Sweep picking is one of the most desired and sought after techniques in the current generation of guitar players. Many players will go out in search of guidance by sifting through tabs and exercises on various websites in order to find quick routes to sweep picking patterns and information. There are many references that contain sweep picking licks, exercises, etc; However, the majority of these references only focus on one or two basic aspects of sweep picking leaving the player with a rather generic palette to work with. These sites really help push sweep picking into popular guitar culture, but initially only skim the surface of what can really be done with sweep picking.
This article has been designed specifically to focus on the different types of sweep picking in order to not only show you a few interesting exercises to play over, but to also show you what other possibilities exist outside of the regular patterns and shapes so that you can really take advantage of all the capabilities that a good, balanced sweep technique can provide.
Most players use the basic major and minor chord shapes, and are unaware of the other types available to them. In fact, there exist several other types of sweep picking. Each type is useful in different musical situations, and can be effectively mixed and matched together with other types to help make a player's sweep picking very interesting.
The different types of sweep picking are:
1) Basic Major and Minor Arpeggios, Small Shapes (2-3 string)
This type of sweep picking is useful to a player in any situation. The size of the shapes allows for quick fiery passages or nice rhythmic underlyning. Due to the lower degree of difficulty in learning these initial basic patterns, players can learn to play this type at a higher level of play in relatively little time. This factor makes this type of sweep picking the most popular by far.
2) Basic Major and Minor Arpeggios, Large Shapes (4-6 string)
The degree of difficulty is raised fairly significantly as the shapes become larger. These types of patterns are commonly associated with the kind of precise virtuosic playing that gives sweep picking its distinct sound. This type can commonly be heard in solo playing when a player wants to showcase entire arpeggios as a defining melody.
3) 7th Chords, (2-5 String Shapes)
By making the basic Major and Minor shapes into 7th chords, we can add a new dimension to the sound of sweep picking. Smaller shapes are commonly seen in jazz settings performed as rakes; a technique similar to sweep picking. 7th chord sweep arpeggios are used fairly less common by lead players in non jazz settings however (making this type commonly overlooked).
4) Position Shifting
This type is used to give players extra mobility in their sweep picking by opening up different areas that stretch across the fretboard. This allows the player access to more routes to take when improvising since they are not limited to one position like in basic patterns.
This is a very interesting sweep picking approach to include into one's repertoire. Hybrid Sweep Picking is commonly a cross between sweep picking and legato runs (but can also be a cross between sweep picking and alternate picking). This type includes making use of more than one note per string on several strings in order to obtain a unique sound while at the same time maintaining enough picking consistency to still be a form of sweep picking.
This type of sweep picking is rather unique. It is used mostly with 7th chords, extended 7th chords, and fragments of chords. The sound of this type is very unique, because it spans across wide interval distances by using wide stretches in the fretting hand, and commonly does not use hammer ons or pull offs.
7) Sweep Picking with other Technique Combinations
Finally, the last type of sweep picking (and perhaps most creative of all) is not actually a type, but rather style determined by the tastes of the individual player. It is: Using sweep picking together with other techniques such as tapping, slides, artificial harmonics, and others techniques. This can yield some of the most interesting possibilities, and can help make the style of a player really stand out.
Now that you have seen all the different types of sweep picking, you can decide for yourself which one fits you best. I highly recommend trying to integrate each one into your overall playing technique for a very balanced, and interesting approach.
If you are interested in building upon the various styles discussed in this article, as well as improving your overall sweep picking technique, check out "Sweep Picking Mastery".
Ysrafel is a professional guitarist, musician, and recording artist who has written articles for many web sites to help thousands of guitarists all over the world, and has created an ongoing instructional series titled "The Electric Guitar Technique Master Series"
He is currently working on various musical projects including his upcoming guitar instrumental album which will contain several different styles such as progressive metal, electronic/dance, and Latin.