fret every second beat. This is quite a common economy style lick in the vocabulary of modern rock and fusion players.

Example 3

Example 4 shows an economy style string crossing idea on the top two strings of the minor pentatonic scale. There are then three variations of the lick in the following examples. By the time you have played through all four variations what you will have done is put every single one of the notes in the lick on beat one of the bar. Essentially you are playing the same lick every time just accenting different parts of the lick.

These kinds of idea help to make sure that every part of the lick you’re playing is rhythmically correct.  It will also help to iron out any problems with the picking motion as the accented beat moves around the lick. Players often find that they can’t play certain variations on licks as well as others, so this idea is a great way for you to weed out weaknesses in your playing. Try using this idea on as many licks as you can in future.

Example 4

Example 5 is a two string fingering for an A minor arpeggio. Use fingers 4, 1 and 2 in the fretting hand and make sure to use the strict sweeping directions for the picking hand. It’s first shown in descending motion, then in ascending. The ascending version is much harder than the descending so take your time with that one. This kind of arpeggio playing is reminiscent of neo-classical players such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Vinnie Moore.

Example 5

Example 6 shows the descending motion exercise again but this time being played with a G major arpeggio so you can get used to different shapes. I would recommend you use reverse motion on this exercise too in the interest of being a more rounded player.

Example 6

We conclude the sweep picking primer with a neo-classical style arpeggio sequence that is first shown in Example 7 with descending motion sweeps, and then again in Example 8 but with ascending motion sweeps. Take your time with this as it’s very tricky to play at speed at first. Spend some time with each arpeggio individually before trying to play as a progression. Look for a smooth transition between each arpeggio to make the exercise flow and sound musical.

Example 7

Example 8

As with the other techniques, play these sweep picking ideas as a straight routine, but then play them with lots of different pentatonics or arpeggios depending on which exercises you’re looking at, and come up with your own routines based on the examples presented here. There are miles and miles of work beyond what is written in the text here if you just get a little creative.

Download This Lesson As A PDF E-Booklet With Additional Bonus Material!!


The examples in this lesson give you a challenging yet productive workout that if practised diligently, will yield excellent results with this technique. As always there is way more that you can do with them. In the available download, i give you some practice tips showing you how to expand the examples, and some licks that work over different chord progressions with this technique. The exercises in these routines are all used in my practice, and if you combine them with the ideas outlined in the PDF, they will keep you challenged and improving for years to come.


Additional bonuses in the download include:


  • Mp3 files of the examples played to a metronome at learning and target tempos
  • Guitar Pro files of the examples
  • PDF just of the exercises
  • Hints and tips showing you how to expand on the examples
  • Bonus licks that show how to use these techniques over different chord progressions.
  • Funky Jazz Chillout backing track for practising the licks.  

Download Cutting Edge Sweep Picking Part 1 with bonus features and start taking your technique to the next level now!! It can be downloaded free of charge, but if you've enjoyed the lesson and want to help me find the time to create more material like this, you can pay what you want, name a fair price!! 

Download Cutting Edge Sweep Picking Part 1 with supporting mp3, pdf and guitar pro files now!! Pay what you want, download it for free or make a contribution to help me make more lessons like this. Download Now

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